The Marketing Week reputations league table was fairly static this year, but JWT managed to increase its lead at the top as AMV.BBDO’s performance faltered.

After five years of unassailable progress in the Marketing Week reputations league table Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO has suffered its first serious reverse.

Last year, AMV jumped two places into second spot and made the gap on leader J Walter Thompson so slim that it seemed inevitable that the agency would this year become the mostly highly regarded in the UK. But instead, it has seen its share of votes from marketing directors across nine criteria drop more than seven per cent – the largest fall of any agency surveyed – and it has slumped to third place. It has seen a particularly serious fall in ratings for financial stability and strong agency management – an area which has previously been seen as one of its main strengths.

All this comes in a year when some of its biggest clients including Sainsbury’s, Volvo and WH Smith ran high-profile campaigns, and its top client BT spent an estimated 80m to dominate, some would say smother, British television screens. Ironically, the fact that you cannot watch commercial television without seeing a “Good to talk” ad could finally be working against AMV. Sources at BT stress that the campaign will change early in the new year and also suggest that spending levels are unlikely to be maintained.

On the shortlist for the Guinness account, AMV has had a relatively quiet new business year. However, its profile has been maintained with purchases such as that of Craik Jones at about the time the survey was being conducted.

The annual reputations survey, now in its ninth year, was compiled by Consensus Research International, using the same methodology as in previous years. It interviewed 150 marketing directors or equivalents from a random sample of the 450 biggest UK advertisers between September 23 and October 22. Those questioned were asked to judge agencies on nine separate criteria, ranging from creativity to value for money and international reach.

Last year, AMV won first place in three of the nine criteria – value for money, attentiveness and adaptability, and marketing strategy. This year, all three have been surrendered to JWT. AMV has also slipped from first to third on the client’s ideal shortlist, but bizarrely in a year when its performance has been rated lower, it is the agency which has gained most esteem in the past 12 months.

AMV’s stumble has allowed JWT to open up the largest gap between first and second place ever recorded in the reputations league table. The agency actually received eight fewer votes this year, but came top in seven out of nine of the criteria. However, it may be the second placing in the creativity table which will bring most satisfaction – and possibly surprise – within the rest of the ad industry.

The only other category JWT failed to win was media buying and planning, but even here it managed to improve on last year’s fourth place, despite its media operation being merged with that of Ogilvy & Mather, into the new WPP venture MindShare this year.

That JWT has hung on to the overall number one slot for the third year in a row will surprise some people, including a few inside the agency itself – it has not been a vintage year for new business.

The loss of 10m of Esso business in the UK, because of the global realignment of Shell into the JWT network at the start of the year, was a severe blow to the London operation. And speculation that its Kellogg client was unhappy, denied by both sides, rumbled on for months.

The departure of Dominic Procter to run MindShare, and the consequent elevation of Stephen Carter to chief executive, kept JWT in the news and coincided with the field research for the survey. Carter has admitted that things can be done better at JWT, but not only is the agency at the top of the ideal shortlist, it is also third in the agencies which have gained most esteem in the past 12 months – last year it failed to make the list.

Ironically its biggest new business success of 1997 came last week with the account to promote the next telephone number change in April 2000 (MW November 20), perhaps worth 20m .

AMV’s fall helped Saatchi & Saatchi’s continued recovery. In the minds of marketing directors, it appears to have shrugged off the damage done by the departure of its famous founders – plus the loss of the BA, Dixons and Gallaher accounts, among others – almost three years ago. It was the only top five agency actually to increase its number of votes this year.

It did not come top in any of the nine criteria, but took second place in four: attentiveness and adaptability; marketing strategy and analysis; coverage of non-UK markets; and financial stability and strong agency management.

After the loss of the two brothers and clients in 1995, it slipped to sixth place in this final category. Its reputation for marketing strategy also collapsed in 1995, but the overall second place this year shows the extent of its recovery in the eyes of the marketing community. With that sort of recovery, its omission from the agencies gaining esteem in the past 12 months list is baffling.

Domestically, Virgin Clothing and Lloyds TSB has been picked up and the international win of Delta Airlines was a further boost.

Saatchi & Saatchi’s result may be made all the more satisfying by a mixed performance from M&C Saatchi which, despite winning new business including Sainsbury’s Bank, the controversial 16m New Millennium Experience company contract and hooking up with Christine Walker to create a new media operation, has dropped five places on the ideal shortlist and two places overall. And while it is seen to have gained esteem in the past 12 months, it has fallen from the top of that particular pile to fourth.

In fourth place overall is Ogilvy & Mather, which has slipped from the third place it has made its own for the past three years. Its best rating was second in the table for the quality of its account managers, but creative director Patrick Collister will be most satisfied that the agency’s work for the Ford Ka, Guinness and the Observer have propelled the agency to its highest rating in the creativity table – sixth.

