CAMPAIGN REPORT ON TOP 300 AGENCIES: The media rollercoaster - Conspicuous success was hard to find in 2000, Anna Griffiths writes, as agencies grappled with dotbombs, cost efficiencies and centralisations

It was a tough year for media agencies who had to face the many contradictions in the changing media environment. The boom-bust nature of dotcom advertising characterised their business year. At the beginning of 2000 agencies continued to enjoy a glut of dotcom wins, which became more meagre sums as the 'millions' billings figures were drastically downgraded following the demise of high-profile companies such as Boo.com.

It was a tough year for media agencies who had to face the many contradictions in the changing media environment. The boom-bust nature of dotcom advertising characterised their business year. At the beginning of 2000 agencies continued to enjoy a glut of dotcom wins, which became more meagre sums as the 'millions' billings figures were drastically downgraded following the demise of high-profile companies such as Boo.com.

2000 was the year of conflict management and media centralisations. The astounding chutzpah of Aegis in securing three massive car accounts for its two agencies, Carat and BBJ, was a lesson to all media networks in how to smooth-talk a client into feeling confident of Chinese walls while cutting a cost-effective deal.

A number of significant media centralisations happened at home and abroad.

In the UK, the merged account for NatWest/Royal Bank of Scotland was won by MediaCom TMB, while Walker Media landed Marks & Spencer. Abroad, the strength of media networks were tested to the full with European centralisations such as Nike and Renault, while global realignments saw Zenith Media losing its founding client, Bristol-Myers Squibb, to Starcom MediaVest, while its BMW account moved into Carat. But agencies often found if they fell foul of one media centralisation, they would gain from another.

With the trend towards pan-European and global media centralisations came the pressure on networks to smarten up their act and create a more consistent offering across their regions. Early in 2000 BMP OMD shortened its name to OMD UK, and at the beginning of this year tried to strike a more independent stance from its three creative stakeholders, TBWA, BBDO and DDB.

Colin Gottlieb, a founder of Manning Gottlieb Media, swapped his stake in the company and his job to take on the new role of European chief executive of OMD, and the search is on for a global chief who will have the balls to make the agency operate more along the lines of MindShare by helping the network to simplify a clumsy reporting structure.

New PHD's chief executive, David Pattison, was given the opportunity to create an international Phd Network, but while several agencies have been bought, it remains to be seen if he will find enough worthwhile acquisitions to make it a true network. Zenith, meanwhile, battled with the restrictions of its joint owners - Publicis and Cordiant - which are not willing to invest money in the agency's future, while managing to triumph on the global new-business stage.

What was most galling for agencies last year was juggling the needs of advertisers facing an increasingly fragmented media environment and the prohibitive client purchasing departments who drove the game back to costs. Great ideas and media thinking often paled into insignificance when the main client focus became economies of scale and cost efficiencies.

Still, such frustrations didn't suppress the odd start-up or acquisition.

Three strategists from the folds of New PHD created Naked, which opened in the summer, and HHCL & Partners acquired the strategic communications consultancy Bridgeworks. Booth Lockett Makin also launched a creative division, Creative Addition, led by the former M&C Saatchi creative Bob Maddam. The likes of Naked were certainly encouraged by the less conventional approach to media buying of dotcom businesses, which would consider a mix of PR, stunts and clever strategic thinking in order to create stand-out with relatively modest budgets.

While media owners and advertisers continued to consolidate, the number of mergers in the media industry dropped as everyone wearily eyed each other and wondered who would make the next move. WPP's chairman, Sir Martin Sorrell, snapped up Young & Rubicam, which brought with it the Media Edge, and an anticipated merger with MindShare to help the former boost its buying capability in some European markets - including the UK - is surely on the agenda.

The last remaining medium-sized independent, MBS, was bought by True North as it sought to pull together some sort of global media network.

And finally, the fate of Western International was decided in the UK, with the merger with its sister company Initiative Media being announced at the end of 2000.

On the UK stage, a clutch of agencies put in noticeable performances, but while some operations proffered impeccable new-business records, their strategic offering was less impressive. Conversely, players such as Starcom Motive, which swept the board at the Campaign Media Awards, had a lacklustre business year despite its obviously impressive planning credentials.

After taking the reins at BBJ, Trista Grant faced the unenviable task of plugging the gap left by the departure of VW in 1999, but by the end of 2000 had scooped in PSA's entire business and won the prestigious Coca-Cola account, minus the TV buying. MindShare had a great year with its 'house of media' concept coming to the fore. And continuing its strong performance from the previous year, MediaCom had a first-class business year in 2000.

This year Campaign has revised the way agencies are represented within the media league, with the second table ranked by media brands. This is the way future rankings of the Top 50 will measure agencies' performance.

To avoid confusion with last year's ranking, this year we will also show ranking by parent companies for the last time.



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