Media Perspective: Clutching at straws can sometimes pay off forincumbents

Have you witnessed anything more pathetically deranged in the last fortnight than the sight of Tony Blair bounding on to the Brighton podium to the sound of Sham 69's punk anthem If the Kids are United?

The poor old boy is deluded if he reckons that one went down well with the electorate. Mainly because it was so fake - if he pulled that tune straight out of his 7-inch collection, rather than had it foisted on him by some spin master, then I'm Donald Sinden. And also because playing any song with the word "united" in it only serves to emphasise that Blair's party isn't.

It's not just Blair, and many other public figures, who walk around in this deluded state. It often seems that agencies repitching for business are similarly befuddled. Snap out of it, you want to say to them, you've got no bloody chance. The business is moving, accept it. Light a cigar, pour the brandy and avoid the three months of pitching for no end result.

Yet for emotional and practical reasons (from the welfare of staff working on a piece of business through to the mind-numbing mortgage repayments faced by the agency chief executive) incumbent agencies are inclined to roll their sleeves up and give it a jolly good go.

And, shock horror, there are signs this approach is reaping dividends.

This week, ZenithOptimedia successfully defended its lead status on the Lloyds TSB media account, beating off Naked Communications for a communications planning brief. This followed BMW retaining Vizeum on its buying and Peugeot Citroen reappointing OMD UK to its £64 million account.

This small pattern is hardly compensation for PHD following its loss of Transport for London to Mediaedge:cia, or for Manning Gottlieb OMD following its loss of Eurostar to Vizeum, but at least it provides some hope for agencies trying to beat the odds (AAR figures suggest that in at least two-thirds of cases of incumbents repitching, the business moves elsewhere).

Three factors seem to be driving the occasional decision to stick with what you know. First, deals offered to some clients by incumbent agencies are hard to beat. Second, good relationships are still valued by some clients despite what you hear about procurement. And finally, incumbent agencies seem more willing to respond quickly to client criticisms and beef up their offer where there are perceived weaknesses.

So maybe I'm walking in the same deluded world as Blair in thinking that occasionally relationships can win out and good work is valued above politics and the ability to buy a bit of business in. But ZenithOptimedia, which didn't look to stand a chance at the start of the Lloyds pitch, has demonstrated that straw-clutching is not always a frustrating pastime if you do some good work and get the rub of the green.


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