WPP challenges UK government’s decision to drop M4C and move £140m media buying to Aegis

Here’s another unequal contest: the mighty WPP against HMG (which is nervously awaiting the result of the Scottish Referendum, of course).

WPP’s fearsome lawyers are challenging the UK government’s decision to award its £140m media buying account to Dentsu-owned Aegis, citing procedural issues in the eight-month review process.

This is a matter of some import to WPP as its M4C construct, which has handled government media buying for the past four years, employs over 100 people and, presumably, generates a fair bit of dosh.

It seems extraordinary that such a protracted process could be challenged in this way but it wouldn’t be the first time. Virgin Trains challenged the decision to take away its West Coast franchise back in 2012 and the Government had to back down, leaving Virgin with the lucrative contract.

sorrell_2801320bIt’s pretty novel in ads though although WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell (left) has, in the past, challenged client decisions. He didn’t take kindly to the desire of part of Lloyds Bank to give some business to RKCR/Y&R breakaway Adam&Eve a few years ago. It didn’t and he sued A&E. The suit was settled on the courthouse steps at considerable cost to the newly-formed agency.

HMG’s Cabinet Office (in charge of government procurement) says: “The Government’s media buying contract has not yet been awarded. The procurement is subject to a legal challenge, which we are working to resolve as soon as possible. We have followed robust procedures throughout the process, including engaging fully with suppliers, customers, trade bodies and private-sector organisations.

“Our approach was designed to ensure the best possible competition from suppliers and will deliver the best deal for taxpayers.”

Hmm. Doesn’t sound that confident, does it?

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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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