And so, after 35 years, that was the end of that. BMW's brief phone call to WCRS last Wednesday evening put a rather brutal conclusion to one of the most enduring relationships in British advertising.
BMW, of course, isn't the first founding client to pull the rug from under its agency - this year already we've had Dixons do the same to M&C Saatchi, while Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R has still got the frighteners on it from Virgin Atlantic. But this one seems different; harsher, maybe.
Such was the depth of the partnership, stories of how they collaborated are famous. It has entered advertising folklore that WCRS became the motor marque’s most successful dealership, as agency staff were given large discounts on the motors and were encouraged to upgrade them regularly. Tales of new BMWs causing jams on the road outside the shop as agency execs sought to get their hands on a new model before trading in their old one are matched only by the famous generosity of WCRS’s legendary petrol card. Evidence of excess, perhaps, but something that people still tend to get misty-eyed over. And, in fairness to WCRS, there is the BMW body of work of which it can also be proud. There doesn’t seem to have been much nostalgia in BMW’s decision to sever its ties with the agency.
It's difficult not to conclude that the dead hand of a procurement specialist made the real final decision
The UK marketing director, Uwe Dreher, had only been in the job a week before calling the review in January, and the explanation for the split, beyond the usual on-the-record platitudes of "valuable contributions" and everyone "wishing each other well", was not forthcoming. It’s difficult not to conclude that the dead hand of a procurement specialist over in Munich made the real final decision.
It’s just a shame that it happened when WCRS had finally got itself out of its new-business funk (hitherto, it has topped the new-business league in this magazine pretty much all year) and, with a steady management team (at last), there had also been tantalising evidence that the work was getting better.
While WCRS was preparing to drown its sorrows, the mood over at FCB Inferno must have been rather different following its Thursday-morning phone chat with Dreher, and congratulations are due to it for that. While DraftFCB seemed a basketcase for as long as anyone can be bothered to remember (not long), its recent merger with the obscure and seemingly unexciting Inferno seems to have paid dividends (it has also just won the National Savings & Investments business). For providing a stark reality check to the rheumy vision of sentimentalists such as me – that there isn’t a place for unconditional loyalty in modern business – maybe we should all be grateful.
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