FOUR weeks ago I asked Andrew Grant of Tulchan a simple question. Had his firm been fired from the retailer Marks & Spencer as its external financial public relations adviser, following the leaking of its annual results which forced their rushed and premature publication?
Grant, rightly known for being courteous, well-informed and straightforward, responded that as far as he knew there had been no parting of the ways between his firm and the company it had served for eight years. He also told me, and I have no reason to not believe him, his firm was not the source of the leak to Sky TV’s Mark Kleinman, who broke the story.
But Grant proceeded to speak to the M&S chairman Robert Swannell, a former Schroders investment banker, and Marc Bolland, the M&S chief executive, to make sure Tulchan was still being retained by the retailer.
When Grant came back he told me he had been assured that he was not in danger of losing the account and that no discussions had been taking place with other agencies.
Two weeks ago, alas, Grant was given the bad news that I feared he would receive all along. He was summoned to see the retailer’s top brass and told his account was being put out to review and that he wouldn’t be asked to re-apply for it.
Now the focus turns to Brunswick, the company I am told will win the account from Tulchan. Bolland is keen to rehire Alan Parker’s agency – it was the M&S agency before Tulchan – believing it will help him spread a more positive message about M&S and its plans. That’s perhaps not an easy task when like-for-like sales are falling in key sectors but not an impossible one if the right people, like John Dixon, have a strategy for reversing such decline.
Bolland has a reputation for not being as candid as he perhaps should be with the media. He also has a hard act to follow, for in Sir Stuart Rose M&S had the closest a boss could be to a media luvvie.
For months, the group denied speculation that its head of clothing Kate Bostock was defecting to Asos, until it was ready to announce her replacements. The denials did not forge a trusting relationship with the press pack or financial analysts.
If Brunswick wins the account – it has conflicts, with Tesco and Debenhams among its other clients – its first job ought to be to curb Bolland’s instinct to obfuscate and delay confirming developments within the group, be they positive or negative.
He has every right to end his links with Tulchan if he feels he can get a better service elsewhere. But he could have communicated the change more deftly.
And if one of his star performers is leaving, he may as well admit it, rather than stubbornly giving a different impression. As chairman, Swannell should begin to help in this process too, rather than allowing these sorts of futile denials. It is high time for a real change of culture at M&S.