JWT fights to retain £47m UK Vodafone

JWT's problems deepen as Vodafone asks BBH to pitch for the UK account.

JWT London is fighting to defend its £47 million Vodafone UK advertising account.

The mobile phone giant's UK marketing department, led by Dominic Chambers, has invited JWT to pitch against Bartle Bogle Hegarty for each piece of UK-specific business as it arises.

JWT handles all locally produced UK campaigns and initiatives, while BBH handles all the international branding work. This decision to pitch local work goes against JWT and Vodafone's global advertising arrangement.

It is understood that three important initiatives are set to launch in 2007. The agencies are already pitching for the first. Sources close to the account tip BBH to win the brief.

JWT's most recent work for Vodafone UK is its "another world" ad, which shows young Vodafone users in a surreal world of forests and flowers.

JWT won the international Vodafone account in May 2002, when WCRS lost the UK business. BBH was added to Vodafone's roster without a competitive pitch in September 2004, eventually replacing Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam, which had handled Vodafone since 2001.

The loss of Vodafone's UK billings would be painful for JWT. It has already lost the Reckitt Benckiser, Weight Watchers and Rice Krispies accounts this year.

This news comes at a difficult time for Vodafone. It has undergone a number of top-level managerial changes, including the departure of its global chief marketing officer, Peter Bamford, who was replaced by Frank Rovekamp.

It has also announced plans to pull its distribution from the Carphone Warehouse, and sign an exclusive deal with Phones4U. This move has been criticised because it is likely to limit Vodafone's exposure to new customers across Europe.

Vodafone, BBH and JWT all declined to comment.