Media: Perspective - Sharrocks faces a tough job as Carat hits Diageo review

By Jeremy Lee,,, Friday, 16 July 2004 12:00AM

The news that Diageo is conducting a media review out of Carat can't have been the welcoming present Nigel Sharrocks, the agency's chief executive of all of two weeks, was hoping for. Much like Nick Milligan, the also newly arrived managing director of Sky Media, discovering that his deal book is over-traded, Sharrocks may well be wishing he was still enjoying his time pottering around the garden.

However, the review presents him with an indication of what is wrong with Carat.

While one account review, albeit a substantial £26 million slug of business, is not indicative of an agency's terminal decline and while Carat is not a total basket case, there are issues that need addressing and quickly.

Instead, in an all-staff e-mail, Colin Mills, the managing director, called last week's Campaign story "typically miserable and mostly ******ks".

This is bunker mentality.

Carat had a dismal year last year, losing accounts such as Abbey National and Cadbury. While this year things have not been quite as gloomy, chunky new business continues to evade it.

But the most worrying thing for Sharrocks must be that while Diageo is aligned to Carat on an international basis (indeed, it originally won the business because of this), the UK market is the only one that is being reviewed. This is hardly a vote of confidence in the domestic operation.

Carat, you will remember, has steadily slipped down the agency billings league and, in the short to medium term at least, it's unlikely that the agency will ever scale the dizzy heights to the position it enjoyed in 2001.

The reason for this seems to be its failure to evolve with the times.

Despite flirting with media services beyond simple spot placement, Carat has never really lost the image as an aggressive buying shop. No-one doubts that in the past it was good at it; indeed, it bred a whole generation of aggressive buyers - the fabled gorillas with calculators - but beyond this heritage there has been precious little else to shout about.

The industry has moved on since the days when shouting at a salesman would get you the cheapest cost per thousands. And while, as the industry knows to its cost, cheap rates generally equal new business, there must be a point where the service levels deteriorate.

This must be an issue that the whole industry addresses. New business is, of course, the life-blood of the agency but in the position that Carat is in, it can hardly afford to lose much more.

It is up to Sharrocks to turn around Carat's image and get the agency back on the pitchlists which have proved so elusive in recent years, if he is to prove the decline is not a terminal one. Drastic surgery could be in order.

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