Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign and editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign and editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

The loss of the Govt media buying business is sure to be queried by Sorrell

Few would have predicted it - and, be assured, some are still contesting it - but Sir Martin Sorrell's M4C has all but lost the Government's media buying business. This begs the question: how?

The news that Carat is set to snatch the £140 million business away from the bespoke shop, established by Group M to handle the consolidated account in 2010, demands further attention.

The business includes all traditional media, led by TV, press and outdoor, as well as the new realms of mobile, search, social media and in-game advertising. On the surface, Sorrell’s outfit was a shoo-in.

M4C already handles the complex account, with its many stakeholders and disparate demands. Under the managing director, Peter Kemp, the agency has proved to be efficient and amazingly flexible in servicing the business, despite its wild fluctuations in demand.

Few providers could cope so painlessly with 85 per cent drops in activity, but the Group M network afforded a two-way flow of talent on tap. Over the past four years, M4C staff numbers have ebbed and flowed between 35 to 85 people without a single redundancy.

'M4C has proved to be efficient and flexible in servicing the business, despite its fluctuations in demand'

And when it comes to the marketplace, the scale of M4C – underpinned by Group M’s grip on more than 34 per cent of the market – makes it easily the biggest game in town.

However, some media leaders suggest it is precisely Group M’s size that could have worked against M4C. None of the major players in broadcasting, publishing or the digital space pine for a bigger Group M. And, as Carat’s victory proves, the top four groups still wield enough critical mass in the market to demand good rates.

In addition to trading muscle, there was an implementational side to the brief, incorporating account handling and execution. Here, Matthew Hook’s team clearly convinced the Crown Commercial Service that it could handle the process side of the business better than M4C has to date.

Full credit to Carat, and what must be chalked down as another great victory. The revitalised agency continues to reap the benefits of its operational transformation under chief executive Tracy De Groose.

The Denstu Aegis agency played the long game when it hired Mark Cross and Jon Hopkins; both used to handle the Government's media business in the now defunct COI. Having such seasoned public sector hands in-house must have been valuable when it came to navigating the process orientated stages laid down by the CCS.

The account will move into an expanding new business portfolio at Carat, which in the last 18 months alone has been topped up with prestigious global accounts from the likes of British Airways, Microsoft and MasterCard.

One thing’s for sure – the CCS will be glad to see the back of the review. As the one place that lays bare spend for all state departments, it serves as a beacon for anyone wanting to criticise the Government’s spending habits.

While the Tories have escaped much of the scrutiny they thrust upon Labour when in opposition, the business has gradually crept back up from £30 million billings in their first year, although still sits well below Labour’s spending highs of £250m.

Make no mistake, this is a major loss for M4C, Group M and Sorrell. However, the statutory ten-day consultation period does not finish until Monday (15 September). And while the cards seem to be marked, if there is one person you don’t want to give a few days’ grace to, it is an aggrieved Martin Sorrell.