TUPE madness

Wednesday, 21 September 2011, 15:42 | Category : General
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I nearly fell off my chair when I saw the article in PR Week announcing Lexis’ move to invoke the TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings – Protection of Employment) legislation after losing the Boots account. I’ve always admired Lexis; it has a fantastic reputation in the UK market for creative, high-energy campaigns for some leading brands. It also has some amazing leadership – people I’ve known and respected over the years are on the board there and have been taking the agency to great places over the last few years. But I can’t help feel that this TUPE story will sadly tarnish their reputation. And unfairly so.

TUPE – long feared and debated by HR managers across the country – has always been, something that only big IT giants need to worry about, not suitable for the world of PR. Is this going to be something we see more and more now the economy is facing a double dip recession? I, for one, really hope not.

Fact is that Lexis has been forced down the TUPE route to protect its staff from the alternative of redundancy, (it’s the law and they didn’t write it!). But it is unlikely to be welcomed by the employees concerned. They are faced with the prospect of leaving the agency they’ve chosen to work at, for another firm with different peers, clients and culture. In our business you are only as good as your people – and having to move them around like office furniture probably won’t do much for morale.

On the other side, there’s the implications for the client involved. I imagine they wanted a change, a fresh look at things – hence why they conducted the repitch. Unless the agency “inheriting” the new staff has a surplus of business to service, they will have to put their new staff onto the account – or risk disrupting other teams and accounts. For the client, to walk into a meeting with your new agency partner and see the same faces glumly staring back at you is unlikely to generate a good agency/client relationship from the outset – or to produce award winning results. And what about other smaller Lexis clients who will be seeing some/all of their agency team shipped out?

Finally, what does this do to the broader market? A burden of additional unplanned staff makes chasing that profit margin even harder, and presents MDs with a real conundrum regarding the viability of going after the biggest accounts. Good for sales figures, bad for improved profitability. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out and what changes we see at the two agencies involved over the coming months.

Going forward agency bosses are going to have to look long and hard at how they resource mega accounts. Having staff spending more than half their time dedicated to one client is something that agencies will have to carefully avoid. Perhaps one way might be to use dedicated freelance talent to play key roles and provide those ‘always on’ account members that big accounts need to function.


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