Virgin review shows that no account is sacrosanct

As the seemingly prosaic (but supposedly significant) Smart Meter Central Delivery Body was apparently sending gifts of Guinness, Red Bull, crisps and biscuits to the four agency consortiums that it had selected to pitch for the £85 million ad business, Virgin Atlantic was serving up less welcome fare to Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R.

By all accounts, the news that the business was going up for pitch came as something of a shock to the incumbent agency. And given its unbroken 20-year relationship and history of exceptional and distinctive work that defined the brand under Mark Roalfe’s careful stewardship, you can understand the dismay both internally and externally.

If RKCR/Y&R moulded the Virgin Atlantic proposition, then the opposite is also true – as Roalfe wrote last year of winning the brief back in 1994: "Virgin defined us. Naughty client equalled naughty agency." But you could argue that the true extent of its irreverence has only just become apparent.

If there is any lesson to be learned, then it is that no client relationship is ever assured and that great work doesn’t leave room for complacency – although I’m not suggesting that there was any in this instance. Wholesale management change at a client needs extra attention and love, no matter how successful the partnership has been to date. And much like CHI & Partners, which was made to jump through hoops to retain Argos after the arrival of a new marketing director, despite its success on the business, there is widespread sympathy for RKCR/Y&R.

Not for the first time this year, an advertising review has put an ill-deserved dampener on an agency's year

Obviously, no agency is sympathetic enough to rule itself out of the process – Creativebrief, the intermediary involved, has thrown it open to all comers, of which only a handful are surely qualified to participate. But, then, for Creativebrief to land a pitch of this size is also a significant milestone that means it has made an impression on this already well-supplied market. It is therefore understandable that the intermediary wants to use this juiciest of bones as a new-business tool to encourage agencies to sign up and pay for its services.

Some consolation for RKCR/Y&R must lie in the tacit acknowledgement of the shop’s significant contribution in Creativebrief’s agency briefing note, which revealed that Virgin Atlantic had a "strong reputation for outstanding creativity and this is something [it] is enormously proud and fiercely protective of. This must remain at the heart of everything [it does] in the future."

But – and not for the first time this year – a review has put an ill-deserved dampener on an agency’s year (and RKCR/Y&R was just beginning to build a head of steam), forcing the shop to focus money and resource on retaining the business. A little bit of me hopes that natural justice prevails and the account doesn’t move anywhere.

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