Maurice and Charles Saatchi's 23-year relationship with British Airways is in jeopardy after the airline decided to put its £60 million global advertising account out to pitch.
The review is part of cost-cutting drive, instigated by BA's incoming chief executive, Aer Lingus's Willie Walsh, who will take over from Rod Eddington later this summer.
The process is being handled by ISBA, which has already drawn up a longlist of ten agencies, including M&C Saatchi, the incumbent of ten years. This list will be narrowed down to four agencies, which will be asked to pitch in early September.
BA's commercial director, Martin George, said: "As the airline continues to face the challenges of an increasingly competitive market, we are required to review all of our major contracts across the business in line with our corporate procurement policy."
BA's supplier review is expected to extend to its other roster shops, such as ZenithOptimedia and Tullo Marshall Warren. However, BA said it was not considering this yet.
Early favourites to make the creative shortlist include Bartle Bogle Hegarty (which narrowly missed out to M&C Saatchi during the review in 1995), as well as Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and JWT.
The Saatchi connection with BA goes back to 1982, when Saatchi & Saatchi landed the account after presenting BA's then chairman, Lord King, with the strapline: "The world's favourite airline."
Losing BA would hit M&C Saatchi hard, domestically and globally. According to Nielsen, BA spent £33.5 million above the line in the UK last year and BA features on the client lists of eight of M&C Saatchi's 12 overseas offices.
However, Tim Duffy, the chief executive of M&C Saatchi, claimed the review would not halt the agency's ongoing plans to move into the French, Spanish, German and Italian markets.
M&C Saatchi's share price dipped on news of the review, dropping from 130p to 124p.
- Perspective, page 21.