The Bellwether Report is optimistic and ZenithOptimedia's research, which for two years has been a barometer of doom, last week started getting sunny. Its European survey found that adspend in real terms would grow this year for the first time since 2000.
So, have agencies begun to feel the downturn's downturn? Campaign asked several industry figures what signs they had noticed that things really were beginning to pick up. Here are their answers.
Kevin Dundas, chief executive, Saatchi & Saatchi
"We are in the busiest production cycle we've had for the past couple of years. Half of our creative department is shooting at the moment and it's across the spectrum of our clients. It includes clients that held back and many are shooting two films, not just one. When bricks-and- mortar clients are out there putting money down, feeling confident, that's a good sign."
Gerry Boyle, managing director, ZenithOptimedia
"Quarter-one spend numbers are being met and companies are reinvesting this. There is general confidence in the four key sectors - retail is up, finance is looking like it will be, cars are driven by big launches (and there are plenty this year) and telecoms is growing. I've also noticed that the outdoor conference is back in Barcelona this year. Conferences moving abroad again is a sure sign that things are looking better."
Bruce Haines, group chief executive, Leo Burnett
"We are optimistic. The IPA's Bellwether Report's accuracy has been borne out. Clients are not just setting budgets, they're spending them. The number of scripts waiting for approval at the BACC is mounting. While some clients have maintained spend on their core brands, there's now expansion to the smaller brands that have suffered over the past two years."
Hamish Pringle, director-general, IPA
"One sign is that we had to move the venue twice for last week's AGM in order to accommodate the numbers of people attending. In the end, about 200 came, which shows agencies feel able to buy their places there again."
Neil Henderson, joint managing director, St Luke's
"Thing are getting approved by clients much faster than they were last year. There's a sense that people are trying to get out and say what they want to say."
Mark Lund, group chief executive, Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners
"The most obvious sign is that for the past two quarters clients have been saying that their budgets are going up. I've also noticed a return to long time lengths on television ads; 40- and 60-second ads are back in vogue."
Nick Theakstone, managing director, Group M
"Generally, there is a good feeling around the industry. While the TV business still hasn't got its act entirely together, it's reminding itself not to kick itself too much. There's a sense that clients are investing bigger budgets and there is more interest from plc boards in the role of media. At MindShare, we've renovated the offices, upgraded the bar and given everyone extra holiday. But generally people are working harder, so it's good to try to make life easier."
Richard Morris, new-business director, DDB London
"While I won't really be convinced that the recession is over until the cheese option is reinstated on our internal lunch menu - apparently, DDB London's predilection for the odd slice of complimentary Brie was crippling our financials - there are lots of signs that perhaps confidence is returning to the sector. In a recession, where any sense of change is seen as equating to risk, pitches tend to get put on hold, clients preferring to stick with the devil they know; yet for the first few months of 2004, the phone's been ringing off the wall.
"What's more, there's a sense that the pitches are aimed at solving real business issues - new-business directors' hearts go cold when they read expressions such as 'initial project' in briefs (as this usually means 'academic exercise to keep the marketing department busy'). But this year there have been high-profile pitches with real business issues to solve.
Suddenly, we all feel like consultants again. And there's nothing that warms the heart of an insecure adman so much as being asked his opinion about something that actually matters. Hooray! The recession is over."
Nick Manning, group chief executive, OMD UK
"Our own figures are showing decent growth and we're hiring in areas around the online and digital space as well as in data planning. There is a spirit of more optimism but people don't feel that things are much lighter. Never has it been more competitive and pitches have never been harder. We're investing more in things for staff, recently a whole bunch of people from Manning Gottlieb went on a golf trip to Spain paid for by us. In 2001 and 2002 we wouldn't have dreamed of doing it. We try to do three events a year; skiing, golf and an event exclusively for women, which this year involves wine-tasting in the South of France. We're trying to do things to invest in people and bring more jollity back."
Next week's feature: How to prepare yourself to take advantage of the recovery.