Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners says goodbye to BMW Mini rather than defend it (again)

Faced with a mandated review, the independent agency has instead chosen to end the long-term relationship.

Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners is walking away from BMW Mini after 11 years on the creative account, saying the cost of defending the business has simply become too much.   

Faced with yet another procurement-mandated review, the independent agency, which is based in Sausalito, Calif, said it would instead sever its relationship with the client. 

"Knowing every three to four years you are defending the business and competing to retain the business is a significant cost and a significant amount of uncertainty," said CEO Greg Stern. "In the end, it’s a business call."

A BMW USA spokeswoman confirmed that the company is preparing to conduct another review of the US creative business, and that BSSP was resigning the account.

"BSSP has elected not to participate and to resign the business," she said. "We respect their decision and appreciate their great work and partnership over the past eleven years."

Sources said the procurement-mandated review was slated to begin in June, but the BMW spokeswoman declined to confirm the timing of the process. It will be a closed review managed by The Burnett Collective, she said.

"A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money," said Stern. "We’re looking at walking away from six months revenue and potentially longer if we were to compete and prevail in the review. 

BSSP, which was named agency of record on the brand after a review in 2005, won the client’s last competitive pitch for the account, in 2012. "We prevailed, and invested the money, and stuck with it and got some great work out of it and chose not to with this one," said Stern.

Since the agency retained the business five years ago, BMW consolidated media planning and buying business for BMW and Mini with UM after a review last year, which added to the financial strain of managing the account, said Stern. "There has been very aggressive cost-cutting on their part in terms of a mandated compensation structure, and related to that, their cost-cutting in consolidating the media business," said Stern. "Because of that consolidation, which reduced our scope of work, our staffing and our fee, it made it even harder to manage the business profitably."

BMW spent $35 million on paid media for the Mini brand from January to November 2016, a significant drop from the same period in 2015, when it spent $51 million, according to Kantar Media. The company spent $37 million advertising the brand in all of 2014. 

Beam, a Boston interactive agency, handles digital and social duties for the brand. 

The agency maintained its lead status on the brand through several BMW corporate shuffles, including four CMO changes and three heads of the Mini division. Tom Noble, the U.S. head of marketing for Mini under which BSSP had produced its most recent work—the "Defy Labels" campaign, which appeared on the Super Bowl and the Olympics and was named an Effies finalist—departed the company last month.

Patrick McKenna, department head of Mini product planning and aftersales, is temporarily assuming all marketing and communications duties. 

"This has been a difficult decision for the agency," said John Butler, Chief Creative Officer at BSSP, in a statement. "Over the years, we have created great work with the talented team at MINI. It’s unusual to have such an extended relationship with a client. We appreciate that opportunity."  

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