M&S Food launches in-house creative team and cuts Grey to project work

Retailer hires former Grey creative Rich Robinson to senior role.

M&S: Grey revived its 'This is not just food' slogan
M&S: Grey revived its 'This is not just food' slogan

Marks & Spencer Food will handle the creation and production of all advertising assets, including TV ads, in-house in a significant move that means the retailer will switch from a retained to a project-based relationship with ad agency Grey London.

M&S Food said it is in the process of appointing “a core in-house team” of six people and that the strategic shift will allow the brand to have more agility and flexibility to work with a broader range of external partners.

“The team will be handling the creation and production of all advertising assets, including TV ads, partnering with the very best creative talent from across the industry wherever necessary – be they directors, production companies, photographers, media owners, broadcasters, or creative agencies,” a spokesperson for M&S Food told Campaign.

The new team will be led by Robbie Black, head of brand communications at M&S Food, who reports to marketing director Sharry Cramond. Black, a former agency executive, joined M&S in 2018. 

The retailer has already recruited several executives for the new team, including Rich Robinson as head of creative and Rachel Amess as film production lead. It is planning other appointments.

“They will be bolstering our existing in-house social, design, publications, photography and editorial teams,” M&S said.

It is understood that M&S does not regard its new team as an in-house agency and the company is still keen to work closely with external agencies and other talent.

Robinson and Amess have started work this week at the retailer. Both have previously worked on creative for M&S Food in external agency roles at Grey in the recent past.

Robinson was executive creative director at Grey from August 2018 until August 2019, since when he has worked with Harbour Collective and Platform London.

Before Grey, he spent nine years as a creative director at Leo Burnett, and has worked at M&C Saatchi, Ogilvy and Publicis London.

Amess has been a freelance producer, working for several leading agencies, including most recently Iris Worldwide and previously Grey London during 2018-19.

M&S said: “By establishing a core in-house team, M&S Food will adopt a more agile approach – enabling the team to work directly with broadcasters, media owners and production companies to develop outstanding creative collaborations.

“The new model will also provide the M&S Food marketing team with the flexibility to work with a wider range of specialist creative agencies and individuals required for specific project needs.” 

Cramond said: “In recent years, we’ve transformed the way we engage our customers and talk to them about the exceptional quality and incredible value of M&S food.

“Building our in-house talent further will help us move with pace and agility – to build brilliant direct partnerships, as well as giving us the flexibility to collaborate with real specialists and creative minds.”

Those direct partnerships have included a tie-up with ITV, for which presenters Ant and Dec, who work for the broadcaster, have taken part in M&S marketing, including at point of sale in-store.

Changing client-agency relationship

M&S said: “As a result of the new model, M&S is changing how it works with its existing agency Grey and will be moving from a retainer contract to a project-based relationship from April 2021 onwards.”

It is the second major downscaling of Grey’s business with M&S since it was appointed in 2016.

The WPP agency lost the M&S clothing and home business to fashion specialist Odd in 2019, after the retailer decided to separate the operations of its two divisions.

Like many high-street retailers, M&S has been battling to adapt, as more shopping moves online, and its falling stock market value resulted in the company dropping out of the FTSE-100 into the FTSE-250 index of smaller companies in 2019.

The company told shareholders in May that it was looking to make "substantial" savings of £500m in the current financial year, because of the pandemic, including £50m from marketing in its clothing and home division.

The food division was performing better than clothing before Covid-19 and it reported "a very strong performance" in its Christmas trading update to investors, following the launch of a partnership with online grocer Ocado in September.

The decision to bring some of its creative production in-house is part of a growing trend for advertisers to move from retained to project relationships with external agencies for a mixture of reasons, including to improve agility and speed, increase volume of digital content and to cut costs.

Several major brands, including Unilever, Heineken, PepsiCo and AB InBev, have launched or expanded in-house creative operations in recent years.

A study last February found a third of marketers worldwide planned to take more work in-house during 2020 – and a WFA report later in the year found that more than half of multinationals now have in-house creative teams.

There is a lack of consensus in the ad industry on the value of these models, however, with Diageo’s Sophie Kelly last year suggesting that in-housing was not a strategy likely to result in great creative output.

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