EDITORIAL: Luqman invitation testament to TBWA

When it was revealed last week that Abbey National's chief executive, Luqman Arnold, was taking control of the advertising review, alarm bells might have sounded. After all, much has been written about marketing's general lack of status within big companies, the dearth of marketing chiefs on the board and so on. Is Abbey just the latest company to ride roughshod over the marketing discipline?

Actually, the story of the Abbey "review" could be a model of good sense.

First, consider that Abbey National's marketing department has had more than its fair share of arrivals and departures during the nine years Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper has held the account. With marketing chiefs moving on and out with such frequency, it seems only natural the chief executive would want to get involved in important communications decisions.

But it was the speed and confidence with which Abbey National made its agency selection that really stands out. It involved a handful of chemistry meetings, without any creative work being pitched. And it was quick. No sooner had the story appeared on Campaign's front page than a decision had been made and TBWA/London was quaffing the celebratory Champagne.

To some cautious clients, who like to see creative treatments pitched and then take those creative ideas out to research, Abbey National's haste may seem reckless. Or, at the very least, a brave leap of faith. Obviously, it saved the agencies involved the time and expense usually associated with pitches of this size, but what's in it for the client when crucial decisions are made so quickly?

One answer is that Abbey now has an advertising agency excited and passionate about the prospect of working with it, which is not necessarily the case when an agency is appointed after a nine-month pitch, extensive research and protracted fee negotiations.

Apart from a hearty recommendation from its fellow Omnicom agency Wolff Olins, which is already working for Abbey National, the decision seems to have been made on that most unscientific of bases: gut feel. TBWA's portfolio speaks for itself, but more pointedly this was a decision made on personal chemistry. Arnold feels that TBWA has, well, the sort of people he can work with.

For all the talk about advertising getting into the boardroom, it's a very slow process. Being invited in by the chief executive because he thinks you're just the sort of people he can develop a fruitful working relationship with is perhaps the very best testament to an agency's culture and credentials.