Several advertising agencies go into the festive break with an air of uncertainty hanging over their 2017 bottom line.
After an eight-month process, MTN has effectively put its search for new agency partners on hold, while Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) has confirmed that it is re-evaluating its entire agency roster.
Before the MTN process was put on hold, the three big multinational groups — Omnicom, Publicis and WPP — were all in the running. Participating agencies are expressing frustration over the lack of progress, which, they say, is impeding their ability to forward plan.
But MTN is adamant that the process is still on track.
"Commercials are being negotiated in line with MTN’s procurement process, to identify the best fit-for-purpose integrated agency, in keeping with the areas of evaluation," it says in a statement.
The network provider says all existing agency contracts have been extended, and it is business as usual.
The incumbent WPP-aligned MetropolitanRepublic agency appears to be a short-term winner from the ongoing prevarication, having just produced MTN’s first big brand TV commercial in years, titled "Nightshift".
Early consumer response is highly favourable. There is no clear indication as to when the pitch process will resume.
After the SABMiller-AB InBev deal, many in the ad industry have been asking if the axe would fall on existing agency relationships.
The brewing giant went some way in clearing up the confusion this week. Marketing vice-president Andrea Quaye says that as part of the normal order of business, the organisation periodically evaluates its roster "in light of what needs to be achieved by our business in the coming year, as well as to generate new and exciting ideas for the brands which often arise as a result of such reappraisals".
Quaye stresses, however, that "this process is limited to a minority of agencies, and the majority of agencies continue to be partners, as we strive to continue raising the bar in creating compelling and exciting adverts for our consumers."
She says those agencies that are being reviewed are in no way precluded from consideration in the future. She declines to name which agencies are on the potential chopping block or to disclose timelines. All Quaye will say is: "A few contracts are being reviewed as we always do in the normal order of business. There will be no wholesale change to our agency landscape."
After the mega-merger, questions are also being asked about a different approach to marketing and advertising and from where, and who will call the shots.
"We will continue with the process of refining our marketing execution to bring an ever greater level of excitement to our consumers, as part of our ambition to continue creating globally award-winning advertising campaigns. We have set high standards in our creative ambitions for the marketing of our brands and will continue striving to achieve these."
She is also emphatic about local influence on local brands. "One of the key characteristics of beer is that it is guided by local tastes, insights and consumers. As a result, each beer brand is driven and guided by a strategy that is specific to its marketplace and consumers.
"In addition, we are likely to implement a greater push towards campaigns that reflect a sentiment of closeness to local communities as well as focusing on the importance of promoting moderate consumption among consumers."
Having said that, Quaye also talks up the power of marketing synergy. "Our new partnership has provided great opportunities for best practice and learnings from both organisations. We have adopted an approach of using the best ways, irrespective of whether they come from SAB or AB InBev."
While not being specific, Quaye also confirms that plans are being reviewed to introduce new brands in the SA market.