M: set to land major Lloyds brief

Rapid process to appoint agency replacement for eight-year incumbent Finsbury.

Lloyds Banking Group is understood to be close to giving its retained financial comms and government relations brief to M: Communications after a rapid pitch process that caused some controversy.

M: was one of four agencies invited to pitch for the account last week, alongside Citigate Dewe Rogerson, Chime Communications/Bell Pottinger and Tulchan Communications.

It is understood that those involved were contacted on Monday (9 March), given the brief the following day and pitched on Wednesday. Lloyds Banking Group's head of comms Shane O'Riordain and CEO Eric Daniels heard the pitches, which were limited to 30 minutes.

One agency source with knowledge of the process said: 'This is hardly the way an organisation in the trou-ble Lloyds is in should approach its comms.'

O'Riordain, who would not confirm or deny M:'s imminent appointment, defended the process, saying it had been 'very thorough' with a 'specific set of objective criteria' to judge the agencies.

PRWeek understands the decision to repitch the account was driven by Daniels, who felt Finsbury and its founder Roland Rudd had a closer relationship with Lloyds' chairman Sir Victor Blank than with himself.

Industry sources suggested Daniels was keen for a 'big personality' to represent Lloyds, with M:'s Nick Miles, Citigate's Tony Carlisle, Chime's Lord Bell and Tulchan's Andrew Grant thought to be leading the pitches.

Fees are thought to be reduced from those paid to previous incumbent Finsbury, but the win represents a huge coup for M: as key banking briefs have traditionally been shared by City names.

However, one agency boss described the brief as 'the job from hell', saying the board had been 'humiliated' by collapsing into government ownership after its HBOS purchase.

Eight-year incumbent Finsbury was invited to repitch but declined to participate, with some reports suggesting that the agency had another banking client lined up.

Finsbury boss Rudd has a close relationship with RBS chairman Sir Philip Hampton and has worked with CEO Stephen Hestor in the past. A source at FD, which holds the RBS account, said it was being repitched. But he was in 'no doubt' that Rudd was in conversations with the RBS board and conceded it would 'not be surprising' if these discussions proved fruitful.

HOW I SEE IT - Steve McCool MD, Weber Shandwick Financial

The environment facing many of the key players in the UK financial services industry is arguably at its worst, across financial, business, economic and political audiences. The immediate PR challenge for any bank, particularly one that has the UK Government as a significant shareholder, is how to move away from the repetition of what caused the problems, and demonstrate how the injection of taxpayers' money is having an immediate and positive impact on the UK economy.

Clear, consistent and intense comms targeting all audiences will be critical for success.

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