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LOST LAMBS: Ogilvy & Mather Shows Clients Can Come Home Again as It Wins Back Chesebrough-Pond’s, Maxwell House, AmEx and Shell Oil Accounts By David Kile

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‘It is an idea that was sold through to our French company, but which we felt, almost right away, was the perfect vehicle for a global campaign,’ says Cohen. ‘Then, of course, we had to set up an actual Institute, both here and in Europe.’
After O&M tested the idea in Europe, the Institute campaign was at first brought to the U.S. for a test last fall by McCann-Erickson, which had taken the U.S. account from Ogilvy in April 1991. But last April, seeing the benefits of having one agency carry the idea worldwide, Pond’s reinstated Ogilvy’s N.Y. office on the $30-million U.S. account.
The ‘win-back’ of the U.S. Pond’s business is one in a string of returning lost sheep for Ogilvy over the last 30 months, beginning with the agency’s reinstatement on Kraft General Foods’ Maxwell House coffee brand – worth some $60 million. The other two big victories were the $70 million in consumer billings of American Express in October 1992, and the $10-million U.K. business of Shell Oil last May.
What these four ‘returned’ accounts have in common is that after Ogilvy lost them, the agency retained some other part of the client’s business – either a geographic market, another brand or a division. (O&M, for example, retained Pond’s in the rest of the world despite losing it in the U.S.) That left Ogilvy still in the ‘family’ of the departing client – and gave management an opening to court the account again down the line.
For Charlotte Beers, who took over as chairman/chief executive of Ogilvy a year ago, this so-called ‘Operation Win-Back’ was a new business strategy made-to-order. Indeed, it was started on former chairman Graham Phillips’ watch. But Beers saw its potential and made it the core of her rehabilitation strategy for the worldwide agency.
‘The strategy, in short, is to spend a disproportionate amount of time and resources on the clients we already have, and that means limiting the number of new client calls we answer,’ says Beers.
Today, for instance, Beers and her fellow executives are wondering what they did to drive off Electronic Data Systems, which pulled its account a few weeks ago from the agency’s Houston office in favor of Goldsmith/Jeffrey, N.Y. O&M is not giving up on EDS. It is currently pitching the business in the U.K., which, if successful, would give Ogilvy a base from which one day to win back the U.S. business.
‘We can’t go to these clients with the idea of winning business back,’ says Beers. ‘The idea is to concentrate on the work that you still have with a particular client, especially multinational ones. That’s the best way to get more of their business in the future, which has lately meant reclaiming quite a bit of business we had previously lost,’ she says.
This strategy of growth and survival didn’t exactly have to be invented by Beers, but she can be credited with speeding up its implementation. Indeed, when she arrived, Ogilvy/New York president Shelly Lazarus and creative head Bill Hamilton had already begun a process that would eventually win back most of the AmEx billings it had lost to Chiat/Day. At the same time, former chairman Phillips helped design the strategy that would land the agency the Jaguar business a few months after Beers arrived.
These wins allowed Beers, in a short period of time, to turn the image of Ogilvy from that of being in a free fall to being a venerable agency with new focus and smarts. Since then she has deepened this effort of steadying current clients and renewing the agency’s friendship with old clients.
Andy Bielanski, managing partner of Lord Dentsu/N.Y., and formerly an international account director at DMB&B, says Ogilvy’s record for winning over former clients is admirable. ‘I think everyone has to be impressed with what they have done, but it is also heartening to see that clients are smart enough to know that unless there are irreconcilable differences between people, the best place to start in solving a problem is with those who know you best,’ says Bielanski.
Such was the strategy when O&M won back the U.K. business of Shell last May. Beginning in 1990, O&M in fairly rapid succession lost the energy company’s U.K., German, Dutch and Australian accounts, each time being fired by Shell’s local operating company.
‘It suddenly became fashionable, it seemed, to fire O&M from this business,’ says John Blaney, executive director of worldwide clients.
With the U.K. account, Blaney admits the agency may have for a short time taken its eye off the ball. But after Shell-U.K. sacked O&M and hired one of Britain’s premier creative shops in Bartle Bogle Hegarty, the O&M account team never stopped servicing the account. ‘We bombarded Shell with information about themselves, about their competition, about underdeveloped markets, everything we could get our hands on that was relevant to their business.’ The work paid off, and after some staffing changes at the client, O&M was rehired two months ago. And the strategy, says Blaney, that won that client back is being deployed in the other markets as well. O&M handles Shell all over the world. And the rule of thumb with a global client, Blaney agrees, is if you have it everywhere, you don’t want to lose it anywhere.
Perhaps the most celebrated of the win-backs is American Express. In Nov. 1991, the credit card issuer pulled its consumer business, estimated at $60 million in billings, and moved it to Chiat. Again, O&M had a base from which to get the business back since it retained the service-establishment piece of the business, typically a smaller piece of the ad pie that is directed at retailers, restaurant owners and the like, to try and get them to accept the card.
At the time AmEx pulled the consumer business from O&M, Lazarus says, the client was overwhelmed with the need to try a fresh approach with a different agency. ‘We understood that, and so we decided to come up with a big idea for the business we still had.’ What O&M did was create a campaign that focused on prominent business leaders like Toys ‘R’ Us chairman Charles Lazarus and Body Shop founder/chief executive officer Anita Rodick. By using such well-known figures in business, who talked about themselves as card users, not just in terms of accepting the card at their stores, though, Ogilvy hit the proverbial two birds with the same campaign.
So the service establishment ads became the consumer ads, and O&M got back most of the billings, if not the actual consumer assignment. And though the agency is mum, credit card industry sources say there is talk at AmEx of making it a global campaign using international business figures.
Any discussion about O&M’s propensity to win back lost accounts must eventually touch on KGF’s Maxwell House business. The loss of the coffee account in May 1988 to DMB&B was a wake-up call to the agency, which had been losing business by losing touch with the most important legacy of David Ogilvy – brand management and marketing partnership with the clients. In 1989, when Hamilton came to O&M from Chiat/Day, there were eight significant accounts that needed stabilizing. Maxwell House, a $60-million account, was regained by O&M in October 1990 after DMB&B had failed to produce any work that the client wanted to spend that much money on.
Aside from EDS, there is one other account mentioned by more than one O&M executive as targeted for win-back – the Compaq Computer business it lost in 1991. It won’t be easy, though, given that it has no remaining business with the client to build on, and the agency that replaced O&M is Ammirati & Puris.
Another more likely candidate for win-back, at least on paper, is Sears Apparel, which dismissed O&M, and just hired Young & Rubicam. O&M remains agency of record for home products and automotive. But Beers says she isn’t too hopeful about getting the apparel business back since Sears’ management has said they want to have two multi-national agencies to draw on. But Beers’ approach would strongly indicate that Ogilvy shouldn’t be counted out of that one either. With the telegenic confidence of Sears home improvement pitchman Bob Vila, she wielded a Sears Craftsman hammer in a recent interview and declared, ‘I still consider Ogilvy to be the primary guardian of the Sears brand.’
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)