Lowe rethinks its planning activity

Lowe is reviewing its planning function with a view to offering a beefed-up service to a broader range of clients.

The shake-up could result in a merger of the agency's planning department with Lowe Brand, the group's strategic consultancy.

The move would be the first major change to be initiated by Matthew Bull since his arrival as the Lowe chief executive earlier this year.

Bull is reviewing all aspects of the agency's work and could decide to introduce a planning offering similar to the one he developed while at Lowe Bull Calvert Pace in Johannesburg.

Bull said: "I'm looking at proposals for a single planning unit that has its own autonomy but will work closely with the creative department."

Lowe sources insist there is no question of floating off a merged planning department as a standalone operation.

But by offering increased capabilities, including strategic media planning skills, the hope is that more business can be attracted from non-Lowe clients and even from those who do not have advertising requirements, they claim.

However, such a change could spark a power struggle for control of the operation involving Joanna Bamford, the Lowe planning director, her deputy, Russ Lidstone, and Simon McGuigan, the former Mirror Group and Interbrew senior marketer who runs Lowe Brand.

It also raises the question of how much Paul Edwards, the Lowe chairman and former Henley Centre chief, would want to be involved.

Lowe Brand, set up when Paul Hammersley was the chief executive of the London agency to provide "upstream" strategic consultancy, is said to have achieved only limited success. Insiders have also spoken of a history of tension between Lowe Brand and the agency planning department.

"The idea isn't that clients would be asked to pay extra for a premium service," a Lowe insider said. "Almost all remuneration is now fee-based and clients are already paying for their planning. But there could be more business to be had from clients not currently working with Lowe and even from those who don't advertise."