PERSPECTIVE: Let’s hope the pain felt at Bates UK will not prove fruitless

The management of Bates UK can take one comfort from the saturation coverage of its business losses, bloody internal politics and staff defections in recent months. Although there may still be good eating to be had from that particular joint, the result is that we are all suffering from what can only be described as an overindulgence in Bates knocking. So I feel duty-bound to look at the bigger picture and to ask whether there might be one of those Buddhist paradoxes at work. Will Bates, through this period of painful abnormality, finally reach something close to normality?

The management of Bates UK can take one comfort from the saturation

coverage of its business losses, bloody internal politics and staff

defections in recent months. Although there may still be good eating to

be had from that particular joint, the result is that we are all

suffering from what can only be described as an overindulgence in Bates

knocking. So I feel duty-bound to look at the bigger picture and to ask

whether there might be one of those Buddhist paradoxes at work. Will

Bates, through this period of painful abnormality, finally reach

something close to normality?



For many years, despite turmoil at the top, the Bates account list

seemed to defy the laws of gravity. Not so in 1999. Let’s start by

accounting for these losses, culminating in Cussons firing the agency

last week.



Heinz was realigned into Leo Burnett with slim chances of the UK agency

winning the global task. Allders and the Reader’s Digest were project

relationships that, for whatever reason, never matured. Eden Vale, a

ten-year relationship, fell victim to a combination of under-servicing

by the agency and new management at the client. Cussons, likewise, can

be put down to under-servicing and a promiscuous client that habitually

changes agency every two years or so. In all, five pieces of business

have walked this year - a loss of some 10 per cent of annual revenue.

There is just one thing wrong with the argument that such business churn

is normal for big agencies. It is not being replaced with new business -

which is where New York and Bates’ chairman, Michael Bungey, could come

in.



Bates’ survival as a standalone network has been in question since Mars

pulled out pounds 270 million worth of business in return for Maurice

Saatchi’s ousting by the then Saatchi & Saatchi group. British American

Tobacco is its only global client of any size and, where most UK

agencies with US parents can rely on New York as the new-business engine

for global business, Bates New York has been more successful at

delivering domestic rather than multinational accounts.



Some are suggesting that Bates’ problems have nothing to do with losing

business or lack of global clout. They attribute them to the two Grahams

- Hinton and Green - whose master plan is to restructure the agency to

offer integrated work across the whole client base. Resisting the

temptation to quote from the anonymous letters that have reached

Campaign concerning Green’s many talents, I will only comment that no

major agency has attempted this kind of fundamental reorganisation

before. Painful and drawn-out as it is proving, making your offer

media-neutral and more client-centric has to make sense for any agency.

Let’s just hope that, in tearing everything down, Bates is left with

something to replace it with.



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