It’s Paul Weinberger versus London’s finest as Tesco finally reviews £100m account

Paul Weinberger (pictured) is chairman of Tesco agency The Red Brick Road and the creative who’s nursed Tesco along for the past 20 years, first at Lowe Howard-Spink, then Lowe & Partners and then at breakaway The Red Brick Road.

When Tesco followed Sir Frank Lowe and Weinberger to start-up TRBR seven years Weinberger is said to have been inundated with offers from other agencies to hitch his star to theirs, the implication being that he was even more important than Frank.

Lowe retired last year and TRBR, despite producing good work for some clients, notably Magners cider, has stuttered; failing to convince Tesco to do anything significant (although Weinberger and co are capable of making a money-off ad look good) and seemingly still undecided about whether or not to merge with digital partner Ruby and maybe even become Ruby.

It’s been screamingly obvious that Tesco would review its advertising ever since Philip Clarke (left) took over from Sir Terry Leahy as CEO just over a year ago. Leahy was close to Lowe and Weinberger. Clarke is under extreme pressure to turn the business round after a shock profits warning and loss of market share. His supporters say he’s trying to make up for the sins of the past; his detractors says he’s too hands-on, not a team player and Tesco urgently needs some impetus from outside its home-grown team of executives.

Either way TRBR looks on a hiding for nothing. Who might it have to contend with in the re-pitch?

The obvious suspect is WPP. Tesco has been top of Sir Martin Sorrell’s UK hit list for decades; the trouble has been that none of his agencies here have much retail experience, which is a factor for hard-driving Tesco who expect lots of ads at short notice as well as the fancy TV stuff. Sorrell will certainly come up with a ‘Team Tesco’ proposition just as he has for Vodafone and News Corporation in the UK.

But Tesco, according to Campaign, has hired matchmakers Oystercatchers to conduct the pitch. Oystercatchers were caught up in a spat with WPP a year ago when they unwisely became embroiled in a breakaway from WPP brand agency Everystone. Oystercatchers co-founder Peter Cowie is a former new business director of JWT London so he knows all about WPP. With Oystercatchers in the frame this presumably isn’t a closed pitch, as Vodafone and News Corporation were.

Who else might be in the frame? Well Publicis London is now headed by former TRBR managing director and Tesco account director Karen Buchanan. Publicis is still trying to replace Asda which it lost to Publicis Groupe sibling Saatchi & Saatchi a few years ago. Does Karen get on with Phil?

Other contenders include everyone who hasn’t a conflicting account (and maybe some who do). AMV/BBDO has Sainsbury’s, Mother has Boots, Bartle Bogle Hegarty has Waitrose. McCann Erickson is free (as they say) as is M&C Saatchi, which briefly handled Sainsbury’s before it returned to AMV.

So we’ll see. But Sorrell will move heaven and earth to land this one for WPP.

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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.