Editorial: Reckitt's account move shows JWT's weakness

Havas' chairman, Vincent Bollore, and WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell have been careful to compliment each other in the press recently.

Bollore, in his recent profile with Campaign, noted how much he would like to do business with Sorrell, and last week, as Sorrell announced the WPP half-yearly figures, he took pains to comment that he felt Aegis owed Bollore two board seats. The mutual admiration is most likely the scent of a potential alliance in an Aegis takeover, but this goodwill must have been tested this week as Havas swiped WPP's and Interpublic's share of the $1.5 billion Reckitt Benckiser account.

It was a crucial win as the newly appointed David Jones shapes the Euro RSCG network. But it was also a painful loss for JWT, particularly its London office, which ran the account. The network appears to have lost its London mojo. JWT is still the second-biggest agency in billings terms in London, but its reputation lags far behind its scale. This is, in part, a careless side-effect of all the love and attention Sorrell has been lavishing on the network over the past few years. Winning numerous global accounts, such as HSBC and Vodafone, can distract a network from the weaknesses of its local outposts. JWT London has fallen into the trap of allowing its network's reputation to overshadow its own standing among its local peer group.

Post-Reckitt, the network's strength is also now under scrutiny. The pressure is on for Bob Jeffrey, its global chief executive. But Alison Burns, the agency's newly arrived London chief, has a big rebuilding job of her own to do. Not only will she have a billings deficit now Reckitt has gone, but she also needs to re-imbue JWT with some personality.

A good place to start would be its planning reputation. Planning was JWT's key strength for decades, epitomised by the late Stephen King. Burns' appointment last week of a new planning director, Hugh Duthie, could prove one of the most important moves she makes. He's unknown on UK shores, but will need to build a reputation quickly.