CLOSE-UP: Live Issue/Government Adspend - Start-ups and small shops will be given the chance to impress, Andy Grice writes

At first glance, the Government's spending figures for last year seem to contradict pledges made by the COI Communications chief executive, Carol Fisher, to bring in young blood. The intention was to put pressure on the long-serving members of the Government club to deliver the goods.

However, in a triumph for the old guard, D'Arcy topped of the league, with Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO in the runner-up spot. The new agencies seem to have been given less opportunity to prove their worth.

But COI bosses believe that the league table will look different in a year's time, when the young Turks will have had more experience of pitching for government work. Whitehall can be a strange new world for agencies, and it can take time to adjust to its different and sometimes complex demands. Shops have to learn from their mistakes and, according to officials in Government departments, their second pitches are often much stronger than their first attempts.

COI chiefs also point out that there is a "time lag

in the latest set of figures, which cover the 2001 calendar year. The Government's 30-strong roster was revised last September, bringing in agencies such as Mother, Fallon and Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, while six older Whitehall hands -TBWA/London, CDP, Leith, Golley Slater, Cogent and Bates UK - were dropped. So the new list was in operation for only a quarter of the period.

Since last September, COI has been true to its word: it has adopted a general policy of putting at least one new agency on its shortlists where this is appropriate to give them experience.

Mother and the media agency Naked are bidding in separate teams for the Department of Health's sexual health account. Fallon pitched unsuccessfully for the Food Standards Agency's nutrition campaign, won by HHCL & Partners.

MCBD is pitching for the Department of Work and Pensions' payment modernisation scheme and Walsh Trott Chick Smith, which also joined the roster last autumn, is expected to feature in two forthcoming pitches.

Of course, COI does not call all the shots. It recommends shortlists to its clients, the Whitehall departments, who have the final say. There is bound to be an incumbency factor and a snowball effect: if agencies win pitches, they are bound to be considered for more. If their campaigns work, then departments will want them on the next shortlist.

Departments may prefer to deal with agencies they know or insist that their campaign needs a big shop. But there is evidence that COI has been successfully campaigning for youth to be given its head. Officials point to the breakthroughs made by St Luke's, which handled six campaigns worth £9 million last year, and Delaney Lund Knox Warren, which ran three with budgets of £13.9 million, as evidence that the Government is not a closed shop.

Peter Buchanan, COI's deputy chief executive, says: "Now that we have newer and smaller agencies on the roster, we are keen to give them the opportunity to pitch. There are already a number of examples where they have pitched and there will be more soon.

"We are recommending smaller, newer agencies to clients as part of a balanced pitch list which also includes people with the right expertise and experience. If there is an opportunity to put one of the new agencies on the list, we certainly recommend it."

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