Does the Asda/Saatchi split offer lessons about bringing media and creative together?

Asda's decision to switch its ad account out of Saatchi & Saatchi London into Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO raised industry eyebrows last week.

Does the Asda/Saatchi split offer lessons about bringing media and creative together?

In the past, the supermarket’s ads have been handled by Publicis, its sister creative agency Fallon as well as Saatchis. So while it has moved around, the retailer has a long history with the Publicis Groupe creative fold.

It looked like the relationship had deepened in April 2016 when Asda dramatically moved its creative out of VCCP to Saatchis and its media from Carat to Blue 449 without a pitch, ending a decades-long relationship in the latter case.

At the time the appointments, which saw staff from the two agencies relocated to sit together, were hailed as a return to full service with observers also seeing the moves as a major endorsement of Publicis’ "Power of One" model.

But, almost exactly two years later, Asda has dramatically called time on its relationship with Saatchis but kept Blue 449 to handle its media.

So what does this say about Publicis Groupe’s "Power of One" model? Is this account loss just a blip among its many successes or does it offer a cautionary tale about the problems that can arise when brands attempt to get a good deal by bundling media and creative together?

Chris Hirst

Havas UK chairman and Havas Europe chief executive

We can’t learn very much from the loss of a single client in an industry as fickle as ours. We may learn a little more, should we have the inclination, from studying trends: has the agency won or lost a number of accounts in short order; how often does the client pitch? I’ll leave you to do this maths yourself.

Losing clients is an occupational hazard, one from which no agency is immune. What we may learn from is how, when the gut-wrenchingly horrible happens, an agency bounces back: how decisively, quickly and well. By that measure we can learn nothing yet of Publicis Groupe, but given their recent travails, we can tip our hats to AMV.

Charles Vallance

Founder and chairman, VCCP

The answer might well be in the question. Who is the "One" in the "Power of One"? Is it Publicis, Saatchi, Publicis and Saatchi, or all of the above with a soupcon of Publicis Groupe? I don't know. But what I do know is that integration is seldom achieved via a retro-fit. It's much more readily achieved as an initial condition. Only then will the necessary ethos of collaboration be baked in from the outset, creating a culture where every voice is heard from every discipline on equal terms innately. Like DNA, integration tends to be a birthright not a legacy.

Claire Harrison-Church

Former Asda vice-president of marketing

Any marketing department big or small strives to deliver brilliant marcomms as efficiently as possible. This is even more true in a large retail business where the chief commercial officer has so many other challenges. So, yes having media and creative together should drive efficiency. But efficiency does not beat brilliant. And brilliant comms comes from having deep understanding of the brand and market context and being able to convert that into work that resonates with customers. Also we all know that there never is one solution to a marcomms brief. Creative and media can and do come at the problem from different perspectives and that’s what makes for great debate and hopefully brilliant work. 

Bill Scott

Chief executive, Droga5 London

From the outset this was billed as a procurement-led pitch for the optimal model to suit Asda’s customer journey needs  but commercials would also have played a heavy hand in this process.  Across the market, clients look for the right blend of agencies to suit their business – while the bespoke "ecosystem" model served up by the Omnicom offering won the day, the pitch can only serve up valuable learning for Publicis. The scale and depth of the "Power of One" proposition continues to make them appealing to clients and prospects who want a bespoke set-up for their business.  

Leo Rayman

Chief executive, Grey London

Much as one swallow doesn’t make a summer, one example of a putative integrated solution appearing to fail doesn’t mean that this is not the clear direction of travel for many clients, as they look to streamline their number of agency partners and find best-in-class across all disciplines. Whether this was a true example of Publicis’ "Power of One" in action is something only those agencies involved can justify. However, we’re finding that clients want it simpler, faster, better and cheaper  and executed properly with commitment from all parties. We find when you bring a crew of talented specialists together you get great results. 

Lucinda Peniston-Baines

Co-founder and managing partner, The Observatory International

Agency roster appointments should always be led by the client’s strategy rather than the assumption that creative and media work better under the same holding company roof. For agencies to work to a true, common P&L is notoriously hard to manage. Regardless where the media and creative partners are housed (within or without the same agency family), it is critical each party is incentivised to work closely together.  Only with close collaboration and connection between data, creative, production and media/distribution can agencies deliver on their clients’ need for customer-centric communications at scale.

Henry Daglish

Founder, Bountiful Cow

The "Power of One" rarely means that you actually get the very best of everything within any single group – they are businesses acting in their own interests first and foremost. In this instance, I’m pretty sure that the power of the historical Sainsbury’s experience at AMV had a lot to do with it – a clear proof point that a client’s specific needs can rarely be served by a single so-called one-stop shop.