Agencies agog as Absa chooses maverick
The ad industry was reeling this week after Absa's move, writes MARCIA KLEIN
The pitch was arguably the most hotly contested in the country's advertising history, with 10 agencies involved in the initial pitch, spending an estimated R5-million between them.
The appointment of a new agency follows Absa's decision to consolidate its advertising account. Previously its various brands were handled by six different agencies.
Absa asked for pitches from 10 agencies, including the six incumbents, and then drew up a short-list of three, including Lindsay Smithers-FCB and Sonnenberg Murphy Leo Burnett.
There was all-round surprise that Absa had chosen Gitam/BBDO, a relatively new player and a medium-size agency. Industry sources say it is difficult to imagine Gitam/BDDO managing an account of this size.
The agency was started five years ago by four people, and currently has 50 employees, with billings of R125-million, making it about 17th in terms of agency billings.
Recently it linked up with BBDO International to form Gitam/BBDO. The agency is 45% held by the listed Moribo Leisure, with the balance held by MD Yossi Schwartz and the BBDO International Network. Its major clients include CNA, Guardian National and Douglas Green Bellingham.
The new account means it will probably have to double its staff numbers. With R325-million in billings, including Absa, it now ranks in the top five advertising agencies in SA in terms of size.
Schwartz says he is elated, but adds that the big smile which was permanently etched on his face on Monday and Tuesday disappeared quite rapidly on Wednesday when he was given the brief. "We are ecstatic but also worried. We realise the amount of work - this is probably the biggest challenge in advertising over the next few years.
"We were a medium-sized agency and then, in one day, we became one of the biggest. We are very aware that we have to deliver, gear up, keep standards high and service our clients, but this is an amazing challenge."
Industry sources question whether Gitam/BBDO has enough resources to handle the project. It is known to outsource a lot of its work, and the sources wonder if it will now buy the necessary firepower or continue to outsource some of its work.
They also say that Gitam/BBDO will find it difficult to absorb such a huge account, and that it will be left vulnerable relying on one big client.
Schwartz believes one of the reasons his agency won was that it presented a full spectrum of services, including implementation strategy, product planning and development, and public relations. "This is not just about TV. It's a holistic approach."
Schwartz says: "We are a classical advertising agency but we have a different way of doing business. We absorb the brief and bring a holistic solution. We try tackling the brief from a different angle."
Schwartz says the agency will handle the account together with a number of partners, including VWV Studios and BBDO Europe, which will set up a direct marketing agency in SA.
The agency went all-out to win the pitch. "We did thorough research and we invested R750 000, excluding time. There were 30 people working on the pitch for seven weeks."
Schwartz admits that Gitam/BBDO was the dark horse, and that Absa took a risk, but Absa "recognised our strengths, our multi-disciplined approach and the fact that we are hungry, innovative and fresh."
Absa GM (group marketing and sales) Philip Hendrickse says he is aware of the comments about Absa's choice, adding that the winning agency came out tops after a thorough selection process. The bidders were rated on a number of criteria which included interpretation and implementation of strategy, understanding the market, creative ability and the way the agency would structure itself to handle the account.
"People question their size but they are quite large. They pitched with VWV and the full backing of BBDO world-wide. Also, one has to look at what one wants to get out of a communications agency and they managed to cover the entire loop."
Hendrickse admits that it is a huge challenge to improve Absa's image, which is poor relative to its major competitors.
Schwartz says that unlike some advertising accounts, which merely require ongoing maintenance, Absa's will require significant work. "Absa wants to make it happen. It wants to be the market leader. It knows very well where it wants to go, but it needs help to get there."