Weber Shandwick hit by loss of Virgin Media brief

Virgin Media is preparing to part company with Weber Shandwick as its retained public affairs agency, as rival consultancies eye up the six-figure account.

The communications provider has sidelined WS from its ongoing pitch process and is choosing between Portland and Luther Pendragon. A decision is expected imminently.

The impending loss of the Virgin Media account will come as a blow to WS' public affairs practice, which has held the account for more than four years. The business is understood to be worth more than £200,000 per year in fees, making it one of the agency's biggest public affairs retainers.

Virgin Media, which launched with the help of Sir Richard Branson in early 2007, put its public affairs account out to pitch two months ago (PRWeek, 29 September). The brief includes government and opposition liaison and regulatory affairs. The firm's director of corporate affairs and media Paul Richmond is leading the pitch.

He said: 'Since they won the account in 2005, (WS public affairs chairman) Jon McLeod and his team have made a massive contribution to Virgin Media's development. Their political insight and operational expertise has helped guide us through many high profile regulatory initiatives as well as some key corporate developments, including the merger of ntl and Telewest, the acquisition of Virgin Mobile and the subsequent rebranding of our operations under the Virgin name.

'As the company becomes more established, however, our agency requirements are lessening and, following a review of all our public affairs resources, we've decided to go elsewhere for external support.'

A shortlist of Weber Shandwick, Portland, Luther Pendragon and Lexington Communications was drawn up earlier this month. This week, the field narrowed to Portland and Luther Pendragon, with a decision expected by next week.

Luther is well placed to land the account as its chairman David Elstein previously spent five years as a non-executive director on the Virgin Media board.

Meanwhile, Portland is keen to land a big media client to replace BSkyB, which defected to Hanover earlier this year.

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