CLOSE-UP PERSPECTIVE: NatWest win set to shoot TBWA up to number two spot

TBWA GGT Simons Palmer was just another clumsily named merger until last week when it won the pounds 50 million through-the-line NatWest account.

TBWA GGT Simons Palmer was just another clumsily named merger until

last week when it won the pounds 50 million through-the-line NatWest


Based on the current Campaign Top 300 figures, and adding pounds 25

million in billings for NatWest, TBWA could leap straight into the

number two position in next year’s Top 300 - even allowing for the loss

of Nike and, perhaps, Virgin Direct. It’s an amazing feat marking one of

the biggest centralisations in UK ad history (after BT), a vote of

confidence in the extra resource of the merged agency and a severe blow

to the incumbents, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Ammirati Puris Lintas.

As usual, the odds were stacked against BBH and APL retaining the

business from the outset. Most accounts change hands after a review.

Someone once worked out that the percentage is as high as 92 and, in

this case, they were probably higher still because both agencies were

closely associated with NatWest’s former marketing director, Raoul

Pinnel, who is now at Shell.

The issue of the bank’s future strategy is a moot one. Coming up with

creative ideas in financial services is hard but finding ones that will

work through the line is even harder. Companies such as First Direct and

American Express have been perfecting this for years: without branches,

they have had to focus on direct communication. What’s certain is that

NatWest has lost confidence in the soap-style Canning family

advertising. In fact, you could ask whether too many banks have muscled

in on this consumer-friendly territory, leaving space for one of the

established names to assume the higher ground and position itself as a

proper old-fashioned bank.

The pitch involved no creative work and called mainly for insight on how

the winning agency would handle the business. So the overall aim is the

sharper, not necessarily cheaper, handling of the communications


In theory, this will allow TBWA and GGT Direct to focus on their key

skill of championing the building of brands while lessening the burden

of co-ordination on NatWest’s marketers. Like all theories, it may come

unstuck in practice. After all, too many above- and below-the-line

agencies are still renowned for their failure to agree on whether it’s

raining outside.

Finally, there’s a nice symmetry to this story. You may remember that

Paul Bainsfair, TBWA’s chairman, resigned as managing director of

Saatchi & Saatchi in 1990 to set up shop with Dave Trott. Cautioned to

keep the news of his departure secret until a pitch he was leading had

taken place, Bainsfair wrestled with his conscience (for those of you

who still think of him as the other half of the John Sharkey

money-making machine, yes, he does have one) and resigned before the

pitch. And the client? You guessed it - NatWest.