Lead agencies lose pivotal role

New technology and the trend towards multi-country strategies have led to the breaking down of geographical barriers, and the demise of the concept of a lead agency. John Shannon is President of Grey International

One of the issues most likely to inflame advertising industry nationalist sentiment is that of lead agency selection.

Last year, the German industry press carried a number of articles forecasting the growth of Germany as a location for controlling international advertising assignments. In fact, figures for the number of international accounts on which a Top 20 German subsidiary or partner is lead agency fell from 121 in 1995 to 99 in 1996.

More recently, some French commentators have predicted that traditional British international supremacy may be on the wane. They cite examples of French offices of Anglo-Saxon networks being given greater responsibility, and of French agencies becoming more active in developing their domestic client business in new markets.

It may well be true that traditionally most international assignments would have been gone through London.

It may also be the case that as French companies have expanded into new markets within Europe, they have tended to appoint French agencies to handle their advertising. And perhaps next year, German agencies will reverse last year’s trend to again increase the number of international assignments they lead.

Ultimately, however, this pre-occupation with nationality ignores the key fact that geographical location is of decreasing relevance to the advertising communications process.

New communications technology and the continuing trend by advertisers to develop multi-country strategies and creative executions that will successfully cross borders have combined to change the traditional concept of the lead agency.

Advertisers no longer think in terms of nationality when selecting their agency – they make their choice on the basis of network strength. Above all, they look for an agency’s ability to give a uniform level of international strategic advice, and advertising expertise across the region.

New technology means that creative teams from different countries can work together so that campaigns may be generated by a number of agencies across the network, rather than being imposed centrally.

Like successful international marketers, successful agency networks today are those which have broken down geographical barriers.

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