Media Perspective: Agencies focus on learning to use size to their advantage

The sight of Paul Mason, the world's fattest man at 70 stone, languishing in his Suffolk bed ahead of emergency surgery to save his life is proof that big isn't always best. Yet, in the media agency world, size and scale is undeniably an asset rather than a heart-stopping impediment.

Especially at a time when there are so many fat-boy pitches in progress. The latest of which, COI's £200 million-plus media buying review, has moved forward a stage with a shortlist that sees Smile, a team comprising Starcom MediaVest and i-level, go up against Group M's bespoke COI solution, M4C, and plain old Carat, which has the balls to compete under its own name, albeit hand-in-hand with its trusted old Aegis outdoor partner, Posterscope.

By developing such interesting and varied solutions for the UK's largest advertiser, these large agencies are showing that they are cleverer and far more agile than a man who apparently consumes 20,000 calories a day. Bespoke solutions are nothing new in pitches but seem far more common in international contests where conflict is a greater issue - Omnicom Media Group's offering for HP, for instance, or Group M's for Dell and then Vodafone - than in domestic market beauty parades.

COI is the UK advertiser that most deserves to benefit from this agency creativity. After all, this is public cash at stake and each pitch will have its strengths. Starcom's tie-up with i-level clearly ticks the "digital" box, while Group M's unrivalled scale and power in the UK market together with MediaCom's strength in building lasting client relationships is a powerful proposition. Then you've got Carat's TV buying reputation coupled with Posterscope's image as the smartest outdoor specialist.

Even with Omnicom Media Group not taking part (it felt it had too much pitching already on its plate with the likes of Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever in play), I'd argue that COI, in common with most sizeable clients, can't lose.

Smaller domestic clients, though, should have greater pause for thought before turning to these giants. And, judging by the make-up of Campaign's new-business rankings, it's clear that those spending less than £10 million are looking for something different. So we've got the likes of MPG, MCHI, MediaVest Manchester, the7stars and Walker Media cleaning up in many of the smaller contests.

The two-tier agency landscape that has been forming for some time looks like becoming more pronounced as the latest wave of pitches pan out. While it's good to witness some of the big boys think a little more creatively, it's also encouraging to see a larger space emerging for independent media agencies and the smaller outposts of the holding companies. From XL down to small, there is a size that fits all.

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