OPINION: PERSPECTIVE - Strong businesses must be confident in their advertising

I could never resist a wry smile at the picture on the wall behind Michael Bungey’s desk in the Bates Worldwide chairman’s Paddington office.

I could never resist a wry smile at the picture on the wall behind

Michael Bungey’s desk in the Bates Worldwide chairman’s Paddington


It shows a man painting a floor, unaware that he is backing himself into

a corner with no visible means of exit.

The painting seemed an apt analogy for all Bates’ self-inflicted


But it’s an even better metaphor for the right old pickle in which the

Halifax, one of Bates UK’s biggest clients, has landed itself over the

review of its pounds 28 million account.

Certainly, the shortlist drawn up by Britain’s largest mortgage lender

has a boxed-in look to it, indicative of a job begun in haste and with

insufficient thought about whether it can be completed without messy


It’s not a state secret that the Halifax, having embarked on a review,

has found its options strictly limited. So much so that its

intermediaries are known to have trawled several major agencies in the

forlorn hope that they would be prepared to dump directly competitive

accounts in order to pitch for its business.

Not surprisingly, no approach got past the preliminary conversation

stage, agency executives taking the view that a bird in the hand is

better than a bigger one in the bush that may defy capture.

The resulting shortlist seems only to emphasise the desperation. Delaney

Lund Knox Warren has a long-standing relationship with the Halifax but

whether it has the resource to handle such a labour-intensive account is

an open question. And you wonder if the troubled FCA! makes the cut only

because its Publicis affiliate numbers the Woolwich among its


Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R would have to balance the Halifax with

Citibank and Virgin. Meanwhile, Ogilvy & Mather must pitch in the

knowledge that the increased overlapping of financial products means its

internationally aligned American Express client will not be as relaxed

about sharing an agency with the Halifax as it was when O&M handled the


If all this bothers the Halifax, the bank wraps it up in a seeming

cavalier lack of concern. ’Any issues of customer conflict will be a

matter for discussion once a decision has been made,’ a spokesman

declares. A more classic example of carts being put before horses would

be hard to find.

What is it about financial institutions such as the Halifax and the

Nationwide, which blames ’creative differences’ for its split with

Bartle Bogle Hegarty, that their sureness of touch in running a

successful business is far less assured when it comes to


Talk to senior agency managers with experience of running the Nationwide

account and a pattern emerges - creative work used to define the brief

rather than the other way round; agencies ground down by putting

considerable resource into large amounts of work that never ran.

If neither puts down their brush and considers their escape route, their

corner will become very crowded indeed.