Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

Lloyds review is a lesson in media management

Lloyds Banking Group is the sort of ├╝ber-client in any agency's portfolio that demands close attention, but for Group M to retain its media business last week demanded a complete restructure.

Lloyds Banking Group is steeped in the kind of heritage most other organisations can only admire. Its roots stretch back more than 300 years – and 2015 is particularly notable as Scottish Widows turned 200 years old in January and Lloyds Bank will reach an eye-watering 250 years in June.

Yet, what came to define the media review for the long-established group, which is still 22 per cent owned by the state, was a relentless focus on the new and emerging roles of digital and data to secure its competitive advantage.

When WPP's MEC won the newly consolidated banking business back in September 2009 after the merger of Lloyds TSB with HBOS, it was seen as the culmination of arguably the best media agency leadership team of the decade, led by then chief executive Tom George and managing director Steve Hatch.

The pitch process itself, handled via MediaSense, broke the mould with its focus on the three Cs – capabilities, commercials and collaboration – and went on to form the foundations of many large pitches that followed and launch MediaSense as a serious brokering firm.

Six years on, and with a new leadership team in place at MEC in the form of co-CEOs Stuart Bowden and Jason Dormieux, the Lloyds review represented the first major test of how the UK team could fare without the support of its international network that had helped secure owner, BGL Group, and Vodafone the year before. Or so we thought.

From the outset, the writing seemed to be on the wall for the financial client walking away from MEC. Rumour quickly spread that Lloyds was unhappy with its digital performance and its marketing chief, Catherine Kehoe, was said to be keen for change.

'Six years afterfirst winning the business, the Lloyds review represented a major test for MEC'

Fuel was added to the speculation when halfway through the five-month process handled by AAR, it emerged that MEC was not pitching alone but in fact as part of a wider Group M contingent. Was this a strategic move by Sir Martin Sorrell’s media division to try and retain the business? Well yes, of course it was.

But what we did not know back then was that all other competing agencies had been asked to pitch as part of wider groups too. In a Publicis Groupe first, Starcom joined forces with DigitasLBi to create a Starcom+ team, while Vizeum was part of a bespoke Dentsu Aegis Network team.

All had formed alliances in response to Kehoe’s exacting demands. The fact is digital expertise – in the form of performance work, pay per click and data acquisition capabilities – are increasingly top of mind at Lloyds Banking Group, in addition to at least £80 million worth of traditional media activity. The intellectually curious Kehoe saw no reason why she should settle for a handful of experts from any one shop when she could demand at least 60 dedicated specialists from across their respective groups.

That she still plumped for Group M, driven in no small part by Bowden, is testament yet again to its ability to adapt to a client’s evolving needs. Those involved talk of an expertly led process, from the initial transparency of an all-agency briefing through to the appointment on the exact date initially set – revealing a precision rarely achieved.

The review's deep dives into advanced digital capabilities, programmatic roadmaps, performance and analytics are likely to once again form the blueprint for many reviews to come.

Regardless of how billings are split in Campaign's future table, this has to go down as a job well done by both Bowden's team and the AAR. But the real kudos is reserved for Kehoe; a strategic marketing leader completely across the evolving media landscape and with a clear vision about what she needs from her agency.

Group M is now in the process of hunting for a multidisciplinary leader able to head the new bespoke team of 60 or so, handling billings of around £100 million, and believed to be named LBG First. You can safely assume that any appointment will be closely vetted by Kehoe.