Back in July, Telefónica concluded a six-month review for global media buying and planning on its O2 business, selecting Publicis Groupe, much to the relief of incumbent ZenithMedia, which has handled O2's U.K. account (including its earlier incarnation as BT Cellnet) for over 20 years. But now Telefónica has announced a reversal, moving the business to Havas Media without a review.
Havas Media is among the agencies that competed against Publicis Groupe in the original review, leaving some wondering what exactly happened to spur the change of heart. The decision follows Telefónica's $9.3 billion acquisition of Brazil’s GVT broadband operation from Vivendi earlier this year. Vivendi's chairman, Vincent Bolloré, has family ties to Havas, as his son, Yannick Bolloré, is chariman and CEO at Havas. The family owns a 34 percent stake in Havas through its Bolloré Group, which just filed a share exchange offer that would see that number climb past 50 percent.
This has led to much speculation about the nature of Telefónica's decision, with some sources suggesting a deal between Bolloré and Telefónica chairman César Alierta as part of that company's recent acquisition from Vivendi. MarketingEdge remarked that "the U-turn shows an astonishing disregard for the effort—and cost—incurred by pitching agencies," while U.K. publication MediaWeek was among the publications to suggest a deal had been struck between Bolloré and Alierta to hand the €500m O2 media account to Havas. At any rate, the announcement will surely leave a bitter taste in the mouth of Zenith Media, which went from expanding its relationship with O2 to losing a major account.
That O2 was just one of three account wins for Zenith this summer— alongside Electrolux and FX Networks—should help to soften the blow. Havas Media is expected to take control of O2's media buying and planning in January.