A personal view of the Marketing Week Agency Reputation Survey

After five years outside the advertising industry, looking at Marketing Week’s agency reputation tables show that while some things haven’t changed much, there have been some startling developments.

The top of the table hasn’t changed much. JWT, BMP, AMV, Ogilvy & Mather and Saatchi & Saatchi are still all there. And so they should be. They remain good, consistent performers and help keep their clients’ businesses in good shape. The new stars are on the move: M&C Saatchi, Rainey Kelly – now reversed into and re-energising Y&R – and Euro RSCG. And the multinationals are still where they were – some doing a bit better, some a bit worse. All, that is, except McCann-Erickson, which was derided for many years for its lack of direction but which now clearly has found a real vigour and sense of purpose. See, it can be done! Somehow they’ve found a formula which works with clients, even if it doesn’t with the London creative community.

The most striking thing however is not the up and downs of the usual protagonists. It is the new kids on the block and the progress they are making. Five years ago names like Zenith, Carat, Mediacom, BMP Optimum and MediaVest, although admired in their fields of media buying, rarely did well in these tables, let alone WWAV Rapp Collins.

The appearance of these new names is probably not a very promising sign for the advertising business, which is all about making money from making ads. Let’s face it, power and influence in business sit where the money and the decisions involving that money are taken. Agencies used to have a good grip on this power. The chief executive or sometimes the marketing director both controlled the budgets and ultimately, approved the ads. Agencies were skilled at managing and leveraging this interface. The only real problems came with a change at the top of a client when they often had to prove themselves, or not, with a new incumbent. The decision-making, creative approval and budgetary control were handled within this central relationship.

But things have changed. Like the media, the business of advertising has fragmented. I noticed a new term in client vocabulary recently – “creative agencies”. Or in other words, “agencies that we don’t do as much business with as we used to.” Not agencies with a reputation for great creative work, as the term used to mean.

Chief executives within client companies are driven more than ever to show greater returns to shareholders of one kind or another. They direct their attention towards those relationships which have an immediate impact on their bottom lines. Hence the arrival of the media independents in this list. My instinct is that they are starting to replace the traditional advertising agencies as the real strategic advisers to clients. Or at least they have the opportunity to do so.

As to the future, I’d concentrate my efforts on the lesson learnt early in my career – the awesome power of a great creative idea and its ability to transform the banal into the spectacular.

But then, perhaps I’m just old fashioned.

Richard Wheatly is chief executive of Jazz FM. He was formerly chairman of Leo Burnett in the UK.

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