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
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.’