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Will Tesco follow switch to BBH with a media review?

Tesco boss Dave LewisThe decision by Tesco CEO Dave Lewis (left) to award the Tesco account to BBH without a pitch has set the cat among the pigeons in London’s adland.

Appointing BBH isn’t the only marketing move Lewis has made: he’s also appointed brand consultancy Blue Rubicon, which has worked for just about every blue chip marketing company you could name including Coca-Cola, Mondelez and British Gas.

A logical next step would be to look at media. IPG Mediabrands’ Initiative handles Tesco’s mainstream media planning and buying with WPP’s Kinetic looking after out of home. Tesco’s media spend is currently estimated at £110m although it was about £140m before Wieden+Kennedy was appointed 30 months ago. It can be expected to rise again as Lewis launches price cuts against Aldi and Lidl.

There’s another big UK retail media pitch grinding on a the moment, Sainsbury’s, which is reviewing its £60m business out of Omnicom’s PHD. This seems to be taking forever and a day (not the kind of process Lewis is likely to fancy), probably because incumbent PHD is pulling out all the stops to keep its biggest account.

But now the other contenders for Sainsbury’s will be minding their mobiles in case a call comes through from Tesco. Money talks in these matters; even the gentlemanly BBH was prepared to resign client Waitrose to take on Tesco.

BBH is now wholly-owned by Publicis Groupe and, as is the way of these things, Publicis media agencies Starcom and ZenithOptimedia will be hoping that wins them an invitation to talk to Tesco – if it does decide to review media. But both of these are somewhat outgunned in the UK by Omnicom (which is committed to Sainsbury’s via PHD for the moment) and WPP’s formidable GroupM.

WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell has been continually thwarted over the years in his efforts to nab Tesco. He pitched with WPP agency JWT for Tesco when it went to W+K, to no avail. Sir Frank Lowe talked to him before he set up The Red Brick Road, which took the Tesco creative account out of Lowe & Partners a decade or so ago. Sorrell is even rumoured to have been about to buy The Red Brick Road – whose only major account, then, was Tesco – before the dreaded review call came through.

He must have thought his agencies – most notably Ogilvy which works on Dove, formerly part of Lewis’s portfolio at Unilever – and, maybe, high-flying Grey would at least get the chance to pitch for Tesco creative.

They didn’t so now, as far as Tesco and WPP are concerned, it’s media or bust.

Interesting times – and rather unsettling ones for IPG’s Initiative.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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