UK media agency John Ayling Associates says Russian Standard’s pitch standards don’t measure up

Usually, when an agency of any hue loses an account, they wish their successful rival the best of luck; through clenched teeth, unless they’re glad to be shot of the client, especially if they’ve spent time and money repitching.

There’s always a handover period in these affairs so it’s better if you remain on terms. And, anyway, nobody wants to look like a bad loser.

Unknown-2But UK media agency veteran John Ayling (left) is not one to lie down in these circumstances – not when he suspects his company, JAA, has been stitched up.

JAA has just lost Russian Standard Vodka, a big brand, to an outfit called The Village Communications, a newish media agency backed by successful UK indie media agency The7Stars, which holds 25 per cent. The Village Communications was founded by Richard Cox and Deidre McNair who used to work at…John Ayling Associates (JAA). So the handover should be interesting anyway.

Russian Standard Vodka is distributed in the UK by Whyte and Mackay, which is owned by India’s United Spirits. Drinks giant Diageo has a substantial stake and would like to buy the rest but there are obvious competition issues.

Whyte and Mackay managing director Guy Lawrence, who handled marketing and agency relationships, quit the company last year, mid-way through the protracted pitch. It is said that he was unhappy with the way it was handled.

The consultant on the pitch was Ebiquity, the company headed by GGT founder Mike Greenlees and, on the media side, Nick Manning, a founder of Manning Gottlieb Media (MGM). Ebiquity has morphed from life as a media auditor to all-round consultant, taking on much bigger rivals like Accenture in the marketing arena.

In this instance Ebiquity was both: auditing Russian Standard’s media as well as orchestrating the pitch. JAA says that Ebiquity has rated its media performance as outstanding for the past two years and that its efforts have helped Russian Standard increase its off-sales by 47 per cent in a declining UK market. Which makes you wonder why the company chose to review the account in the first place.

But they do, of course. JAA also says that client representation at the pitch was “disappointing.” Maybe departing MD Lawrence hasn’t been replaced. And in this case you have a fairly complicated beast of a client: a Russian brand owner (now much bigger than it was after buying rival vodka business CEDC), an Indian-owned UK drinks distributor and a pitch consultant who has a longish relationship with both client and agency. So there should have been someone important there.

For the pitch itself JAA and The Village Communications competed with Maxus, the fastest-growing agency in WPP’s portfolio and a formidable challenger (last year it won L’Oreal’s £140m UK media business). So The Village Communications must have put up a pretty stellar performance.

So is JAA right to express its displeasure? Arguably yes – by lying down, agencies that lose accounts give the impression that they agree with the client, that they (the agency) were doing something wrong. If they’re really convinced they weren’t, the client (and its advisers) should justify their decision.

That’s what happen in most other businesses. Then, again, this is adverts…

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About Stephen Foster

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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.