Media Perspective: Media's monster of rock starting to sing the blues in the UK

One of the few welcome aspects of recession has been an appetite for a return to the basics in life.

This has been very apparent in music, where we've seen the rehabilitation of the rock monsters: AC/DC topping the charts again (they're always popular in a downturn, apparently) and Guns N' Roses putting out their first album of new material in 17 years.

But for many in the media world, it's the title of one of GN'R's most famous songs, November Rain, that should be the most evocative right now. And for one agency in particular, Carat, you could change this easily to "November pain".

The traditional damp weather squib of the first week in November coincided with the Aegis agency losing its pan-European Renault account to OMD and then face the prospect of a £32 million UK review of its Abbey/Santander business.

For Carat, arguably the UK media agency equivalent of a monster of rock, this poses some tricky questions. The agency has been a new-business machine for the past few years; some worrying losses more than offset by a tireless determination and ability to bring in accounts through the front door. However, this expenditure of energy on the new-business treadmill can smack of short-termism and looks a poor strategy when the wins dry up. And you can tell this has happened to Carat because it's claiming every scrap available for the Campaign New-Business Rankings (right down to Smyths Toys at £1 million).

On the flipside, you could argue that Carat, under the UK direction of its managing director, Neil Jones, is actually a much better balanced agency than it was a few years ago. The quality of its planning output seems stronger or, at least, gets more recognition and sets the agenda at awards.

Despite this, there remains a sense that all is not well with the Carat brand. Much of this stems from a tricky year internationally - its two big account losses this year (Dell and Renault) have been due to international realignment. Aegis' caution on revenue figures, coupled with a debacle in the US, where details of a Carat restructure and job losses were embarrassingly sent out by e-mail, have hardly helped.

But there has also been a feeling that the agency needs galvanising with greater energy and dynamism in the UK. It seems to me that there was a recognition of this when Nigel Sharrocks, the Aegis Media chief executive for Northern Europe, brought in his old mate Mark Cranmer to do some consultancy on Carat's UK position. All is clearly not lost - Carat remains a massively strong brand and it has all to play for with a pitch against OMD for the Vodafone business together with the chance to retain Santander. Lose these, though, and the pressure really will be on Jones and his team.

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