TBWA gets an unpleasant Lidl surprise
A view from Jeremy Lee

TBWA gets an unpleasant Lidl surprise

The loss of Lidl shows TBWA\London is still a work in progress.

It hasn’t been the best week for sister Omnicom agencies Adam & Eve/DDB and TBWA\London, with the former losing the Sky Sports account after just one year and the latter losing Lidl after a decidedly longer tenure. But it was the Lidl account loss that attracted the most attention.

It might be because of the way that the news broke – conspiracy theorists would have you believe that Lidl deliberately leaked the news at a time when the agency’s management was least able to respond to the split. The self-proclaimed "Pirate" agency’s chief executive officer Sara Tate and chief creative officer Andy Jex were away on holiday (presumably not in Somalia) at the time, apparently unaware that the press release would be sent out, nor able to add their own comments to the intriguingly worded statement.

While agency insiders say that no one was particularly shocked at the split, with Lidl’s crucial Christmas ad said not to be in the can, it’s timing was still perhaps surprising. It also means that TBWA has lost its biggest account just 11 months after the final piece of its management jigsaw – Tate – was put into place. Tate says that the loss will not lead to a redundancy programme as its revenue has (or will be) made up by some new and as yet unannounced clients. All eyes will be looking out for that news as other than Harvey Nichols, new business has been pretty thin on the ground.

It also speaks equal volumes about the nature of the relationship between Lidl and TBWA that the agency has decided not to participate in the review process – presumably it has decided not to try and invoke the sprit of Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, in a pitch that it cannot win.

To her credit, Lidl’s marketing director Claire Farrant was magnanimous enough to offer her thanks to TBWA, pointing out the successes the two had enjoyed together and the contribution it had made to the discounter’s growth in market share. She also declared, somewhat regally: "We are incredibly grateful to TBWA for the work that they have delivered for us since 2013, and have a huge amount of respect for the extremely talented teams that have worked on our account".

Note the word "teams". The number of people who have walked the TBWA plank has been well documented. One constant has been the reassuring presence of Paul Weinberger, the man who famously came up with the "Every Little Helps" line for Tesco at Lowe, and who was brought in from The Red Brick Road to manage the account back in 2013. He has recently stepped back from the agency, which might also be a factor in the review. 

Tate and Jex, alongside chief strategy officer Anna Vogt, will be returning from their hols to an agency with an embarrassingly large Lidl-shaped hole and still no sign of the stability that this agency so desperately needs. They’ll need to focus on raising the creative bar (remember Lidl’s excruciating Easter effort?) and getting some accounts through the door.

After all, the last thing TBWA needs is yet another team to attempt to right the "Pirate" ship.

Jeremy Lee is contributing editor at Campaign