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Singapore Airlines prepares to kick off review with Publicis among agencies in the frame

Publicis will be among the agencies bidding for the global Singapore Airlines creative and media business in what is already being touted as one of the most intense pitches of the year in Singapore.

Singapore Airlines has only had two creative AOR in 45 years

Publicis-owned Zenith is the incumbent media agency for the airline, having won the business from MEC in 2015.

The three-year deal finishes at the end of next month, although the original agreement, which began in October 2015, included an option to extend for two years.

Publicis is also pitching for the Cathay Pacific business.

The first stage of the Singapore process kicks off  today with a briefing to interested agencies who have until September 5 to submit their RFI documents.

Singapore Airlines SVC sales and marketing Campbell Wilson

A shortlist will be drawn up by the airline in the week of September 24.

New of the pitch emerged at the beginning of the week through the release of a Request for Information (RFI). The 23-page document detailed the airline’s desire to find agencies who will “cut through the changing marketing and communications landscape with impact”.

The move comes 18 months after the airline began an internal review amid increasing competition in the aviation sector.

“As we review our business to be future fit, we are likewise doing the same to ensure we are collaborating with the right external marketing agencies in the right way so that they will play a strategic role throughout our transformation,” it said in the RFI.

The airline said it was inviting agencies to provide an “integrated solution” to “elevate our iconic brand as we continue to spread our wings globally”.

Singapore’s decision to trigger a review and test the market was met with surprise in some quarters given the company’s historically conservative approach and reluctance to switch agencies.

TBWA became only the second creative agency for Singapore Airlines since its launch in 1972 when, to widespread shock, the airline ditched Batey Ads in 2007.

Batey, an independent Singaporean agency led by the hugely respected Ian Batey, had worked side-by-side with Singapore Airlines for 35 years, and was the brains behind the internationally renowned Singapore Girl.

Batey was folded into Grey two years later, having initially sold a stake in the agency to WPP in 1997.

TBWA has held the creative account for the past 11 years, retaining creative duties in late 2014 without a pitch despite speculation it would be reviewed.

One source told Mumbrella TBWA had done a good job of modernising the airline’s brand and its still-loved Singapore Girl, while retaining the airline’s heritage.

“If you ask within the industry you will find there is recognition that TBWA has done a pretty good job of bringing the airline up to date,” the source said. “I imagine there was internal pressure to go to the market but I question whether the appetite is really there.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a reluctant “let’s have a look after 11 or 12 years” before deciding to retain the status quo.”

Among the work produced by TBWA included an animated film to celebrate Singapore Airline’s 70th anniversary.

TBWA was also behind a new-look inflight safety video for Singapore Airlines last year.

Singapore Airlines has also been remarkably loyal to its media agencies, working with MEC for 15 years until Zenith ousted the agency in a competitive pitch in 2015.

As with the current review, the carrier issued an RFI for media in 2009 before retaining MEC.

Questions have also been raised about the timing of the current review given that Cathay Pacific is still in the throes of a pitch involving some of the major agency groups.

That was dismissed by sources close to the airline who said every client works to their own timeframe and not to those of competitors.

TBWA did not respond to Mumbrella requests for comment, but it would be a considerable surprise if parent Omnicom did not submit its own bid to work with Singapore’s most iconic brand, if not the most iconic.

Singapore Airlines also declined to comment beyond information contained in the RFI.

The pitch is being conducted by R3 which is also running the review process for Cathay Pacific.

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