Opinion: Perspective - Lowe has the most to lose from the HSBC decision

The style that enabled Michael Baulk to become the unofficial fourth name on the Abbott Mead Vickers notepaper did not fail him when it mattered most. On Tuesday he was spotted lunching at Le Caprice. The diner at the next table turned out to be WPP's Toby Hoare. Both men were waiting for the official result on HSBC, the biggest pitch of their careers. Jobs, income, share prices and more were riding on the decision. Hundreds of staff across both companies had sweated blood in the name of the pitch.

WPP was the front-runner. An appropriate reaction might have been stony embarrassed silence. In the best traditions of the business, Baulk sent Hoare a glass of Champagne.

By awarding its entire business to WPP, HSBC has paid what may be a decisive blow to the fortunes of the third competitor in the pitch. Despite firm denials by its parent Interpublic that Lowe is to be merged with Draft or anyone else for that matter, its long-term health as a standalone network looks uncertain. The Gillette-owned Braun recently left for BBDO after Lowe declined to repitch. Unilever, its largest global client, continues its drip-drip of reviews and business moves. The HSBC loss is a body blow and Lowe's chief executive, Jerry Judge, has a job on his hands to entice new global clients towards what could unkindly be described as a patchwork quilt of a network - superb in some markets, drab in others.

HSBC has also paid Lowe a compliment in that from the outset of the pitch, it has said it wants to keep its core idea and slogan: "The world's local bank." It has proved successful in achieving differentiation in the world of banking globaldygook, and the line is set to live on albeit with WPP's strategic, creative and co-ordination skills.

Industry gossips have inevitably suggested WPP's win has everything to do with a global discount deal and little to do with the work. They attribute this to Sir Martin Sorrell's reputation as a ferocious negotiator and to the fact that the outstanding creativity for which J. Walter Thompson London was once known has been in hibernation for some years.

True, Sorrell can negotiate like no other - how else could he make room within WPP for HSBC while retaining existing clients Amex, Citibank and Merrill Lynch? However, the suggestion that HSBC was after a discount deal would be unfair. The culmination of an impeccably run pitch of unprecedented scale, it decided to appoint WPP before the price was debated. Though HSBC acknowledges WPP's ability to co-ordinate its resources across HSBC's complex businesses was a decisive factor, JWT would not have won without impressing with its strategic and creative insight.

This win has numerous implications on a human and business level. It's a vindication of the fledgling creative partnership between JWT's Nick Bell and Craig Davis. It's a triumph for Hoare, who emerged from the ashes of Bates to lead 700 staffers worldwide in WPP's pitch. It's a salutary reminder that, for all its creative prowess, Omnicom cannot match WPP region for region or in direct marketing. It's a body blow for the outstanding HSBC team at Lowe London and for its chairman, Matthew Bull, who retains HSBC's respect if not its business.

As for Sorrell, do you remember the debate last year about whether WPP overpaid for Cordiant? It was countered at the time by Sorrell's belief that Bates' Asian businesses would bolster the group in one of its key growth markets? Well, it seems that Cordiant just got a whole lot cheaper.

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus