CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/FAST-TURNAROUND AGENCIES - Specialist shops line up to tackle the dirty work/Agencies are diversifying to meet clients’ changing needs, John Tylee reports

You want a TV commercial made and ready to air by yesterday? Then Brian Watson is your man. You want to know if it’s worked? Well, that could take a bit longer to find out. Would five days be OK?

You want a TV commercial made and ready to air by yesterday? Then

Brian Watson is your man. You want to know if it’s worked? Well, that

could take a bit longer to find out. Would five days be OK?

Coming from anybody else, Watson’s claims might seem about as genuine as

those from the 90s equivalent of a snake oil salesman. But Watson is no


In 19 years at FCB, he has written more than 700 commercials for the

Daily Mail - a feat that will earn him a mention in next year’s Guinness

Book of Records. Rarely have any of his films failed to boost sales of

the paper by less than 3.5 per cent. On one famous occasion, when the

Mail was serialising the Duchess of Windsor’s love letters, sales leapt

by almost a quarter.

Screen a Daily Mail ad on Saturday and by Monday you’ll probably know

how effective it’s been, he says. By Wednesday at the latest. ’We know

how to get a proposition across in one hit.’

Last week, Campaign revealed that the threat of defection by the Daily

Mail has spurred FCB into launching a specialist second string agency -

FCB Productions - to run the pounds 12 million account. Watson is

chairman of the new set-up and Robert Ballin, the account director on

the Mail business for 20 years until his abrupt exit seven months ago,

returns as a consultant.

Watson’s spin-off is the latest manifestation of what many regard as a

belated attempt by the advertising industry to accommodate and be taken

seriously by retail clients whose business is potentially lucrative but

which is often derided even by those immersed in it.

’Big agency people have always been snooty about retail,’ a leading

marketing consultant declares. ’So the only way they can get people to

work on it is to run it separately. It’s an admission of failure.’

Even Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, no stranger to handling big retail

accounts, is setting up a new agency to handle its recently acquired

Sainsbury’s local marketing and Savacentre account. Andrew Roberston,

AMV’s managing director, claims the degree of co-ordination required

means it can only be handled properly by a specialist unit.

At Faulds Advertising in Edinburgh the capture of the pounds 6 million

Kwik-Fit account in April has precipitated the formation of Kwik Faulds,

a division dedicated to handling the car maintenance giant’s business.

’Clients like Kwik-Fit like to know they have a team of people who

understand their business,’ Christine Tulloch, the agency’s marketing

director, explains. ’We can’t be jacks-of-all-trades any longer.’

Meanwhile at Ogilvy & Mather, plans are also afoot to use the agency’s

Ford dealerships business to launch a subsidiary to supply ads for

high-volume clients needing rapid production.

’It surprises me how little agencies understand about retail when so

many of the UK’s biggest advertisers are retailers,’ says Brian Hovell,

head of the retail unit at Bates UK where retail clients - including

B&Q, Woolworths, Superdrug and Safeway - account for a third of the

agency’s billings. ’But there’s always been a stigma attached to


Why do agencies and retailers often make uncomfortable bedfellows?

Conflicting cultures are a major reason. Compare Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s

best forgotten experiences with Asda and WH Smith with the long retail

client relationships enjoyed by Bates and by Asda’s current agency,

Publicis. They are acknowledged as being among the handful of UK shops

that know how to run and retain retail business.

Not surprisingly, retail clients regard themselves as a breed apart.

One recently told Martin Jones, managing director of the AAR: ’You can

smell if an agency is into retail or just talks it.’

Jones says: ’Retailers not only want to know the systems are in place

for work to be turned around quickly but they expect their agencies to

be checking the sales figures every Monday morning.’

While agencies have been forced by the rising power of retail to get

their hands dirty, retail advertising has at the same time become less


The turning point came in the early 90s when Lowe Howard-Spink’s

campaign for Tesco, starring Dudley Moore, along with AMV’s celebrity

recipe films for Sainsbury’s, proved it was possible to push product and

enhance brand values simultaneously. Adam Leigh, the Bates deputy

managing director who heads the Safeway account team, says: ’Retail is

now the dominant sector that manufacturing used to be.’

Some believe that FCB Productions may win over some retailers, despite

the fact that it is difficult to recruit top-calibre staff to such

operations. The upcoming digital TV explosion, combined with the limited

shelf life of many retail commercials - in some cases less than a week -

may help to enhance its allure.

Others, though, are more cautious. At Bates, not all retail clients are

in the retail unit. Some, like Woolworths, with broader needs, remain

outside. ’Retailers need a combination of architects and bricklayers,’

says Neil Kennedy, a former Bates vice-chairman who is now a marketing

consultant and a non-executive director of Allders department


’They not only need somebody who can produce 120 ads a week but offer

strategic advice as well.’

Watson believes he is likely to be working for clients who have no

requirement for planning and account management, who already have their

strategy sorted out and whose only need is for it to be interpreted.

It’s like taking your car to be serviced, he says. ’You might enjoy

chatting up the girl on the front desk - but it’s the grease monkey with

the spanner who will do the job.’