Consistency is a rare virtue in advertising agency circles – but J Walter Thompson has had it in spades. For most of the last decade it has managed to dominate the annual Marketing Week ad agency league table – which monitors reputations where they really matter: among senior clients.
Not this year, though. It has lost pride of place to BMP DDB, which has scaled the pinnacle for the first time in the 11 years we have been running the survey. This was no fluke, however. BMP won comfortably on four of the nine criteria which make up the league and was outright winner in the two closest to clients’ hearts: creativity and value for money.
Whether this marks the beginning of a long BMP ascendancy remains to be seen. But the omens, for what they are worth, are good. Surveys of this kind, by their nature, are more reliable tracking long-term trends than highlighting immediate incident. BMP has acquired a steady upward momentum, from number seven two years ago, to number two and now to pole position. The momentum is mirrored in the creative and value for money tables; and inversely by JWT’s marked deterioration in the creative department (although it continues to perform well in providing value for money).
That said, we should not discount the impact of all recent external events on the views of interviewees. Marketing directors may be famously dismissive of the amount of time they spend on advertising matters, but that’s not to say they don’t read their trade press with interest. There, they will have encountered a year packed with incident for the advertising world, featuring unprecedented revenue growth, unprecedented consolidation and some astonishing account and people moves.
It seems unlikely, for example, that their judgement will have been wholly uninfluenced by the news, broken in this magazine, that JWT’s chief executive was about to jump overboard to NTL in far from amicable circumstances (the survey was conducted soon afterwards, in October). Equally, they will have picked up on the negative headlines fanfaring WCRS’ disastrous performance this year. And perhaps Publicis’ high-profile takeover activity may have had something to do with its vastly improved performance in the league table (it has made it into the top ten).
In the end, it hardly matters. Whether you take the long or short-term view, whether you believe the client’s view enlightened or ignorant, what’s important is perception. Here, ad agencies could do more to help themselves. They are notoriously bad at promoting their own reputations. And yet, as the pressures grow on clients’ time and the competition to ad agencies’ skills multiplies, it is surely incumbent upon them to address this problem – or fall further down the value chain.