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British Airways ad review out of BBH may open the door to comeback kings M&C Saatchi

British Airways is reviewing both its creative and direct marketing accounts, worth a supposed £60m, from BBH and OgilvyOne.

BA has been with BBH since 2005 although, for most of that time, it seems to have done very little advertising of note.

Its last big effort, ‘To Fly To Serve,’ came at the turn of 2012, dipping into the back catalogue of decent, brave chaps taking off from Croydon Aerodrome – all stiff upper lip and establishment values.

Whether or not this is quite the thing to serve up to today’s air customers is debatable. BA seems to be hanging on to its share of the transatlantic market (where it makes nearly all its money) but this is more to do with the number of slots it has at Heathrow than well-trimmed moustaches. Or its rather patchy punctuality (in a recent survey it came near the bottom among big carriers although nearly all planes are delayed or stacked at overcrowded Heathrow these days).

The much-derided budget carrier Ryanair is bigger than BA is now and, most years, more profitable. BA also has to cope with CEO Willie Walsh’s questionable decision to buy Spain’s Iberia to form International Airlines Group (IAG). Investing in a premium-priced Spanish airline with the financial crisis breaking was hardly likely to make shareholders sleep soundly.

So how do we account for the absence of work from BBH? BA has changed marketing bosses about as often as it’s changed the menus in First Class in recent years, which doesn’t help. There’s no clear evidence that Walsh thinks advertising is much use anyway.

So that £60m may be a touch optimistic. Agencies, nevertheless, will queue up for what’s still a prestige account.

The account left M&C Saatchi for BBH after a decades-long relationship with the old Saatchi crew, going all the way back to the days of newly-privatised BA under Mrs Thatcher favourite, the rather comical former used car salesman John King.

M&C would surely like it back but it was appointed to handle Etihad a year or so ago. This may or may not be seen as a conflict although the M&C Saatchi crew pride themselves on overcoming such piffling hurdles. Regaining the account would be a nice way for Maurice (Lord) Saatchi (left) to cap his advertising career.

In the mix, too is all-conquering Oystercatchers, the agency search specialist. Oystercatchers has been using its ‘proprietary software’ in the BA cause already, we read. Would love to know exactly what this little box of tricks contains.

The last whopper pitch handled by Oystercatchers saw Wieden+Kennedy London triumph in the £140m Tesco pitch. No idea if proprietary software came into it.

First up, it will be interesting to see if BBH decides to repitch. Usually this is a waste of time, money and dignity although DLKW Lowe recently held on to the £70m Morrisons account in another contest.

If I were running BBH (which, mercifully for everyone’s sake, I’m not) I wouldn’t bother.

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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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