Asda ditches Bell Pottinger for start-up agency Ledbury Group

Bell Pottinger has lost flagship public affairs client Asda to fledgling agency The Ledbury Group.

The surprise switch is a coup for Ledbury, which was set up last year by Michael Portillo's former press secretary Malcolm Gooderham.

PRWeek revealed some six weeks ago that Asda had put its account out to pitch (PRWeek, 15 February).

Bell Pottinger Public Affairs repitched for the business, but to no avail. Asda's decision to switch the account is a blow for Bell Pottinger's PA arm, which is also fighting to hold on to its account with McDonald's (PRWeek, 14 March).

Bell Pottinger Public Affairs chair Peter Bingle stressed that the agency would still be working for Asda's property wing, having been hired earlier this year for a major store expansion drive (PRWeek, 25 January).

In a statement, Bingle said: 'Bell Pottinger Public Affairs has enjoyed working with the Asda public affairs team for the past three years. But priorities and personalities change and this is part of the challenge of consultancy. We are now looking forward to working with the property team. It is a huge challenge.'

Last year, Asda hired Paul Kelly, the corporate affairs chief from school dinners company Compass, to be its top UK communicator (PRWeek, 10 May 2007). A few months after Kelly joined, Asda's director of corporate and legal affairs John Longworth left the company (PRWeek, 1 February).

It is understood that Wal-Mart-owned Asda also spoke to FD-LLM, Hanover, Lansons and Quintus, before choosing Ledbury. FD-LLM decided not to proceed because of a client conflict.

The Ledbury Group was set up last year by Gooderham and former special adviser Nick Bent (PRWeek, 30 November 2007). Gooderham worked as Portillo's press secretary from 2000 to 2001 before entering public affairs and eventually becoming deputy MD of corporate comms and public affairs at Weber Shandwick.

At Weber, Gooderham led the Asda account before the agency resigned it and it was snapped up by Bell Pottinger (PRWeek, 10 June 2005).

The Ledbury Group aims to change attitudes towards brands via 'thought-leadership campaigns'. Bent and Gooderham are backed by a ten-strong panel of consultants who help on accounts.

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