Analysis – Is the capital losing its cachet for advertisers

The appointment of three more regional agencies to COI Communications’ £157.6m advertising roster has reignited the debate about regional versus London agencies.

The appointment of three more regional agencies to COI Communications’ &£157.6m advertising roster has reignited the debate about regional versus London agencies.

Golley Slater, which has offices nationwide, Newcastle-based Different and Cravens Advertising of Leeds have been added to a list that already includes Manchester’s Cheetham Bell JWT and BDH/TBWA.

With two of the four agencies shortlisted for Bradford & Bingley’s creative account understood to be regional, and Iceland appointing Manchester-based Tom Reddy Advertising to handle its &£10m business in June after selecting an all-northern shortlist, it is an argument that is developing a head of steam. Bradford & Bingley’s account had been held by London shop M&C Saatchi, while Iceland’s account was with HHCL/Red Cell until April.

Asda also added weight to the argument recently when it appointed Leeds-based Brilliant Media to handle its &£12m regional and local media buying and planning business, in place of Carat (MW August 4).

Although this has strengthened the belief in some quarters that clients are increasingly looking beyond the M25 for their creative and media needs, others insist that London will continue to reign supreme as the first port of call for marketing directors.

Bryn Butler, chairman of Manchester’s BDH/TBWA, says some clients will only ever use a London agency, but others – including a number of large companies – will never look to London. He adds that companies should consider the added convenience and value that local agencies can deliver in a world of shrinking budgets and media fragmentation.

Chris Lovell, chief executive of Golley Slater, which has offices in cities from Cardiff to Newcastle, agrees that cost is becoming an important issue for clients.

Lovell says: “Every company wants more for its money and challenger brands in particular are looking for the attention they may not get in a large London agency that is catering for an increasingly global market.”

He adds that using regional agencies is a growing trend, and one the Government is latching on to. He says the COI is responding to the Government’s strategy of moving key units out of London and into the regions.

Cheetham Bell JWT managing director Paul Watson says his agency has lost big pieces of business for the simple reason that it is not in London. “Some marketing directors like the idea of having a London agency on board and that’s never going to change,” he adds. “And while a lot of work and agency staff seem to be coming to the regions at present, it could just as easily swing back.”

Standard Life, which has just handed a &£7m corporate demutualisation project to Saatchi & Saatchi, over consumer incumbent The Leith Agency based in Edinburgh, is a case in point. And last year the Tussauds Group reviewed out of Cheetham Bell JWT, which had held the account for 13 years, and moved the business into TBWA/London after a change of marketing director.

Marketing Services Intelligence editor Bob Willott says that, while there is scant evidence of a trend, many companies and government agencies are looking again at their budgets and their markets, with cost and politics being deciding factors, while fewer marketers are hiring a London agency as a “status symbol”.

Willott adds: “There are very good reasons why companies might turn to regional agencies, which offer increasingly creative services.” However, he predicts that London will continue to rule the roost.

Butler says BDH/TBWA is increasingly finding itself up against London agencies on pitch-lists. But he adds: “Whatever the answer, London does not have a monopoly on good agencies, just as it does not have a monopoly on the best clients.”

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