Agency Reputations Survey – Strong leaders pull ahead

McCann Erickson has come out top in this years Marketing Week Agency Reputations Survey, closely followed by Saatchi & Saatchi. Both have colourful characters at their helm, so are we entering a period where personality has become a key attribute for agencies? By David Benady

Advertising agencies run by executives with exuberant personalities are winning the respect of senior marketers, MarketingWeeks annual survey of agency reputations suggests. This years survey shows a significant amount of movement compared to previous years, with some well-known agencies slipping down the league table, while others have taken a number of steps up to replace them.

One agency falling into the latter category is McCann Erickson, voted by the UKs top marketers as the most well-thought of agency in the land this year. One suspects that the bouncy personality of McCannboss Rupert Howellmay have helped to persuade marketing chiefs that the agency has recovered after a few tough years.

One of advertisings best-known and ebullient characters, Howell who joined the Interpublic Group-owned agency as UK and Ireland chairman and European president in October 2003 (MW August 6, 2003) appears to have driven the agency back to the forefront of marketers minds over the past 18 months.

TWICE AT THE TOP

This is the second time McCann has reached the top in MarketingWeeks Agency Reputations Survey, having first received this accolade in 2001.

Then, the face of regional director Ben Langdon, another of the advertising worlds more colourful characters, adorned the cover of Marketing Week. With the aid of the Bacardi cat and Langdons undoubted skill at self publicity, McCann shot to the top from the fourth place it held last year. Both Howell and Langdon have succeeded in breathing some personality into an agency often derided as a faceless global network pumping out bland ads for bureaucratic multinational clients. When Langdon left in 2003 (MW June 26, 2003), Howell was his surprise replacement.

The agency has been through a tumultuous time over the past few years, with financial irregularities, account losses and senior management churn. But Howell has plundered rival agencies to assemble a crack squad of top-class executives and has set McCannon the road to recovery. While some say the team has yet to prove itself, and point to a chequered performance at winning and retaining business, the agency has improved its reputation across the board in this years survey. It has risen to joint fourth on creativity long considered one of its weak points. This move up the table may have resulted from Howells hiring of celebrated creative director Robert Campbell from Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R (MWOctober 22, 2003).

McCann is also seen as the agency most able to act in clients longer-term best interests based on an understanding of their business, and triumphed in four other categories: attentiveness and adaptability; quality of account managers; financial stability and strong agency management; and coverage of markets outside the UK.

McCanns recent major wins include two pieces of business for the Co-op, RHM Foods Bisto and Sharwoods accounts, Intel, Signet and Bendicks. It has lost Birds Eye, Capital One and resigned Greene King, Norwich Union and Bacardi.

In second place in the survey is another agency that has put an extravagant personality in charge Saatchi & Saatchi. Saatchis has spent years in the wilderness after performing strongly in the surveys early years. Since the departure of founding brothers Maurice and Charles to establish M&C Saatchi, there have been question marks over leadership at the pairs original agency.

In October last year, new chief executive Lee Daley, formerly boss of WPPs Red Cell network and a keen soul dancer, took the helm. Creative director Kate Stanners, previously of St Lukes, also came on board.

A DALEY DOSE DOES WONDERS

Like Howell, Daley is seen as one of the advertising worlds more memorable characters. But some believe he merely talks a good game and, as with Howells position at McCann, say the real proof of his sound leadership has yet to materialise. Even so, his reputation appears to have made an impact on the nations top marketers. Saatchi was ranked third in creativity, after Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Mother; first equal in ability to act in clients longer-term interests; and first in marketing strategy and analysis, among other plaudits.

One source says: Saatchi & Saatchis previous boss, Kevin Dundas, was on the bridge trying to turn the tanker around and he did a pretty good job, clearing the way for Daley to come in. From an internal point of view, Daley has given the agency some of the dynamism and enthusiasm it has lacked. The question is whether that can be translated into creative work and new business.

This is Marketing Weeks 16th annual survey, and a significant long-term trend over the years has been the rising profile of media agencies. There are nine in the overall top 30 this year, a higher number than in previous years. This surely reflects a realisation among marketers of the increasingly vital role media planning and buying plays in a world of atomising media.

The best-performing media agency this year is MediaCom, which is third overall, slipping from its number two spot last year. It has been voted top for media planning, buying and placement and comes second in value for money. It claims to have won more than £330mof new business, with such companies as Entertainment Film Distributors, BSkyB, Shell and Jaeger. It is credited with having a steady senior management headed by chief executive Stephen Allan. The takeover of its parent Grey by WPP Group in September does not seem to have dented its new business form.

MARCH OF THE MEDIA AGENCIES

While MediaComs great rival, Carat, has retained its position in the overall reputations table at number eight, MindShare has also entered the top ten, perhaps reflecting a strong year under chief executive Kelly Clark. And new into the top 30 this year come All Response Media, Vizeum, Universal McCann, MediaEdge: CIA, Brand Connection and Starcom MediaVest, which has crashed in at 16th place. Naked Communications, the media neutral planning shop, has entered the top 30 at number 18.

However, MediaComs parent, Grey, has disappeared from the overall top 30 altogether, perhaps reflecting the departure of yet another high-profile agency manager, Garry Lace (MW March 18, 2004). He has joined Lowe London (MW January 13), and this seems to have helped it get back into the top 30 at 28th.

