Why agencies should say “no” to Thomas Cook’s ad package

I feel uncomfortably close to the former footballer Jamie Redknapp. Perhaps it’s because those glans grazing silver suits on Sky Super Sunday offer more than a wink towards the Redknapp Crown Jewels.

It started, though, with that golden-hued Thomas Cook ad, created by Beta, that showed Redknapp capering around a beach with his wife Louise. Utter tat undoubtedly (it was judged Campaign’s second worst celebrity ad of 2010) but viewing it now provides a gateway to a simpler time. A time when the Euro crisis looked like being resolved, a time before riots in Mediterranean countries and a time before unemployment figures rocketed. For that, at least, we should thank Jamie.

Since dumping the Redknapps for a “destination focus” Thomas Cook’s fortunes have declined, partly due to the aforementioned financial crisis. Its difficulties have been well-documented and the brand faces a long road ahead before it is fully recovered. Now, its marketing director Mike Hoban is looking to hire a new ad agency, having parted company with Havas Worldwide London.

The chance to pitch for a £12 million piece of business will see agencies beating a furious path to Hoban’s door. Many of them will already know him. As the top marketer at Confused.com he conducted a lengthy review process before appointing Publicis to the account (we still await the agency’s first work). Prior to this he held senior marketing positions at brands including BA, Barclaycard and WH Smith.  He’s a marketer with a reputation for building strong relationships with agencies and enjoying the culture that surrounds them.

Yet, despite the obvious attractions, agencies have reason to be cautious around Thomas Cook. Not only due to its financial position but also because of a track record that reveals some shoddy behaviour towards its shops. Media agencies might recall its aborted attempt to charge a £1m “signing-on” fee to a winning agency in a pitch while, more recently, Havas was at the receiving end of a decision to scrap its New Year advertising blitz. Moreover, the creatively inclined should consider the brand’s woeful creative heritage before they proceed. Avoiding a “turkey of the week” award in Campaign is no easy task with Thomas Cook on your books.

I’d say these factors should be enough to prevent any strong agency from pitching for the business. Act like Jamie and show some balls for God’s sake. Yet they won’t. I’ve already spoken to one good agency which is willing to dismiss Thomas Cook’s track record as it looks to  fill that “difficult travel sector hole” in its client base. Fair enough, but don’t be surprised should you end up in the business equivalent of the holiday from hell.

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