TRBR gambles future by resigning Tesco – odds shorten on WPP and M&C Saatchi shoot-out

The Red Brick Road, Tesco’s UK agency for seven years, has accepted the inevitable and resigned the £110m account, all of it, it seems, including Tesco Bank, and trade marketing which is was supposed to be keeping.

Which raises two questions: is there a future for TRBR? And where else can Tesco go other than WPP?

TRBR boss Paul Hammersley says: “The time has come for us to take control of our destiny and focus on building a strong, integrated and independent agency. As Tesco was our founding client and some of our people have worked with them for decades, this was a very difficult decision, but we are certain that it is the right one. We wish all the people at Tesco with whom we have worked so closely for so long all the very best.”

TRBR’s remaining clients are Suzuki, Magners, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Experian, First Drinks (Glenfiddich, Remy Martin), stockbrokers Brewin Dolphin, ATOC, Intersnack, Thinkbox and posh estate agents Savills. None of which spend anything like as much as Tesco.

And that’s not the only problem for the TRBR. It employs just under 100 people on the highest ad salaries in London, an average of about £83,000. Its departing chairman and Tesco creative supremo Paul Weinberger has been on about £500,000. Hammersley and highly-regarded planning supremo David Hackworthy are presumably on something similar – which doesn’t leave a lot in the pot when it comes to reconstituting the agency on the back of some smaller accounts.

So where does this leave Tesco and matchmakers Oystercatchers, who thought that TRBR would pitch again and keep some of it?

Up a creek marked ‘S’ without a paddle, some would say.

Of the obvious contenders AMV/BBDO has Sainsbury’s, and has done for decades with only a small interregnum when it went to M&C Saatchi. Publicis lost Asda a few years ago to Publcis Groupe sibling Saatchi & Saatchi so it’s free – but is it? Walmart marketing maven Rick Bendel, who shifted the account from his old agency to Saatchi in the first place, might not be happy to see Walmart’s biggest competitor sharing all PG’s retail info.

BBH has Waitrose, much smaller than Tesco but an account made in heaven for BBH. DDB doesn’t have anything but doesn’t strike you as a retail agency although it clearly thinks it can be, with its not entirely convincing ‘integrated’ positioning. And there’s the Omnicom owner issue with AMV and Sainsbury’s. Then there’s McCann Erickson, which would kill for this. McCann handled Tesco way back in the 1970s.

Some smaller agencies will throw their hat into the ring of course. We heard the other day that John Lewis agency Adam & Eve (John Lewis owns Waitrose) had asked its most famous client if they’d mind if it pitched for Tesco. The answer was a resounding “over my/your dead body.”

And then there’s WPP. WPP can field Grey, JWT, Ogilvy and RKCR/Y&R and 49 per cent of CHI. CHI has the most retail experience in the UK with Carphone Warehouse. Or it could field a ‘Team Tesco,’ which boss Sir Martin Sorrell thinks is the way to go for big clients. He said so, again, the other day.

But Tesco might not go for that. Oystercatchers most certainly might not, they’re hardly best friends with Sorrell and WPP. Which Tesco should have known but probably didn’t.

So it’s all a bit complicated. The strongest WPP UK agency just now is RKCR/Y&R although Sorrell has a soft spot for JWT. The obvious other contender is pitch machine M&C Saatchi, which has handed Dixons for decades so knows about horny-handed retail. Publicis London, headed by former Tesco account director Karen Buchanan, might be ruled out by Walmart’s Bendel.

As for TRBR, it’s got about a 50/50 chance of surviving.

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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.

One comment

  1. Stephen…
    I smell a “Team Tesco” from the Poisoned Dwarf. Or, as Yogi would say… “It’s Enfatico all over again!” Sorrell will use “Team Ford” as his big selling point, but if I was in the pitch on the Tesco side of the table, I would ask one question… Why was Enfatico such a big fuck up, not just for WPP, but more importantly, for Dell?
    Cheers/George “AdScam” Parker