Editorial: Regional outfits are hit by clients' comfort blanket

The top-level clear-out at Manchester's BDH\TBWA, which resulted in the departures of Neil Griffiths, the chief executive, and Carol Smith, the managing director, symbolises how tough it can be for regional agencies to compete in an ad market that remains London-centric.

For years, BDH has struggled to define itself. Is it a national agency that happens to be based in the North-West or one that must rely mainly on local business while hoping to plunder the occasional national account? With cash-strapped London shops prepared to scrap for even modest-sized accounts, these positions become harder to reconcile. Many regional agencies suffer similar dilemmas.

Of course, it would be wrong to portray London as an oasis of creativity surrounded by desert. As the feature on page 26 shows, the best regional agencies can produce innovative work that any rival in the capital would be happy to put its name to. The problem is that work of this standard is more the exception than the rule. The judges of the Fresh Awards, which honour creativity in the regions, know that you have to wade through a lot of dross to find the gold.

True, regional shops do have seductive offerings for certain clients. Lower overheads mean they can deliver more for less and take on assignments that would be uneconomic for most of their London counterparts. Moreover, many have never lost their ability as all-rounders as those in the capital did when they shifted their emphasis above the line.

Nevertheless, the lure of London is overwhelming for most big clients, particularly those with a big strategic problem to resolve. Even Morrison's, which has shown astonishing loyalty to Northern agencies, chose Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners ahead of the incumbent, BDH, to take its £37 million account to the next level.

The fact is that London agencies provide clients with a comfort blanket. Whether that blanket is real or illusory is an open question. But it continues to make it hard to attract national prospects if you are outside the M25.

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