Now Sorrell scores £28m News International in another closed WPP pitch

This is becoming a bit of a trend, News International has awarded its £28m ad account (does it really spend that much on external media?) to holding company WPP.

WPP is to set up ‘Team News’ to handle News international’s three remaining papers in the UK, the Sun,The Times and the Sunday Times (the News of the World closed in the wake of the phone hacking scandal). The Campaign report goes on to say that WPP agencies CHI (only 49 per cent owned but the incumbent on The Times account), Grey and RKCR/Y&R will pitch for the whole account. RKCR/Y&R won a similar closed beauty contest for Vodafone.

On the face of it there seems to be something of a contradiction here. If Team News is supposed to harness the brightest and best of WPP in the News International cause (which it is supposed to), how come individual agencies are pitching? Maybe it’s to placate an irate Johnny Hornby at CHI.

Anyway, whatever the politics, it’s another coup for WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell and his assiduous networking of fellow tycoons. Sorrell and veteran News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch (News Corp owns NI) have been pally for decades.

Some years ago they were travelling together to the US on Concorde when one of the engines blew. The pilot hastily turned back and managed to land the stricken plane somewhere in Ireland. It is said that there were decidedly mixed feelings at the respective HQs of NI and WPP when they learned of its safe return. A disgraceful suggestion I’m sure.

But Murdoch’s UK ad budget (even if it is £28m currently) could turn out to be mixed blessing for the winning WPP agency. The profitable NoW has closed leaving only the Sun to bring in any real money as the two supposedly quality papers do not. And the Sun is currently under the cosh over the activities of some of its reporters and executives.

To add to its many woes NI is currently dispensing buckets of cash to phone hacking victims and rather more highly-priced lawyers, £195m at the last count. Most News Corp shareholders would like to wave a not very fond goodbye to its British newspapers.

In such impecunious circumstances a big ad campaign looks like an unlikely move. But then NI does have the mother of all image problems to solve.

Whichever WPP agency morphs into Team News will be faced with the most daunting challenge in UK adland.

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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.