Zenith beats Walker to retain MFI account

ZenithOptimedia has retained its hold on the £26m media planning and buying account for furniture retailer MFI, following a final head-to-head battle against Walker Media.

The win is a coup for the agency, as many had speculated that the account would be awarded to Walker, in no small part because of the latter's sister agency, M&C Saatchi, which handles MFI's creative account. The review was handled by the AAR.

Zenith is believed to have out-negotiated Walker at MFI board level, probably on the basis of fees, as the review is understood to have been procurement-driven.

The review process has been ongoing since July, when the retailer drew up an initial shortlist of five agencies, including OMD UK and Universal McCann Manchester. That list was whittled down to three agencies - the incumbent, Walker and BLM. A result was then expected at the end of August, but it is thought to have been delayed due to last-minute negotiations involving ZenithOptimedia and Walker.

MFI appointed M&C Saatchi to its advertising account last year.

Over the summer, MFI's feuding families TV ads - which were created by M&C Saatchi - prompted nearly 200 consumer complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. As a result, MFI amended an ad featuring an arguing mother and daughter, dubbing it in Spanish with subtitles, and opening it with copy explaining that the retailer had to amend the ad because it was not to everyone's taste.

MFI sold its struggling retail arm to private equity firm Merchant Equity Partners for a nominal fee of £1 in September 2006. The retail group agreed to pay Merchant £74m between then and April 2008 to invest in the stores, as well as a further £52m in customer deposits. MFI's remaining business comprises Howdens, the builders' merchant, and a manufacturing business, which was renamed Galiform.

MFI, ZenithOptimedia and the AAR were unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

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