CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/UNILEVER - Unilever and P&G: the theories behind the rosters. Unilever takes a different approach to P&G in its use of agencies

For as long as anybody can remember, Unilever and Procter & Gamble

have behaved like parallel universes in which action by one provokes

reaction by the other.

So it was almost inevitable that 19 months after P&G declared its

intention to move away from the commission system to payment by results,

Unilever should also be overhauling the way it rewards its agency


Yet although the leviathans have converged over agency compensation,

they now show significant differences in their advertising


While P&G shows little inclination to extend its business beyond a small

core of international networks, Unilever is always willing to look

outside its global "club" agencies and embrace creatively-led local

shops, which are claiming an increasing percentage of its ad budget.

That strategy was further underlined last week when Unilever bolstered

its relationship with Mother by assigning it the relaunch of Lever

Faberge's Organics haircare range in the UK.

Unilever's policy is a legacy of the time when it still had a

1,600-strong product portfolio now being culled to just 400 "power

brands" by the company's chairman, Niall Fitzgerald. As long ago as the

mid-80s its Brook Bond Oxo division first broke ranks to assign the Red

Mountain coffee business to the then-creatively potent Still Price Court

Twivy D'Souza.

Six years ago, Simon Clift, then Elida Faberge's marketing director,

headed in a similar direction. Dissatisfied by the creative work Lintas

was producing on Lynx body spray, he switched the work to Bartle Bogle

Hegarty, where the account complemented the agency's existing

assignments for Stork margarine and Olivio olive oil, won in 1992.

HHCL & Partners was later hired to handle Birds Eye ready meals.

"Agencies such as ourselves, BBH and Mother have made Unilever feel good

about ensuring that their international agencies shape up," Robin Aziz,

HHCL's chief executive, says.

Mother became part of the Unilever agency family after a call from its

Van den Bergh subsidiary in April 1997 asking if it would contest its

Bachelors SuperNoodles account. The Organics assignment extends a

relationship cemented with the SuperNoodles campaign.

Today, the agency faces a formidable challenge in transforming Organics

into a serious rival to P&G's Pantene, which is itself backed by a

pounds 10.5 million spend. But Stef Calcraft, one of its founding

partners, dismisses the notion that Mother is a "wild card".

"Unilever recognises that, as a young agency, we can have a higher

proportion of senior people on its business," he says. "We're actually a

safer bet."

Unilever insists that its priority remains long-term relationships with

core global networks - Ogilvy & Mather, Lowe Lintas & Partners, J.

Walter Thompson and McCann-Erickson - because of the need to have

resourced advertising support in every market.

"We aren't skittish but as global communications become easier it allows

us the opportunity to take some mistresses." a senior executive


P&G's roster networks, which include Saatchi & Saatchi, D'Arcy and Grey,

continue exuding confidence, however. This is despite P&G's series of

profit warnings and a sweeping restructure involving more than 17,000

job losses.

Understandably, P&G agency chiefs welcome the company's centralised

system, with few and clear lines of communication unhindered by local

shops, and reject any suggestion of formulaic work.

"We showcase our P&G work as much as that of any other client because we

believe it's as good as the company will get anywhere," a senior manager

at a P&G network agency boasts.

"The more emotional needs of brand communication have got through to P&G

over the last five years and that's reflected in the quality of the

advertising," he adds. "Unilever may have held the emotional high ground

in the 70s and 80s, but it's not true any more."

P&G's unswerving loyalty to its networks has advantages. Agencies will

always play safe if perpetually worried about being sacked and will be

bold only if they know their tenure is secure. The axing of the

commission system is seen by the company as a route to more creative


But some commentators argue that with P&G's stock now valued at only 55

per cent of its worth two years ago and Wall Street's nervousness, P&G

is forced to be risk-averse rather than radical.

They also believe that looking outside the roster for creative work is

easier for Unilever, which has developed deep relationships with its

media partners, epitomised by its communication channel planning

strategy. "With the media sorted, it's much easier to ad hoc the

creative work," a source close to P&G comments.

Nevertheless, Unilever has a delicate balance to strike. BBH's

appointment to handle the global creative assignment for Bertolli olive

oil is said to be heightening fears among the "club" networks about the


Meanwhile, there's a limit to the work Unilever can assign outside its

core agencies while insisting they don't take conflicting business.

Some, though, believe that for both Unilever and P&G there's no going

back and that to do so would be like trying to squeeze the toothpaste

back into a tube of Crest. As Calcraft puts it: "Once you start

extending your creative thinking you have to work with the best people -

wherever they are."