RKCR/Y&R fights to keep £60m M&S in closed pitch against WPP shops

Marks & Spencer is reviewing its account after a 16-year stint at RKCR/Y&R. Such a pitch was almost inevitable following the appointment of long-serving former food boss Steve Rowe to succeed Marc Bolland as CEO and the retailer’s enduring inability to grow its non-food business.

Curiously this is another ‘closed’ WPP pitch. RKCR is repitching against WPP agencies J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather and Grey along with CHI&Partners (of which WPP owns 49.9 per cent) and VCCP, now seemingly in the WPP fold after WPP partnered with Providence Equity to buy owner Chime Communications last year. News UK’s business recently returned to CHI from Grey in what looks like a similar process. Vodafone called a closed WPP pitch when it quit RKCR for Grey, also last year. Well there’s something to be said for keeping things in the family…

At £60m or so M&S is probably RKCR’s biggest account following the loss of Vodafone and, latterly, Lloyds to bête noire adam&eveDDB. The agency, under new CEO Jon Sharpe who replaced Ben Kay following the Lloyds loss, has been on a winning streak recently with the Premier League, Dior and Swiss bank Lombard Odier but it declined to repitch for another longstanding account Premier Inn, which went to Lucky Generals, and the loss of M&S might prompt more thoughts from WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell about its future. Last year he wheeled in the heavies from CHI and Grey in an unavailing attempt to keep Lloyds.

RKCR CEO Sharpe says: “Together with M&S we have redefined retail advertising, invented food porn and welcomed a host of leading ladies from Twiggy to Rita Ora.

“Our campaigns have instilled M&S’s core principles of quality, service and value whilst cementing its position as a stylish and iconic national treasure. We have enjoyed consistent recognition and reward for both creativity and effectiveness of our creative output and we look forward to meeting the challenge of this pitch with the dedication, passion and enthusiasm we greet every brief from M&S.”

This isn’t a view shared by everyone in the business but it’s hard sometimes to quantify an agency’s contribution when aspects of the client’s business are floundering, as they have been at M&S.

Actually there may be some logic in M&S considering only WPP agencies as the group is somewhat short of retail business and so there aren’t many conflicts. The most obvious is JWT with Debenhams. CHI has Argos but that may well disappear now it’s owned by Sainsbury’s while VCCP recently lost Asda to Saatchi & Saatchi.

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