’WCRS has gone through massive changes over the last 20 years and
it has now come full circle. It is back to what it was in the 80s - a
competitive agency with a strong person at the helm.’ These are the
words of Peter Kinnaird, the managing director of Land Rover.
Kinnaird is perfectly placed to judge the agency’s hold on clients - he
was marketing director of the first WCRS client, BMW, back in 1980.
And now he is at Land Rover, which appointed WCRS two years ago - a
decision on which he had an important influence. He says: ’WCRS has a
unique spread of planning and strategy with a creative brain.’
It is remarkable that, without exception, WCRS clients are willing to
voice their opinions about the agency honestly and candidly. It would be
naive to pretend that long-term relationships never go through rough
patches, but it is the capacity to work through these downs and back
into top form that really cements a relationship. WCRS has proven that,
with certain clients, it has got the formula right.
For an agency with as turbulent a history as WCRS, client stability has
been one of the fixed points in its identity. More than most agency
names, WCRS is synonymous with its client list. Orange, First Direct,
Bass and BMW in particular are as inseparable from the image of the
agency as Robin Wight in his bow tie.
Throughout the agency’s history, Wight has been a central figure for all
clients. Hans Snook, group managing director of Orange’s parent,
Hutchinson Telecom, says: ’Robin is the consistent element. You can’t
think of WCRS without thinking of Robin.’
There is now a new body of clients with which WCRS is hoping to develop
relationships that are as long-standing as the ones featured here.
Camelot’s pounds 16 million National Lottery account, which was the most
high-profile creative win of last year, poses a new challenge for the
agency in that it is a leader, not a challenger brand. (The company must
also survive a review of its franchise.)
Speedo, also won in 1998, represents more familiar territory for WCRS,
but getting noticed in the sports market is harder than ever. Already
this year WCRS has attracted a former client back into the fold by
winning the launch of the Sega Dreamcast. With a campaign scheduled for
the autumn, it is one of the big creative and strategic challenges for
The new generation of management, led by Stephen Woodford, will be
looking to learn lessons from the past in order to secure the agency a
future that involves clients as loyal and creative as the ones featured
When WCRS coined the phrase, ’the future’s bright, the future’s Orange’,
it cannot possibly have foreseen how pertinent the words would
Five years after its launch, Orange is still winning the brand wars
between the four mobile phone networks.
The 1994 launch ads for Hutchison Telecom’s mobile phone service are
still the favourite campaign of Hans Snook, the company’s group managing
director. After the mysterious teaser posters carrying bright orange
words like ’laugh’, ’cry’ and ’listen’ set against a black background,
the television ad featuring floating babies and ticking clocks ’set the
vision, the tone and the agenda for what we are all about’. Snook can
still repeat the voiceover word for word and launches eagerly into ’In
the future people will think it strange ...’ You know the rest. And so
do most of the target consumers. Orange is the only one of the big four
networks (the three competitors are Cellnet, Vodafone and One2One) to
stick with one campaign using the same advertising agency right from its
But Snook adds: ’I don’t want to sound too glowing. Any client/agency
relationship has its ups and downs and there are a lot of times that
we’ve had to go back to the drawing board - but the strength of WCRS is
that it genuinely attempts to understand a client. I’ve had lots of
experience with agencies in different parts of the world and WCRS still
comes top because it wants to make a client successful and to understand
its business - not just the surface elements.’
For his favourite individual ad, Snook chooses the 1995 ’bicycle’ spot
set in Vietnam, shot by Frank Budgen. It showed a city full of cyclists,
with one man moving in the opposite direction to the crowds. He finally
crosses a bridge into a land of open fields, where people have the time
to communicate and help one another.
Orange’s mixed-media success won it Campaign’s advertiser of the year in
1996 and in 1995 it won the gold award for the most effective use of
posters in a mixed-media schedule at the Campaign Poster Awards.
There have been a lot of changes at WCRS and at Orange since the 1994
launch, but Snook appreciates Robin Wight’s contribution as the
consistent element throughout. Snook adds: ’The reason Robin’s agency
and I link well is that both of us have a different perspective on the
industry, the customer and the future.’
It may not grab as many headlines as First Direct, Orange or Bass, but
Lunn Poly is one of WCRS’s most valued clients. As the mass-market
retailer for Thomson Holidays, Lunn Poly can be relied on to run a TV,
press and poster campaign every Christmas and summer. The relationship
began back in 1984, when WCRS won the business from J. Walter
Despite the vagaries of the travel market, WCRS and Lunn Poly have
together created perhaps the most memorable advertising in the sector.
