The award of the pounds 9 million Thomson Holidays media account
(Campaign, last week) turned out to be a messy business from which none
of the participants emerged with much dignity.
On the surface, it seemed quite a simple affair. The account had
previously been handled by BMP DDB on a full-service basis, with BMP
Optimum responsible for media planning and buying. BMP Optimum was doing
a pretty fine job on the business, but when the creative account moved
to HHCL & Partners, the client wanted to see if he could save some money
on his media.
Like many a client before him, Mr Thomson (Shaun Powell) was looking for
cost efficiencies on his media and the agencies that pitched for the
account were under no illusions about the basis of the review. MindShare
and MediaVest were clear about the parameters, while BMP Optimum insists
that it declined to match the low remuneration level Thomson was
Depending on who you speak to, MindShare won the business last week
because it offered cut-throat commission levels, unsustainable discounts
off TV prices or a more cost-effective media solution by combining great
strategic planning with competitive (but not bottom dollar) remuneration
and aggressive TV buying. This latter option is the way the client sees
it, but this didn’t stop the sniping when the pitch was dissected. The
implication is that MindShare dropped its pants to win the business.
If MindShare ’bought’ the Thomson business, you can see why it could
make commercial sense: a few new- business wins will give momentum and
generate some ra-ra PR. And could anyone really argue that MindShare
won’t do a pretty good job for Thomson anyway?
At least Thomson made it clear that this was a pitch primarily about
price. There can be nothing worse than going through a pitch with bells
and whistles polished only to lose because the client is seduced by an
agency which knocked half a per cent off its commission.
It would, of course, be rather nice to think that media companies had
reached the stage where sensible remuneration levels were a given and
that agencies didn’t cut their own and each others’ throats to win
business. Nice but naive, at least for the time being.
It is a brave agency which draws a line in the sand and refuses to
compromise for the sake of retaining and winning accounts at a desirable
level of remuneration. As long as grown-up media companies are prepared
to slash prices to win business, clients will take advantage and if the
agency can still make money on the account (without making its other
clients suffer in the process) who can blame either of them?
The comforting thought is that those agencies which do take a stand -
and have the credentials to deliver the top-flight service that
justifies it - could find themselves in a more mature business
partnership with their clients, as well as a more lucrative one.