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
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.