Virgin Atlantic to review £20m ad account – is this curtains for the Branson brigade of leggy lovelies?

Spring is in the air and new clients’ thoughts turn to new agencies.

Virgin Atlantic’s long-serving (and, in some respects, long-suffering) boss Steve Ridgway departed last year and now the airline, still synonymous with Virgin founder Richard Branson, is reviewing its ad account after 20 years at RKCR/Y&R.

Well, 20 years is long enough and Virgin’s recipe of leggy cabin crew in tight red frocks is looking a bit jaded.

The airline, now 49 per cent owned by US carrier Delta, is losing buckets of money too – although that could change quite rapidly with improving economies on both sides of the Atlantic. Hard-nosed former American Airlines exec Craig Kreeger is now the CEO so some change was inevitable.

The lucrative transatlantic market may also be due for a long overdue shake-up with Ryanair’s indefatigable Michael O’Leary threatening to start £10 flights to the US – although quite where his planes will land you is anybody’s guess.

Y&R is repitching for the account and may even win – BBH recently survived a repitch for rival British Airways although BA served up an easy one by selecting a last two of BBH and Sapient/Nitro. Whatever the latter’s digital virtues, it’s not quite capable of taking on BBH in a creative pitch just yet.

Will Branson be a factor in the pitch? Virgin still owns 51 per cent of the airline so the answer is, presumably, yes. But the bearded one has himself announced that he’s to go into semi-retirement on Necker Island and has his work cut out to somehow propel his Virgin Spaceship into something almost as high as space. If he fails to do that the Branson legacy will be severely tarnished.

So it will be interesting to see who lines up against Y&R. Virgin Atlantic is the adman’s favourite account (now I wonder why that is..) so it’ll probably be a good list. But the next tranche of ads probably won’t be as much fun.

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