Lessons learned from BA's marathon creative review

The epic British Airways pitch - a seven-month review of the airline's marcoms strategy - is the most significant so far this year. What have we learned from Bartle Bogle Hegarty's victory? The answer depends on who you are.

The exhausted, downhearted SapientNitro – which went right to the wire – may realise there are some areas that still lie beyond its mammoth grasp. Campaign’s Digital Agency of the Year 2013 was BBH’s closest rival for BA’s combined advertising and customer engagement account – one of the most prestigious prizes in adland – which just shows how far this shop has come from its tech roots. And yet, despite a growing play in brand consultancy and "storytelling" through content, BA’s marketing chief, Abigail Comber, ultimately opted for BBH’s formidable brand insight and client handling.

What has BA learned from a review that some argue has simply been a costly and demoralising client exercise?

However, the retention of BA is also game-changing for Kingly Street’s finest. Having launched BBH Sport last week, the chief executive, Ben Fennell, now needs to absorb a new CRM division – led by Simon Hall and Warren Moore – into the building. Integration and collaboration have been Fennell’s battle cry of late because he recognises the world has changed. Hence we glimpse a future vision of this iconic ad agency once John Hegarty and Nigel Bogle move out in June. The challenge for BBH’s bosses will be to marry up a raft of new skillsets with what has always been a laser-focus on creative output.

For poor old Ogilvy, the pitch is perhaps proof that OgilvyOne is still the star of the group in London and that this is no longer enough when it comes to big brands such as BA, which demand more holistic thinking.

But what has BA learned from a review that some of the losing agencies argue has simply been a costly and demoralising client exercise in shifting CRM into an existing ad shop?

Comber tells me it has enabled BA to find a way of leveraging the creative brand strategy – "To fly. To serve" – across all channels of customer engagement. She believes she can now optimise this brand truth through BA’s advertising, direct marketing, experiential and social media activity. If achievable, a laudable pursuit.

(One suspects it was also a crafty test of "To fly. To serve" against some of London’s best brand thinkers, which explains the presence of agencies such as Mother and Grey London on the original longlist.)

Moreover, we should all take this as a portent of things to come. Integration has reached a new level with BA’s review. Client budgets will not increase, but they now want it all, in a holistic package, underpinned by pre-eminent brand insight and compelling execution. No pressure, then.



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