Like a pair of Greco-Roman wrestlers, these two media heavyweights throw each other around, alternately coming up top one minute and being flipped over the next.
The current cycle began at the end of last year when Carat snatched the Gocompare.com and Wickes accounts from MEC, propelling it to the top of the media billings table. The double loss, coming as it did like two molars being wrenched out in quick succession, left a £50 million-sized cavity in MEC's UK client roster.
The throbbing was no doubt exacerbated by the fact that MEC's new-business talent Cormac Loughran had just three months earlier been poached by Carat. Whether or not his appointment was a tipping influence, it certainly served as a metaphor for Carat's upturn in fortunes at MEC's expense.
More recently, the two shops have been the leading contenders in this summer's European deadlocks, notably Beiersdorf and Johnson & Johnson. While MEC will be feeling more buoyant after winning Beiersdorf's North European business off its rival, Carat has just thrown a blow by extracting the $500 million Macy's business from MEC in the US. With a J&J decision expected as Campaign went to press, both shops remained determined to win at the final stage.
It begs the question: what is it about these two in particular that has landed them at the epicentre of new-business movement in the past year? Carat's part is clear: in the past two years, the agency has attracted a spread of talent spearheaded by Tracey De Groose, interrogated and resold its proposition, made strategic acquisitions and launched an energetic new-business offensive. In chess terms, it is on the attack and its set piece is impressive.
MEC is equally hungry. As one of the largest UK media shops, it suffers from the situation that the more business you have, the more vulnerable you are to poachers. But the same can be said of the biggest of them all, MediaCom, and yet MEC's big sister has not suffered much business churn at all in the past 18 months. This leads some critics to say that perhaps MEC has grown too fast and is too stretched, while more generous onlookers will argue that every agency has its cycles of ups and downs.
Certainly, with the almighty weight of WPP and the power of Sir Martin Sorrell behind it, MEC is not going to give up on the new-business biscuit easily. And with Aegis soaring from its global success with General Motors and high with local drive, it is an act not to be underestimated. One thing is for sure: in the short term, these two titans leave little room for anyone else to be so fixedly determined.