Hope for the best but prepare for the worst seems to be the most constructive advice anybody can offer to Bates UK following the agency's expected capture of BSkyB's pounds 40 million creative account.
Sky's rollercoaster relationship with agencies - one moment veering towards a big, established shop, the next relying on a mish-mash of small operations - does not bode well. You'd be hard pressed to get good odds on the account not leaving its new home within 18 months.
Curiously, though, agencies that have worked for Sky have an ambivalent attitude towards it. Media clients are invariably tough, difficult and demanding and Sky is no exception. Talk to managers who have been involved with the account and a picture emerges of an advertiser that pays well but expects to squeeze the pips out of the agency before moving on to the next.
Yet the rollercoaster ride can be as exciting as it is unpredictable and it's hard to find an agency that isn't sad to see the business leave and wouldn't welcome the chance to have another go and finish what it started.
Having had relationships with three shops - WCRS, M&C Saatchi and St Luke's - in as many years, is the Sky leopard about to change its spots?
And should it even try? In Bates' favour is the fact that Sky is showing signs of completing its rite of passage from the challenger in the market to the dominant force. Should its predicted pounds 40 million adspend materialise, it will propel itself into UK advertising's Premier League.
If Sky really has decided to stop sleeping around and settle down, Bates may prove to be the right partner. For one thing, the agency, which suffered a torrid 2000, will be prepared to pull out all the stops for its new client. For another, Bates' huge retail experience, honed on clients such as Woolworths, B&Q and Safeway, means it knows all about producing fast turnaround ads of the type Sky will demand without getting precious about it. Whether the agency also has the capability to turn out the great creative one-offs needed is a moot point.
The new agency can only succeed if it and the client agree how Sky should define itself from now on. There is a limit to the number of subscriptions that can be sold. In the future, Sky will become less important as a brand than the Sky channels themselves.
At a time when consumers are in serious danger of getting confused, the need for consistent, strong and straightforward advertising has never been greater.