LIVE ISSUE/BEYOND ROSTER AGENCIES: Major clients go off-roster for fresher advertising - Big customers are looking at what smaller agencies can offer. By Claire Cozens

It used to be so simple. If you were a major agency network with a few blue-chip clients, you could sit back, safe in the knowledge that few rivals had the international capacity to provide much of a threat.

It used to be so simple. If you were a major agency network with a

few blue-chip clients, you could sit back, safe in the knowledge that

few rivals had the international capacity to provide much of a


But recently competition has emerged from a surprise quarter. Mars’s

decision to look outside its agency roster for a new product launch in

the UK (Campaign, last week) makes it the latest in a series of major

clients to consider using locally based creative hotshops in preference

to roster agencies.

Of course, this is not an entirely new trend. It is more than seven

years since Coca-Cola shocked the advertising industry by moving its

creative account to Michael Ovitz’s Creative Artists Agency after 30

years with McCann-Erickson. Unilever has for a long time used local

agencies for specific projects and Mars already uses its ’challenger’

agencies to run minor brands in the US.

But clients do seem keener than ever to spread work outside their roster

agencies. Two years ago, the brewing giant, AnheuserBusch, appointed

Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters to its #3 million Michelob account in the

UK, thus leaving BMP DDB, which had previously handled all its

advertising, with Budweiser and Bud Ice.

HHCL & Partners won Red Mountain Coffee, its first piece of Unilever

business, four years ago and has gradually picked up more accounts since

then. The agency now handles the advertising for Birds Eye Wall’s frozen

ready meals, for which it created the ’special mission’ and ’I fancy

your mum’ spots, based on the adventures of Sean, a 16-year-old

microwave fanatic. It is also working on a brand development project for

Elida Faberge.

Mother has snatched two Unilever accounts, Batchelors Super Noodles and

Batchelors Pasta ’n’ Sauce, from Ammirati Puris Lintas, since it was

formed two years ago. And even Procter & Gamble has talked about using

more creative agencies in the US.

Rupert Howell, the managing partner at HHCL, believes we will see more

and more companies looking off-roster. ’Most of the big multinationals

have got all the economies of scale they can get out of using

multinational agencies,’ he says. ’They are now at a stage where they

are looking for added value and are more prepared to look elsewhere for

powerful work if they do not feel they are getting it from their roster


Many in the industry think that globalisation still has a long way to go

and the bigger agencies will continue to reap the benefits. ’There are

two apparently contradictory trends going on here,’ says Tamara Ingram,

joint chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, one of Procter & Gamble’s

roster agencies. ’We have barely seen the beginning of the trend towards

international companies globally aligning their agencies.

But at the same time, advertisers are becoming much clearer about where

they are going and what they want so they are now more prepared to


Perhaps surprisingly, this is a view shared by many of the smaller,

local agencies. Micky Finn, managing director of Duckworth Finn, agrees

that we will see more international alignments of multinational

advertisers with big agency groups.

’It makes sense because businesses are becoming increasingly global and

are looking for an international presence in all the services, from

lawyers and management consultants to advertising agencies,’ he says.

’That said, the smarter companies recognise that while this is a more

efficient way of working, it is not necessarily a more effective way.

That is why the Cokes and the Unilevers of the world have more flexible

ways of working, allowing them to go off-roster when they need to.’

To some degree, then, the roles of the roster agency and the creative

hotshop are complementary. But it would be naive to think that the

smaller agencies do not pose a threat to the likes of APL and McCanns.

Wieden & Kennedy’s work with Nike is a classic example of how an agency

without a comprehensive global network can create a global campaign out

of a single idea such as the ’Just do it’ slogan, by using media

partners to distribute it internationally.

Jim Allman, multinational client director for Unilever at APL,

acknowledges that agencies like Bartle Bogle Hegarty and HHCL threaten

their hold. But he points out that APL is still Unilever’s biggest

agency worldwide, and its share of Unilever’s adspend has remained

steady over the past few years, with this year’s Captain Birds Eye

launch given a bigger budget than rival shops. ’Of course it’s not good

news for us when we lose a piece of business, but Unilever is working

with some very good agencies in this market and they want the strongest

brand communication they can get. That is good news,’ he says.

Howell believes there is a role for both the creative hotshops and the

international networks, if they make sure they stick to what they do

well. ’One of the problems is that the bigger agencies are trying to

emulate what we do,’ he says. ’We know we couldn’t do what Lintas does

for Unilever and I think they should acknowledge that they can’t do what

we do. It’s a bit like going to the shops - you use the supermarket for

your mainshop, then go to smaller, specialist shops if you want

something a bit different.’


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