McCann do – and some dont’s

So, McCann-Erickson has got to the top of the greasy pole at last: number one in the 14th Marketing Week Agency Reputations Survey.

In truth, it has always been a strong contender, much to the mystification of more creatively inspired agency folk. But its virtues were often the duller ones – the ones that keep clients but don’t win gongs: offering superior value for money, the most sharp-suited skills in the business, good planning insight and enviably watertight international coverage. Aggregated, these more than compensated for a widely perceived creative deficit.

Yet this does not explain what finally enabled McCann to beat Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO into second place. The more cynical will note that ‘value for money’ has overtaken ‘creativity’ as the single most important defining criterion of an agency’s performance. This is rare – it last occurred in the mid-Nineties – and undoubtedly reflects clients’ current preoccupation with the worst advertising and media recession in living memory.

But purely ‘defensive’ qualities hardly do justice to the nature of McCann’s triumph. After all, it has put out advertising that gets it talked about – notably for Bacardi; it has steadily increased its billings; and, most importantly perhaps, it has acquired leadership and personality under regional chief Ben Langdon.

One of Langdon’s reforms that may repay attention is his determined – some would say autocratic – centralisation of McCann’s non-advertising disciplines, such as direct marketing and PR, within McCann-Erickson Advertising. It may not be an impeccably ‘media neutral’ solution, but it does begin to recognise just how much the agency model has to change if it is to survive in these times of media fragmentation.

Another important portent of change is the rapid advance of media planner/buyer companies up the league table. Carat has arrived spectacularly at number three, after making its top-ten debut last year. It is not alone. Zenith (pre-Optimedia) moved up two to seventh, while MediaCom has come in at number nine; MindShare is 16th, MediaVest 21st, OMD UK 23rd, Starcom Motive 24th. These agencies are rapidly acquiring respect from clients in areas well outside their traditional remit. Indeed, they are increasingly indistinguishable from the traditional full-service agency in every respect except one: creative offering. Arguably, creativity can never be marginalised, but it could conceivably be packaged in a different way for clients, via media agencies. A critical issue adjacent to this is the growing media illiteracy of advertising agencies. A few, such as Bartle Bogle Hegarty, are now employing media planners to help redress the imbalance. It remains to be seen how successful they will be.

Another warning signal for ad agencies may be found in their declining status as a source of strategic advice. It is not immediately clear where clients are going for quality advice these days – management consultants are certainly part, but by no means all, of the story. But look at it this way: if you were a successful, advertising-bred entrepreneur, would your next shop necessarily be called an advertising agency? Or something else, such as a brand consultancy, or an insight agency? We’ll wait for Rupert Howell to provide the answer.

Latest from Marketing Week

Marketoonist on whack-an-idea

Marketoonist

Tom Fishburne is founder of Marketoon Studios. Follow his work at marketoonist.com or on Twitter @tomfishburne See more of the Marketoonist here

NOT REGISTERED? IT'S FREE, QUICK AND EASY!

Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now

THE BEST CONTENT

Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.

THE BIGGEST ISSUES

From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.

PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3711 or email subscriptions@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here