Angus Porter, the agreeable, confident and straightforward managing
director of BT's consumer division, may well be the custodian of only a
single brand, but there is no denying it's a complex piece of
As the telecommunications market fragments, it's up to the industry
leader to keep at the cutting edge of the changes - something that BT is
increasingly perceived as struggling to do. So while the news that BT
has shifted £14 million of business from M&C Saatchi to its fellow
roster agency, St Luke's, surprised many, Porter quickly asserts that
it's all part of the flexible marketing gameplan.
BT's practice is to get its three roster agencies to, in Porter's words,
"contribute to the overall strategic approach of how to present the
brand in the marketplace". And on the face of it, it would seem a
well-judged set of appointments. Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO is the large,
well-stocked agency capable of handling volume. M&C Saatchi offers a
medium-sized resource. St Luke's represents the creatively edgy agency
of the trio.
The stakes on the BT roster are high and, this time round, it's M&C
Saatchi's turn to take a bruising. Insiders point out that the agency
was given more than enough time and room to get the business brief
right. They insist that the account switch resulted from M&C Saatchi's
failure rather than a new style of account handling by BT.
"M&C just didn't crack it," an insider says. "So there comes a point
when you have to look elsewhere."
Porter, a former Mars UK marketer, insists that there is nothing
whimsical about the way in which BT manages its arrangements.
"We don't move things about willy nilly," he says in defence of the
policy. "One example of the loyalty we show is that AMV did a very
successful job on a consumer campaign for us. Which meant it got the
opportunity to do the next one."
Yet Porter is prepared to act decisively in shifting agencies when a
creative solution cannot be reached.
"We couldn't get to an answer," he says of M&C Saatchi's failure. "We
agreed we couldn't find work we were both happy with, so we asked St
St Luke's ascendancy on the BT roster seems to owe much to the
positioning it achieved with the Gladiator-style campaign, yet the
solution was, in fact, developed with contributions from all three
agencies. "All three agencies gave a response to that brief," Porter
says, "and the solution we went with was closest to St Luke's response
to the brief."
Still, isn't it galling for the other agencies to invest so much time
and effort and have ideas of theirs used in the finished product, only
for all the acclaim to go to a rival? "We need to be mindful of being a
good client," Porter says in response, "but to be a BT agency you either
accept that that's the way we work, or you don't."
You do wonder how the agencies privately feel about this. "When we
pitched it was made clear to us what our responsibilities would be. BT
doesn't encourage turf warfare between agencies. It establishes the area
of responsibility very clearly," Michael Baulk, the chairman of AMV,
A lot can change in a short while, though, and it seems the tide has now
turned. "St Luke's has become BT's favourite," an insider says. "The
power base that was originally at AMV has definitely switched to St
BT doesn't necessarily have a brilliant relationship with AMV." The
issue seems to be more whether St Luke's has the infrastructure to
manage the mammoth task of BT's business.
"BT rates St Luke's strategically very highly," the insider says,
something proved by the fact that the agency was handed the development
of the company's future global strategic positioning in November last
year. "But it's clever enough to know you need a very big agency to cope
with the massive volume of work for BT." Perhaps if St Luke's had the
hardware to deliver the volume of work required by BT, AMV's position
would be rather different.
Still, Porter intends to continue this agency arrangement in the future.
But what piece of the pie M&C Saatchi is left with is up for some
debate. "We're having a look to see what to do next but we haven't
resolved that yet," he says revealingly.
Would BT ever be tempted to go off its hallowed roster? Porter doesn't
rule out the possibility.
"I'd never say never - but there's no immediate prospect of us doing
that," he says. Still, it seems there could be further changes to come.