When the £50 million Tesco account defected at the end of last year, few people would have blamed Michael Roth, IPG's chairman, had he put Lowe out of its misery, as all efforts to stabilise the troubled network were negated at a stroke. Lowe, beset by client defection and management upheaval, seemed neither equipped nor configured to face a changing communications world.
To his credit, Roth resisted the siren calls to kill off Lowe and dismember it. Instead, he put one of his most trusted lieutenants, Steve Gatfield, in charge of nursing it back to health and giving it a new raison d'etre.
Although the agency is not yet out of the woods, the John Lewis win suggests Lowe may be finding a path through the trees. Certainly, its faith in the power of its creativity to pull it through (its Stella Artois "ice-skating priests" picked up a Cannes gold last month) is still paying dividends.
Nevertheless, it has to be said that John Lewis' decision is a bold one. Lowe's collective morale has taken a battering over the past two years and the agency has yet to appoint a chief executive to replace the colourful but controversial Garry Lace. However, the retailer has shown an uncanny knack for getting things right in recent times. Its "back to basics" approach, focusing on product and service, led to a 10 per cent rise in last year's pre-tax profits to £252 million.
But John Lewis bosses know well enough that there is no room for complacency. It is little more than a year ago that the group was suffering a double-digit fall in sales and it will clearly be looking to Lowe to help sustain its recovery.
It remains to be seen whether the win will prove a turning point for Lowe. For the moment, it can take comfort from the fact the arrival of a blue-chip player will make it a better magnet for talent. And John Lewis can be assured it has an agency that will work its socks off for its new client, not least because the appointment raises the tantalising prospect of Tesco being replaced by the John Lewis-owned Waitrose.