Gone are the days when a UK start-up could stand alone

A news announcement from Paris on Monday morning was about as welcome as that Thierry Henry Nike ad in the break that followed France's act of Lisbon larceny, writes Ian Darby.

The wounds were still sore from the night before when the French media duo Bruno Kemoun and Eryck Rebbouh made their own pitch for European mastery with the announcement that their media network, KR Media, would launch in September.

But news of an exciting start-up, especially one with international dimensions, is now an exceptional rarity. And the excitement levels are raised in this case because KR Media has eschewed total independence in favour of a deal that will provide access to WPP buying resources in exchange for a minority stake.

But the KR launch serves to remind us how few independent agencies there are in the UK (though it's debatable how independent an agency can be if a part is owned by a large network). Of the top 30 UK agencies, just four are independent (and this is only so if you include Walker Media, which is part backed by M&C Saatchi). Walker was ranked 14th in Campaign's last Top 300 Agencies report.

After Walker we have the venerable John Ayling & Associates, ranked 25th, and BLM Media at 28th.

This changed late last year, when The Allmond Partnership seemingly bucked the trend toward consolidation by buying itself out of its Omnicom ownership. This was a brave move. The agency was ranked 18th by billings but events since have shown how hard it is for smaller agencies with ZenithOptimedia capturing TAP's chunky O2 buying account.

I suspect there probably won't be another totally independent UK planning and buying agency launch. Clients seem more concerned about scale, and the birthright now for every entrepreneurial agency director is to put on a T-shirt and dream up ambient campaigns at a communications planning agency with a one-word name.

But the large networks have spotted this one and are covering their bases with sharper planning offerings. They've even attempted to cover off the threat from smaller agencies such as JAA and BLM, which can offer smaller and local clients a more tailored service. OMD's M2M division is a case in point.

This is not to say there isn't a place for the independents, and some of them are ticking over quite nicely. I just can't see them being joined by young pretenders.

After all, BLM, launched 14 years ago, is probably the last significant example of an agency launched without the backing, in part at least, by another agency.

KR Media's model is a reflection that it would be madness to go it alone. But with the might of WPP behind it, it can take on all-comers.

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