CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/MMS BILLINGS TABLE - MMS billings figures provoke a methodology controversy. Across-the-board billings slumps are a reflection of difficult market conditions by John Tylee and Jeremy White

The release of this year's MMS billings table seems set to reignite

the debate over whether these figures, or revenue, provide the best

guide to adland's performance.



The McCann-Erickson chairman and chief executive, Ben Langdon, for one,

disputes the methodology involved in tallying the figures, and his

comments are echoed to some extent by OMD.



However, the fact remains that the figures reflect tough market

conditions for many of the UK's top agencies and that drops in billings

cannot be put down solely to eccentric mathematics.



So here are the explanations behind some of the more dramatic billings

shifts and some early signs of where agencies might make up the lost

ground next year.



McCANN-ERICKSON - Billings down from £237.29 million to £209.29 million



Langdon disputes the MMS results for both McCann-Erickson and Universal

McCann.



"I'm flabbergasted by this data," he says. "It has no correlation with

ours. Year on year our billings are up 10 per cent." Langdon insists

that this is the case, even if he agrees with MMS's decision not to

include the regional offices along with the London agency.



Langdon argues that McCann-Erickson has not been correctly attributed

with billings for Bacardi-Martini, Hennes & Mauritz and Nestle, among

others.



"If we talked revenue rather than billings, we would avoid these errors

and get a true picture of individual agencies," he says.



UNIVERSAL McCANN - Billings down from £339.50 million to £250.81 million



The agency believes there has been an error in counting billings from

Nestle and L'Oreal.



Universal concedes, though, that poor spending in food and drink

categories could have been a factor. Universal's chairman, Chris Shaw,

says: "Financial services is the only place there has been growth, and

we don't have a financial services client."



ZENITH - Billings down from £641.55 million to £552.70

million



John Perriss, the Zenith chairman, is unsurprisingly dismissive of

billings figures as an accurate indicator of an agency's economic

well-being.



"We've won a load of planning-only assignments that bring us revenue but

not billings," he says.



Nevertheless, the departure of BMW, Rover's drop in spending and a

reduction in activity from Mars and Kraft Foods have clearly had an

impact.



OMD - Billings down from £393.89 million to £330.29

million



Like McCann-Erickson and Universal McCann, OMD questions how MMS has

assembled its figures and bemoans the exclusion of BMP Solutions in

Media in its tally.



The year's major loss was the departure of the £50 million Boots

account to MindShare "We're down a little and there has been client

switching," Paul Taylor, the agency's chief executive, admits. He

argues, though, that if Solutions' successes had been taken into

account, the £30 million Reckitt Benckiser win would have offset

the Boots loss.



BMP DDB - Billings down from £306.07 million to £244.11

million



Cuts in spends by clients across the board and some significant losses

combined to send billings tumbling by 20 per cent at BMP DDB.



Compaq and the £15 million-billing Alliance & Leicester both

walked, but worse was the departure of Vodafone's £47 million

account to WCRS. BMP has also had its share of dotcoms whose adspends

flattered to deceive.



"I'm in the gloomy camp," BMP's chairman, Chris Powell, admits. "Until

now it's been a business-to-business recession. But it will become a

consumer one as companies start making redundancies."



TBWA/LONDON - Billings down from £237.92 million to £183.54

million



The loss of the £50 million NatWest account explains most of the

agency's shortfall. Garry Lace, the company's chief executive, feels

that the departure of the business to M&C Saatchi may be responsible for

up to 80 per cent of the drop. The remainder is a probable legacy of

Nissan's decision last year to move the bulk of its pan-European

business to Paris, leaving the London agency to concentrate on tactical

work.



With last week's capture of the £30 million Hutchison Whampoa

business, however, equilibrium should be restored.



D'ARCY - Billings down from £203.34 million to £162.06

million



D'Arcy professes bewilderment at a billings drop of more than 20 per

cent, and it's true that the agency has been insulated from the dotcom

and telecoms carnage that has hurt rival shops.



However, there have been some unwelcome losses. St Ivel moved its entire

£9 million yellow fats business into Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and

the £5 million accounts for House of Fraser and Hovis both walked.

All this while the agency's bedrock clients, Mars and Procter & Gamble,

have been cutting back.



M&C SAATCHI - Billings down from £250.86 million to £213.79

million



M&C Saatchi ascribes its billings drop to the ups and downs of

commercial life rather than economic downturn. "We're broadly in line

with the market," Moray MacLennan, the agency's joint chief executive,

claims.



The agency has lost its Sainsbury's TV work, which ended when the

supermarket returned to its emotional home at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO,

and has been affected by straitened circumstances at MG Rover since it

was cut free by BMW.



Meanwhile, the agency has also suffered from ailing dotcom accounts.



The NatWest, police recruitment and Inland Revenue accounts have yet to

impact on the billings figures.



LOWE LINTAS - Billings down from £273.92 million to £238.9

million



Insiders at the agency claim a levelling off in spend, which

counterbalances the win of £30 million in Orange billings from

WCRS.



The agency managed to defend its Burger King and General Motors billings

when they moved in other jurisdictions. However, a major loss came in

May when McCann-Erickson pinched the £30 million Magnum task.



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