’Getaway’, which concentrated on discount promotions, was the agency’s
first work for the client and the campaign was robust yet flexible
enough to last for 12 years, right up until January 1996.
Some of the more memorable executions include the 1990 reworking of
Saatchi & Saatchi’s ’furry friends’ commercial for the Solid Fuel
It took the famous scenario of the cat, the dog and the mouse by the
fireside and added visual touches which make the cat speak and
Lenny Henry brought a new lease of life to the long-running campaign
with three executions in 1993. WCRS then expanded it to accommodate a
quality message alongside the value-for-money theme.
Inevitably, over 15 years, the relationship has weathered a few minor
storms. There was a blip in 1992 when an ad for discounted winter breaks
came out the day after the deadline for the offer. But the endurance of
the bond was highlighted a year ago when Thomson appointed WCRS to
stage-manage its public flotation without a pitch.
WCRS has recently taken Lunn Poly back on air with a new campaign
featuring a ’wicked willie’-style character, which returns the brand to
its more hard-hitting roots.
’WCRS panics less than other agencies.’ This is the experience of Peter
Simpson, the commercial director of First Direct ( pictured above).
And there has been plenty to worry about during the four-year
relationship between the two, which began when WCRS won a final
head-to-head pitch for the then pounds 5 million account against Simons
Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson. The success of First Direct has
inspired the launch of a plethora of rival telephone banks but the
client/agency relationship has weathered every storm.
It all started with the ’tell me one good thing about your bank’ work
and continued with the Bob Mortimer television campaign which went on to
win a silver at last year’s British Television Advertising Awards.
Despite the campaign’s success, its inception was not as easy as might
be imagined. Simpson cites the transition between the two campaigns as
one of the most difficult phases in his relationship with WCRS. ’We got
to a sticky patch,’ he elaborates, ’and we went round the houses until
we came up with Bob Mortimer. But using Bob was brilliant and the public
like it too.’
Despite all the new telephone banks, First Direct claims to be growing
as fast as ever and to have sustained its advantage of excellent
customer service and technological innovation. Research consistently
shows that it is the only bank people enthuse about.
First Direct’s commitment to advertising makes it a very demanding
In October, the company celebrates its tenth anniversary and the
discussions between agency and client now centre around how to take the
company into its second decade.
Jason Coward, the WCRS account director on the business, says: ’There is
always a new way of pushing it further. First Direct is not into
conventional solutions and it is a very challenging account to work on -
there is a restlessness at their end about what they can do with the
Coward describes the particular challenge of First Direct: ’The
advertising is the only external face of the organisation. The bank is
Simpson is confident his agency will move the campaign on. ’Robin is
very good at pulling rabbits out of hats’ he says, ’the agency’s
strength is the marriage of its planning base with a creative
’I bet he drinks Carling Black Label’ is one of the triumphs of WCRS’s
20 years in business. The campaign, which began in 1982, may seem
ancient to the people who worked on it, but the famous line is still
very much alive in the public consciousness.
Both Bass and WCRS are hoping that the new Carling line, unveiled in
March this year, will have the same sort of resonance among its target
audience and beyond. ’What a difference a Carling makes’ is built to
last, according to Paul Lawson, the agency’s client services
Mark Hunter, the marketing director at Bass, agrees: ’We wanted to build
on the humorous advertising of years gone by.’ The campaign is all about
how Carling changes the course of history and kicked off last month with
an imaginative fable, set in a medieval market town, about the invention
Lawson says: ’Carling has turned a corner.’ The falling televisions of
last year are just a bad memory: ’It was not the best way to go forward,
but is it any wonder we had difficulties given the brand’s advertising
heritage? Now we’re back on form.’
Asahi, the Japanese beer which Bass assigned to WCRS last year, has also
established a strong campaign. The press and poster parodies of
celebrity endorsement, starring such luminaries as Bonnie Langford,
Henry Kelly and Richard Whiteley, have already been a hit with the
young, stylish target audience.
There’s just Worthington left to crack. Neither Harry Enfield in drag
nor the group of not-so-new lads in the pub has quite hit the mark, but
client and agency are working on new ideas for the brand.
Ideally, of course, they would also be working together on a new
Caffrey’s campaign but that task was awarded to Roose & Partners in
August, despite the historic success of the ’strong words softly spoken’
launch campaign which broke in 1994.
Although there have been ups and downs, WCRS and Bass are still very
much a partnership. The account has also been a big award-winner.
’Dambusters’, despite the controversy it attracted, won three silvers
and the only gold at D&AD in 1990 and a gold lion at Cannes in the same