CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/CHARITY CLIENTS - Agencies look sharp as charity clients act tough. The NSPCC’s review points to a new assertiveness at charities, John Tylee says

Within the space of a few days Saatchi & Saatchi’s feelings about its NSPCC client have plumbed the depths of despair and scaled the heights of euphoria.

Within the space of a few days Saatchi & Saatchi’s feelings about

its NSPCC client have plumbed the depths of despair and scaled the

heights of euphoria.

No sooner had the agency been struck by the thunderbolt announcement

that the charity was reviewing its pounds 6 million business, than it

was striking gold at the Campaign Poster Awards for its work on the


This week, the emotional rollercoaster has been replaced by a festering

feeling of injustice from a client perceived as having shown scant


As one former senior Saatchis executive remarks: ’You can be sure that

everybody at the agency is spitting mad.’

On the face of it, the decision to put the account up for grabs after a

15-year relationship seems incomprehensible. The ’full stop’ campaign

has not only raised money and collected a sackful of awards, but won

high acclaim for its allusion to child abuse so serious that childhood

icons from Rupert Bear to Action Man cover their eyes in horror.

The NSPCC - the UK’s highest spending charity - is taking the official

line that the size of its promotional budget means it has a duty to its

trustees to reassess its advertising before moving on to the next stage

of the initiative, which it hopes will raise pounds 300 million.

Partly true, perhaps, but not the whole answer to why one of

advertising’s most enduring agency-client marriages has hit the


The brief sent out to the six shops invited to pitch for the account

gives an indication of the real reason. Levels of service are a

recurring theme in the document - described by one person who has seen

it as having ’a petulant edge’- along with calls for focused and

relevant advertising produced by an account team that is committed,

reliable and available when needed.

From this, it takes no genius to deduce that the source of the problems

goes much deeper than the creative work. The issue is the tender loving

care that the NSPCC feels has been lacking.

Indeed, some Charlotte Street creatives have been grumbling that the

NSPCC is looking for a new shop because brilliant creative work has not

been matched by the account handling. The fact that the newly appointed

agency will be expected to retain the ’full stop’ theme only reinforces

the belief.

Tamara Ingram, the agency’s joint chief executive, was told of the

review the day before the Campaign awards and even now finds it hard to

believe that the business which she and the group account director, John

Rudaizky, have tended for so long could be heading elsewhere.

If there were lapses, she insists they were rare. ’I don’t think anybody

could have been more committed to the NSPCC than we were.’ Will the

agency repitch? ’I have to decide whether it would be right for them or

for us.’

Her dilemma is characteristic of the changing relationship between

agencies and charity clients. The days are gone when charities came

cap-in-hand to the ad industry and gave their appointed shops carte

blanche in return for allowing them to produce advertising that not only

won awards but helped attract other clients with deeper pockets.

Justin Cernis, managing partner of Barratt Cernis Delves & Partners,

recalls how, as an account director at Young & Rubicam, he presented 18

different executions to a senior executive of Mencap. ’I could tell that

he hated them all,’ he remembers. ’But he just couldn’t bring himself to

say so because we were doing them for nothing.’

Today, few charities display such reticence. Compassion fatigue among

the public has forced them to hire marketing professionals like Trish

Evans, the NSPCC’s communications director, formerly with Andersen

Consulting and the PR company, Burson Marsteller. They know their ads

have to work hard to stand out in a crowd.

Meanwhile, agencies must balance social conscience with the knowledge

that charity accounts can be a drain on creative resources and that

leading-edge work is not the easy passport to top awards that it once


Jeremy Hughes, the director of marketing and income generation for the

Red Cross, claims charities can no longer afford to indulge agency

creativity because of the growing importance of locking in potential

donors for periods of up to ten years. Because the effect of charity

advertising is difficult to measure, charity clients cannot risk

agencies not delivering the goods, he says.

Undoubtedly, allowances will have to be made on both sides if the

relationship is to work. ’My experience in working with charities is

that they are tension-filled organisations,’ an agency chief says. ’They

want to change the world but it’s always difficult because they have

such cost pressures.’

Major charities acknowledge they can only become better clients through

a more disciplined approach to advertising. ’Charity trustees will

always respond to emotional arguments because they are lay people who

don’t understand how advertising works,’ Hughes explains.

Nevertheless change is happening with agencies finding that they don’t

necessarily have to call in favours on behalf of cash-strapped charity

clients. Cernis says he recently pitched for a charity account to find

his potential client demanding the best resource and declaring a

willingness to pay for it.

And in their search for the best, charities like the NSPCC are showing

they will not shirk from uncomfortable decisions.

Leader, p25.

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