Carat scores a hat-trick in media’s biggest new biz week in years

One of the biggest weeks for media agency new business in recent memory has kicked off with a hat-trick of wins for Carat.

Carat had cause to celebrate after it beat MindShare, PHD and MediaCom to retain the £31.5m British account for Diageo, which it had held since 1998, and won the £20m GE Consumer Finance Home Lending business. Yesterday it was understood to have also secured the European Lego account, worth an estimated £35m – £8m in the UK – although no one at the agency would confirm the win.

The Carat wins come as agencyland holds it breath over the massive Unilever and Nestlé briefs, which are expected to be resolved later this week.

The global Nestlé account has already been decided, with ZenithOptimedia and WPP’s Group M beating Universal McCann – which handled chilled foods and cereals in the UK – for the £894m brief, but what this means for the £59m UK business are still to be decided.

It is believed that existing deals for individual products and markets are to be scrapped and that media activity will be handled on a country-by-country basis.

Meanwhile, Carat, MindShare and Initiative are in contention for the £555m Unilever European brief.

The consumer goods giant is expected to announce its chosen agencies this crunch week, which is a particularly tough one for the Interpublic Group with Universal McCann already losing its share of the Nestlé account and Initiative facing the loss of the Unilever business, worth more than £205m in the UK alone – close to half the agency’s billings, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The stakes are high for Carat and MindShare as well. If either were to win the entire Unilever account in the UK, they would leapfrog to top the Nielsen billings table. WPP-owned MindShare held in third spot in the 2003 Nielsen listing – behind its new stable-mate, number one MediaCom, and number two ZentihOptimedia, owned by Publicis.

Last week’s wins for Carat are hugely important for the Aegis agency, which slipped two places down the Nielsen billings last year, from second to fourth.

As well as losing two big accounts –Abbey National and Cadbury – the company failed to secure any major new business in 2003.

A jubilant Jenny Biggam, Carat’s marketing director, said: “We’ve made new business a priority this year. We have had more people involved in pitches and put more emphasis on it.

Last year, we didn’t win enough to replace them [Abbey National and Cadbury]. It was a bit of a one-off for us, we’ve always had a good reputation for winning new business.”

She added: “Although the timing of the two wins has coincided, they were very different pitches – the clients were looking for completely different things. Diageo was about planning ability, buying ability and communications strategy; the GE win was much more about our direct capability, which has grown a lot in the past 18 months.”

The Unilever and Nestlé pitches have both been complex and expensive efforts in which leading players from all the agencies have added to their frequent flyer miles.

While the Diageo pitch was not as far-flung, it was also a big deal for the local operations fighting for the account.

For Carat, up to 40 people were involved in retaining the business, which includes legendary drinks brands Guinness, Baileys, Gordon’s, Smirnoff and Bell’s Scotch, although a core team of eight has worked on the pitch since Carat received the brief in August.

The process began with a series of workshops where agencies were tested on how they generated new ideas, Biggam said, followed by the traditional written submission and the final presentation for which Carat decorated its boardroom to fit the Baileys brand.

Part of the process was to deconstruct what the Baileys brand stands for, she explained.

Colin Mills, managing director, said: “This pitch was a real test of the whole of Carat. Diageo was looking for an agency that could do everything from coming up with new consumer insight to brilliant buying. We were up against some of the very best media agencies, so are delighted to have won.”

Biggam added: “I think because it went on so long, it tested every bit of the agency. It tested our ability to do consumer research, to create a communication strategy, to pick the right channels and to buy well.

“It’s such a big and high profile account. It’s the kind of account every agency wants.”

Carat’s upturn of fortune comes in the same year that Aegis UK appointed a new chief of operations, with Nigel Sharrocks taking over from Mark Craze in April.

“Nigel has already made a big difference to the whole Aegis group, but especially to Carat. It’s great to have a real figurehead in this position,” he said.

The GE Consumer Finance was won by Carat’s 30-strong direct communications team, set up in April 2003 and headed by Helen Davies. It has worked alongside the agency’s data planning team and has won business this year for First Direct insurance, worth an estimated £10m, and catalogue company Shop Direct, worth another £20m.

A core team of five worked on the GE pitch, which Biggam described as “unusual”.

“It was a long process and rather than do a formal beauty parade-type pitch, they did an open morning where they came in and looked at our systems. It was about a company they could work with that had the skills and a similar culture to theirs.”

By Julia Martin

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