But O&M will be unhappy with its standing. Other than the result in the creativity table, there is little to suggest progress – rather it appears to have become stuck. It has slipped back on three criteria, and held its placing in three others.

O&M won business from Kodak, Duracell and Perrier but will be expecting deputy managing director Richard Pinder to breathe life into its new business activity. It is facing a review of its 12m Guinness business and has seen several pieces of new Ford work – including the Puma – move to Young & Rubicam rather than Canary Wharf.

The only new entrant to the reputations top five is Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which after a two-year absence from the élite replaces BMP DDB, for the second year experiencing a dramatic drop in its rating. BBH, for the ninth consecutive year, leads the creativity table. Its next highest rank is fourth, for financial stability and marketing strategy. It also makes fourth on the ideal shortlist, and sneaks back on to the table for agencies which have gained most esteem in the past 12 months.

For BMP DDB it is a different story. Contributing to Tony Blair’s election success was not enough to avoid a fall which has seen it slip from second to seventh spot in just two years. Its value for money, creativity, quality of account managers and attentiveness to clients have all fallen. In terms of its international coverage, it has actually fallen out of the top ten – last year it was joint fourth – in a year when parent Omnicom has been scouring the world and buying companies to reinforce all three of its networks.

The most dramatic mover in the reputations league table this year is CDP. The agency, which lists among its major clients Honda, Gallaher and Scottish Courage has regained top ten status on three criteria, entered the top ten for the first time in four more and leaped up the rankings by 20 places or more in every category.

The progress is such that there are only two areas in which CDP does not make the top ten – creativity and coverage of non-UK markets.

Its rise from 43rd in the overall table to ninth is the most comprehensive improvement by an established agency in the history of the Marketing Week survey. The reasons for such a dramatic improvement are difficult to assess. The agency has not won that much new business and is one of those agencies which will face a severe jolt if a tobacco advertising ban is introduced in the next two years.

But it has been doing something right in the eyes of marketing directors. The CDP management must now build on that success or share the fate of Grey London and Leo Burnett this year – agencies which saw growth last year only to stumble out of the top ten in the 1997 reputations survey.

Grey, which has seen several senior managers leave this year, has slipped out of the top ten on six of the nine criteria. Burnett fell out of the top ten criteria in three areas – value for money, media planning and marketing strategy – and fell four places to number 13 in the overall table.

Ironically, Leo Burnett has got itself onto more shortlists this year than for several years – Kwik-Save, Commercial Union, Millennium Experience – but has not been able to convert them. It is currently pitching for both the Wickes and Tetley accounts. But it was forced to resign the Mercedes account earlier in the year because of a supposed conflict with Fiat which uses the Burnett network in mainland Europe.

Elsewhere, CDP’s former chief executive Ben Langdon, who moved to McCann-Erickson as chief executive 18 months ago, has something to celebrate as his new agency moved up six places to sixth in the overall table. A year in which it picked up Esso and Royal Sun Alliance, while keeping the Kwik-Save account within the McCann group, has obviously had an impact on marketing directors.

Langdon, who has a reputation for bringing in new business, has given the agency more personality than it has had for many years. However, this has not been universally welcomed, as there has been a high level of staff turnover and other agencies report a significant number of McCann CVs in circulation.

HHCL & Partners also showed an improvement in the table, climbing nine places back into the top ten, despite losing significant business to global realignments, including Homepride and Mazda, and losing out on the estimated 50m Cable & Wireless Communications account. But it has made inroads on the Guinness business and having, after years of speculation, finally sold the business to a combination of Sir Tim Bell’s Chime Communications and WPP Group HHCL is expected to experience growth next year.

Less happy will be the combined TBWA Simons Palmer agency. In last year’s survey, both agencies reached the top 25, at 22 and 21 respectively. But the fall out of clients and some senior staff – most notably Trevor Beattie – means that the merged agency has slipped out of the top 25. St Luke’s, which had a good new business year, has also slipped out of the top 25.

Last year’s reputations league table was dominated by the growth of media agencies, and a preoccupation with clawing back control of clients’ marketing strategy. While the need to control marketing strategy remains, the media sector has dropped back in reputation terms with only CIA showing the sort of progress that last year propelled TMD into the top ten.

While TMD has maintained its top ten place, CIA’s performance is the more impressive. After 1996’s over-trading debacle, CIA has leaped seven places.

The over-riding impression given by this year’s survey results is one of stagnation. BBH may have entered and BMP.DDB fallen out, but the static nature of the top five suggests that the conservatism of marketing directors has persisted.

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