Death of the agency brand is bad news in era lacking diversity

Agency consolidation has brought many good things to the market, but it's a potential disaster for Campaign's new-business performance league. How will we print a top ten when everything is eventually reduced to four competing brands? A top four doesn't quite have the same ring to it as a top ten.

In the past year or two, we've said goodbye, in new-business league terms at least, to brands such as Manning Gottlieb OMD, MediaVest, M2M, Brand Connection and Media Insight. Some of them have disappeared as the result of mergers with sister agencies (Brand Connection into Initiative, for example), while others (such as MG OMD) still exist in the eyes of clients, but not for the purposes of trade press rankings and Nielsen Media Research's own ranking of the top 50 agencies (printed each February by Campaign).

There are some group-owned brands that are still allowed to strut their stuff (PHD Group's Rocket and ZenithOptimedia's Equinox, for instance), but you suspect this might not be the case for too much longer. And while this is a shame for Campaign, as it makes the competition for new business less diverse, it also has a downside for the executives who have made the decision to take the spotlight off some of their smaller brands. It must be hard for the staff at those companies who still have a client-facing brand, but can't be considered for awards such as Campaign's Agency of the Year, and have their new-business wins attributed to the group cause.

However, on the plus side, this trend has led to the major groups becoming better at resourcing and marketing their diversified services. They have poured investment into branded divisions within companies - the OMD Ignitions and Carat Insights of this world - that can stretch across as a group resource. So, in that sense, the network agencies definitely have it right. But cynics suggest it won't be long before we're left with just the group brands such as Omnicom Media Group, Group M and Publicis Groupe Media when compiling rankings tables.

This probably won't happen, but in taking the marketing spotlight off smaller, local agency brands, agency chiefs are reinforcing the perception that this is a homogenous, undifferentiated world. So, while there is still hope for the health of the new-business league, and Walker Media's new-business success this year has provided the welcome oddity of having a "name above the door" in our top ten performers, this hope rests more in the fascination of watching the big boys knocking seven bells out of each other, rather than in new names appearing every other week. That said, if the 7Stars captures the EMI business it is pitching for, it could become the first new name to appear for several years.

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