The move of Absa’s account from the Jupiter Drawing Room Johannesburg to FCB has been a round of mutual backslaps, with the parties heaping high praise on each other. But when an account of this size moves, ad-land will feel repercussions for some time.
Picture: BLOOMBERG/NADINE HUTTON
Picture: BLOOMBERG/NADINE HUTTON

The move of Absa’s account from the Jupiter Drawing Room Johannesburg to FCB has been a round of mutual backslaps, with the parties heaping high praise on each other. But when an account of this size moves, ad-land will feel repercussions for some time.


Absa, a division of Barclays, spends R500m/year on advertising. Its decision is one of the biggest SA account re-alignments in recent years.

After an exhaustive pitch process that began with 40 agencies expressing an interest, and a decision to split the account into business-to-consumer and business-to-business streams, the winning and losing agencies will inevitably set about recalibrating their own capacity, and that means recruitment and retrenchment.

While FCB will handle the lion’s share of the work, Mortimer Harvey, which has had a 14-year association with Absa, will deal with the business-to-business side.

David Wingfield, head of marketing at Barclays Africa, says: "FCB put a model on the table we liked. The energy the agency brought and a good cultural fit [also made a good impression]."

Immediate priorities will be to finalise commercial contracts and work through internal governance procedures.

FCB’s pedigree in working with blue-chip brands was another reason for the change. But Wingfield acknowledges the Jupiter Drawing Room, whose stewardship of the account made it a highly awarded financial services brand for a decade.

Wingfield stresses the decision to change was driven only by a procurement strategy to re-evaluate service providers.

But is there more to it? Some senior marketing insiders think FCB’s very successful rebranding of Vodacom some years back might have counted in its favour, with an Absa rebrand expected to be in the offing as Barclays Africa exits the continent.

"That would be incorrect," says Wingfield, because no radical change is envisaged to the marketing strategy.

FCB Africa CEO Brett Morris says that by any measure the account win is huge for the agency. He welcomes an opportunity "to work on a brand that makes a huge impact on the SA and African economy, and it’s a responsibility we don’t take lightly." He says FCB’s experience on global blue-chip brands, such as Toyota and Coca-Cola, helped. But he won’t comment on whether the Vodacom rebrand counted. It’s too early to talk about staffing up, "as the scope and the scale of the account" is still being processed.

Apart from sponsorship, brand design and internal change management, the entire Absa account was out to pitch. Short-listed agencies included Ogilvy & Mather SA, FCB Africa, DDB, Publicis and a collective of agencies pulled together by the Jupiter Drawing Room.

Agencies on the business-to- business short list included Mortimer Harvey, iKineo, Demographica and Publicis Machine.

Mortimer Harvey’s Dave Mortimer says his agency is still working out the scope of a new direction on the account. Previously it handled retail work, and it is now tasked with the business-to-business portfolio. He’s confident that he will not have to retrench, and says his offering is bolstered by its acquisition of specialist direct marketing agency Action Ambro’s.

Graham Warsop, founder and chairman of the Jupiter Drawing Room, says losing the account will affect the agency, as Absa was an anchor client. With any big account loss, downsizing is inevitable, and this will happen through an initial voluntary retrenchment process.

Warsop is immensely proud of the work the agency did on the account, which culminated in it being acknowledged as Barclays’ global supplier of the year.

Jupiter, says Warsop, will manage the account until the end of the year and the goal is to try to replace the business in that time. Given the current contraction of marketing budgets, that will not be easy, but Jupiter has a strong creative and strategic pedigree and Warsop says his current management team is up to the challenge.

In a statement he says Jupiter "did not have the digital portfolio, which is highly undesirable, given where the world is moving. Also, at the time of the mandatory procurement request for proposal, the client seemed attracted by the full suite of services potentially available through a global agency network. So, seeking to maintain the status quo was not an option for Jupiter."

Warsop’s ultimately unsuccessful approach to holding onto the account might in time prove to be a new model agencies have to adopt, as many clients are seeking highly specialised best practice that is sometimes found in smaller shops. To that end Warsop created an entity called Prosperous — a play on the current Absa positioning statement — with a selection of specialist agencies and backed by holding company WPP, which uses this approach effectively with the Ford brand.