WPP triumphs over Publicis Groupe to win Centrica's integrated review

Key winning agencies include The & Partnership for creative, Wunderman Thompson for CRM and MediaCom for media.

British Gas: UK Centrica brand
British Gas: UK Centrica brand

A WPP-led group of agencies has beaten Publicis Groupe to win Centrica’s global integrated account in one of the most hotly contested and closely watched reviews of the year.

Centrica, the FTSE-100 owner of British Gas, used the review to bring together creative, media strategy and buying, customer relationship management, data, content and public relations for the first time in what it called "a new integrated marketing communications operating model".

The key winning WPP agencies include The & Partnership (a joint venture in which WPP has a 49% stake) for creative, Wunderman Thompson for CRM and MediaCom for media.

The WPP team will operate under the name "Team Nucleus" and staff will be based in one location in each key market – with members of Centrica’s marketing team spending about half their time at the WPP site and the remainder in the client’s office.

The new, expanded account covers all of Centrica’s consumer businesses in the UK, Ireland and North America, and is estimated to be worth £100m in billings globally.

Margaret Jobling, group chief marketing officer at Centrica, told Campaign that "creativity and people" were critical in helping WPP to win the pitch, along with smart use of data.

"I think this is the future," Jobling said, explaining why Centrica wanted to integrate different marketing disciplines and operate "consistently" across all of its markets, rather than using many different agencies.

"The role of channels and everybody operating in splendid isolation is well gone, particularly in businesses like ours, where we know our customers, we know where they live, we know their product holdings."

Centrica wants to use that data in a "completely anonymised, secure way" to serve existing customers better and win new customers, she said.

Although smarter use of data is vital, Jobling went on: "Ultimately, we’re an industry powered by creativity and people. If I look at the thing that swung it, it’s creativity and people."

Digital disruption

While the business is mid-sized by the standards of some global advertisers with multibillion-dollar budgets, the Centrica result carries great significance because all of the big agency groups are striving to offer a more integrated solution as clients battle to reshape their businesses in the face of digital disruption.

Centrica is midway through a company-wide "digital transformation" programme and it said at the start of the agency review that it wanted "a marketing communications partner who will support us on our journey of transformation, as well as driving creativity and innovation".

Success for WPP is a tonic for Mark Read, its new chief executive, who has ripped up the company’s previous strategy of "horizontality" in favour of a more client-centric, simplified offering.

Meanwhile, defeat for Publicis is a blow for its "Power of one" strategy of integrating different disciplines under one P&L.

ID Comms ran the review on behalf of Centrica.

WPP already had a deep relationship with the energy giant as The & Partnership has handled advertising in the UK since 2003, Ogilvy has held the CRM brief since about 2008 and MediaCom has run media since 2016.

Centrica’s brands include British Gas, Local Heroes and Hive in the UK, Direct Energy in the US and Bord Gáis Energy in Ireland.

Four agency groups originally contested the pitch. Another team from WPP, which included Ogilvy and Wavemaker, was knocked out in March and a team from Interpublic, led by McCann Worldgroup, was eliminated in May.

Centrica’s wider business has come under financial pressure as regulators have imposed tougher price caps.