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Heinz picks BBH for Europe business after fraught pitch

Winning Heinz’s European business would usually be cause for breaking out the bunting. The fact that the account has gone to BBH, ahead of M&C Saatchi and CHI, will raise more eyebrows in London’s adland than cheers.

The reason being Heinz’s widely-reported payment terms – a decidedly stingy 97 days – and use of the ever-controversial e-auction on prices in the pitch. All of which suggests that Heinz – now owned by Warren Buffett and friends and merged with Kraft – is hardly the client from heaven.

Now this may be very unfair of course but long-serving incumbent agency AMV BBDO declined to repitch (partly because Heinz has only made a handful of ads in recent years) and other Omnicom agencies steered clear, as did WPP’s J. Walter Thompson.

Even agency trade body the IPA, which doesn’t usually criticise clients, described the pitch process as “shocking and short-sighted,” blaming the “long arm of procurement.”

The BBH of old wouldn’t have touched business on such terms with a bargepole but that was then. Since Publicis Groupe bought all of the agency a couple of years ago BBH has struggled, losing Diageo and Unilever’s Axe among others, leading to a number of redundancies. So some new business was needed to get agency motoring again.. It did win Tesco at the start of the year without a pitch, followed by the retailer’s vast production account, although it’s probably reasonable to assume that Tesco’s terms are pretty draconian too. But Publcis Groupe takes a more pragamatic view than the BBH of yore did.

But there are no such reservations from the client and its new agency. Vice president of marketing Giles Jepson says: “BBH demonstrated excellent consumer understanding and insight, which they were able to turn into very strong creative directions…we are sure that they will be able to add significantly to our business, at a time when our brand shares are growing and our brand franchise is strengthening.”

BBH London CEO Ben Fennell says: “There was very good chemistry with Giles and his team from the start of this high tempo process. We pitched with a body of work that we believe can really power the brand and business. The opportunity to extend this scope across multiple categories and geographies is significant. Heinz is an iconic brand, it deserves iconic work.”

In reality Heinz is one of those accounts, in the UK anyway, commonly viewed through rose-tinted spectacles. It’s decades since it was one of the cornerstones of TV advertising.

BBH, despite its recent travails, is more than capable of recapturing such glories, if indeed they were. Most people in adland will hope it succeeds. Even rival agencies admit privately that the London market needs a strong BBH.

Its new management team now have two big new challenges on their plate: Heinz and Tesco.

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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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