Media Perspective: Are media agencies likely to stop playing the discount game?

By Ian Darby, ian.darby@haymarket.com, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 16 January 2009 12:00AM

Forget the 12 days of Christmas. The festive season is only truly at an end when the darts has finished.

That's the World Championship darts on Sky, followed by the rival World Championship darts on the BBC. The darts on the BBC ended on Sunday evening when Ted "the Count" Hankey lifted his second world title, meaning that it was time to squirrel away the mulled wine and mince pies for another year.

Hankey's triumph marked the climax of three weeks of bitter attrition, savage competition and the seemingly endless, repetitive spectacle of players stepping up to the oche only to experience, more often than not, aching disappointment. Something that the average media agency new-business director feels all year round.

Yet oddly, given the forecasts of doom and gloom, it's been a busy past six weeks for many media agencies. The new-business merry-go-round has seemed to whirl at an increasing pace as clients look for change - perhaps not always for the right reasons, but then most agencies are doing everything they can to provoke action on this front, so they can hardly complain.

Once again, Carat has seemed to be at the centre of everything, landing the consolidated Santander business (captured, in the vein of previous Abbey pitches, after a process that included an online auction) and then going on to astound everybody by winning the pan-European Kellogg media task (worth £75 million in UK billings alone).

Given the recent turbulence at parent company Aegis, Carat's triumph over Mindshare in the Kellogg process was a welcome one for the network, and raises questions over the WPP network's ability to build an upstream positioning with clients while seeming willing to be drawn into a scrap against rival agencies on the basis of costs and basic servicing. That said, WPP then got it right by capturing the consolidated Fiat business, a sign that manoeuvring by Sir Martin Sorrell and his lieutenants can pay off in some instances.

The Kellogg and Fiat changes were indicative of the prevailing trend in new business, with sneaky behind-the-scenes deals and offers to do things at a massive discount now as prevalent as organised pitches. This won't go away soon and, despite the danger that media will become increasingly commoditised and bought in for ever-diminishing returns, all media agencies seem intent on playing this game.

Unlike darts, though, it can't be much fun. I'm waiting for the first media agency to say they've had enough. Taking their lead not from the oche but from snooker's errant genius Ronnie O'Sullivan, who last week smashed up his favourite cue in a bid to avoid playing a tournament. "It's shit, whoever's making the decisions is killing the sport," he cried. Now that would be a market position worth having.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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