Who Told British Airways There Are Other Agencies?

06 July 2005

Alright. Who talked? Who told the British Airways board there are agencies out there with nary a single Saatchi between them?

Could it have been incoming ceo Willie Walsh, a former pilot and ex-head of Aer Lingus, who takes over the BA controls from Sir Rod Eddington in October?

Neither Eddington nor his predecessors Robert Ayling and Sir Colin Marshall appeared to be aware of the fact and the whistleblower - whoever he (or she?) may be - is wisely keeping a low profile. The Saatchis move in high places and their arm is long.

Whatever the mole's identity, the BA account is officially up for grabs for the first time since December 1994 when Maurice and Charles Saatchi were surgically separated by Chicago fund manager David Herro from their eponymous Saatchi & Saatchi empire.

Within days of announcing their intention to launch a new shop, M&C Saatchi, the BA autopilot kicked-in and without competitive tender followed the brothers to their fledgling venture. Where until now, ten years on, the account has been incarcerated like Rapunzel from the rest of the rude advertising world.

This week BA announced that the fairytale had ended and its £60 million ($106m; €89m) global ad account opened to competition. Among the contenders for the glittering prize will be agencies that lack the magical double 'a' and, of course, M&C Saatchi.

BA commercial director Martin George attempted an explanation for this decision - albeit one so overloaded with corporate clichés that it prevented a credibility takeoff.

"As the airline continues to face the challenges of an increasingly competitive market," intoned George, "we are required to review all our major contracts across the business in line with our corporate procurement policy.

"This means that we will review our global advertising to ensure it meets the needs of our changing business and that we manage our worldwide account in the most effective way."

Chorused M&CS ceo David Kershaw, seemingly singling from the same hymnsheet: "It is British Airways policy to review all major contacts across the business in line with their corporate procurement policy. We obviously respect this and look forward to participating in the review in order to continue our successful partnership."

It will not be lost on students of the Brothers Grimm that after many misadventures Rapunzel was eventually reunited with her Prince and both lived happily ever after.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff