Editorial: Take nothing for granted in a contradictory 2006

The coming year promises to be one of curious contradictions. While the housing market is appearing to steady, there is little sign this will lead to consumer confidence, and with it better fortunes for agencies.

And while the need for clients to increase marketing budgets has probably never been greater, those same clients expect their procurement specialists to stamp down on costs harder than ever.

Perhaps such ambivalence has something to do with the odd state of the global economy. Inflation has been largely tamed in the developed world, yet a series of unprecedented threats - from terrorist outrages to soaring energy costs and overcapacity - ensure the outlook remains uncertain.

Moreover, it becomes much harder to predict when the current downturn (if that is what it is) will end. This is complicated by what now looks like a recovery whose speed is variable. New media grows faster than traditional media; Western economies are being outpaced by those of Asia. According to some analysts, we are experiencing a boom without realising it. All that is happening is the previous volatility is disappearing and that "boom" will not feel like "bust" when it ends. In short, this may be as good as it gets.

How, then, is the best to be made of it? For the communications supergroups, next month's Winter Olympics in Italy to be followed in June by the World Cup in Germany present them and their clients with the chance to capture the attention and imagination of millions of consumers.

Elsewhere, the fact China and Hong Kong together make the world's third-largest ad market suggests it is to the East the holding companies must look for new revenue streams.

At the same time, 2006 may turn out to be a year when reality rules and getting swept away by fads proves unwise. Nielsen Media Research shows TV remains the medium of choice for the biggest advertisers.

Like Mark Twain's death, the reports of TV's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Equally certain is that clients require fresher, faster and more innovative thinking than ever before. With ownership by the marcoms super-tankers now nearing saturation levels, it may be the time is ripe for the best of the emerging mini-holding companies to challenge the status quo.