The UKs biggest-billing agency, Abbott Mead Vickers. BBDO, has slipped back to number four this year from number one last year. Its score declined in categories such as ability to act in clients longer-term interests, marketing strategy and analysis, attentiveness and adaptability and quality of account managers. But it has been voted top in the value for money category, climbing to first place from fourth last year.

Some think AMV has been treading water, neither powering ahead nor losing its way. But retaining the hard-fought Sainsburys account (MW April 28) in the face of fierce competition, particularly from JWT, with which it was involved in a final shoot out, shows it is still capable of putting up a fight, though it has not pulled in any major pieces of new business, apart from the RAC (MW June 9). JWT, meanwhile has drifted further down the table. The agency was said to be hugely disappointed by its failure to win Sainsburys, and thought it had come up with a better campaign. But the new Sainsburys team evidently decided that it would be more risky to switch than to stay with the same agency.

Even so, JWT has been busy integrating the HSBC and Samsung business which it has won internationally, though this was largely down to being part of the WPP network (MW November 17, 2004). Observers say JWT is doing better than it has for a long time, particularly under creative director Nick Bell, though a place in the top ten for creativity eludes it.

The reputations survey assesses marketers perceptions of an agency across nine criteria. It is vital to know just how they see the relative importance of each criterion. There is usually little movement in the importance attached to them from year to year, save for a constant duel for first place between creativity and value for money, surely the two key issues for brand owners. This year, value for money in results achieved has won out, with creativity second a reversal of the position last year.

CHEAP RUBBISH IS STILL RUBBISH

Is value for money possible without creativity? Probably, though it is generally accepted that the creative spark is essential to making a brand famous these days. And as ad-skipping personal video recorders become more widespread, many advertising creatives believe that making entertaining commercials will be the best way to ensure people watch an ad.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty is among the most active proponents of ads as entertainment and has regained the creative crown this year, taking the number one spot jointly with last years outright winner, Mother. BBHs creative highlights over the year have included work for Robinsons, dialogue- based ads for Levis and the getting dressed television work for Lynx.

Its strong creative performance has helped it rocket up the overall reputations table to number five from 16th place last time. But Mother has fallen to joint 20th from joint 11th, reflecting, perhaps, the fact that it is now at a crossroads, integrating existing business, but no longer the small boutique it once was.

One observer sees the past year in the industry as unremarkable from a creative point of view. There is a paucity of good creative campaigns, partly because of the dilution of creative talent. You used to have lots of good creatives in one agency, but these days they are all over the place. This, he says, is because a glut of startups has soaked up talent, while a lot of creative directors have left established agencies to set up shop on their own. And he adds: Clients are becoming conservative, protecting their jobs, tending to research everything to justify what they are spending money on.

The agency whose creative reputation has risen most strongly is M&C Saatchi. It has come equal sixth in the category with Wieden & Kennedy, the agency credited with creating this years best campaign, the Honda Diesel ad. But while W&K does not make it into the top 30 overall, M&Chas risen further than any other agency, moving up to number seven from equal 20th last time. Interestingly, it has come equal second in financial stability and strong agency management, which suggests its stock-market flotation last year may be paying dividends in terms of an enhanced reputation among marketers. The news that its signature client, British Airways, is reviewing its account broke after the survey research was conducted in May, and is considered to be a blow to the agency.

A noteworthy performance has been put in by DDB London, formerly BMP DDB, which has risen to eighth place from 20thand which appears to be staging a recovery under another adland charmer, chief executive Paul Hammersley. Hammersley has hired chief strategic officer David Hackworthy to help the agency regain some of its reputation for smart thinking and smart work.

STEADY AS THEY GO

Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R is the highest entrant in the new top 20, coming in at joint 12th. This is an endorsement for the management team, headed by James Murphy, which has taken over from the agencys founders, three of whom have left, with only Mark Roalfe still at the agency. Meanwhile, the likes of Ogilvy & Mather, Publicis and WCRS are all hovering around mid-table. This justifies the view of one observer that many established agencies are holding steady in what has been an unremarkable year for big swings in agency fortunes.

Much has been made of the rise of independent agencies in recent years, and they do seem to be making their mark, with Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners entering the top 20 at joint 18th. Clemmow Hornby Inge has edged up to 15th, though Mother has slipped back to 20 from 11 last time. One source says the independents seem to have hit saturation. There has been a trend back to the bigger agencies, as can be seen with some of the big pitches where clients have been looking for safety and resources. There is a feeling that the good medium-sized indies are at a stage where they are running at capacity and you have lost any reason for going there in the first place.

Other agencies that have done well include direct marketing provider Tequila/London, part of TBWA though the ad agency TBWA/London has slipped back to 12th from fifth last year. Into the top 30 come Fallon, the Leith Agency and The Union, while Euro RSCG London, the new home of Ben Langdon, has stayed at number 25.

It will be interesting to see whether the advertising industrys biggest personalities Howell at McCann, Daley at Saatchi, Lace at Lowe, Cilla Snowball at AMV and Langdon at Euro manage to improve the standing of their agencies in marketers eyes over the next year. They are under intense scrutiny. They know the UKs top marketers will be watching them closely between now and next years survey.

Methodology

This years Marketing Week survey of agency reputations was carried out by TNS using a methodology that has remained constant since the surveys inception in 1989. The researchers conducted telephone interviews of 109 UK marketing directors or senior executives responsible for marketing, selected randomly from the 500 organisations that spent the most on marketing in 2004. The fieldwork was carried out between February 14 and May 9, 2005. For further information, contact TNS UK IT & Telecoms managing consultant Daniel Farrow on 020 7891 1263.

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