There will be those who are furious. Those who are
Those who are relieved. Those who will grit their teeth and determine to
do better next year. There will even be those who are satisfied.
Everyone will have a view on our Top 300 report and most will probably
admit that we’ve been fair.
Our agency assessments are based not just on billings and new business,
but also on business development, management, service, organic growth
and a whole host of issues that go well beyond piling on the billings
dosh. For media agencies in particular, which have invested so much time
and money in recent years establishing strategic credentials, launching
econometric units and boosting planning, billings figures are only one
marker of true success.
Sure, billings figures are crucial as a measure of agency clout and a
certain volume of buying is still important for driving good deals, but
most of the top 15 agencies have big enough biceps to pack a fair
negotiating punch. What’s more interesting is how much money agencies
are really making out of the added-value services they’ve been peddling
for the past few years.
Unfortunately, it’s a question I can’t answer with any degree of
certainty because when it comes to putting their income figures where
their hype is, you can see from the Top 300 report that many media
agencies are loath to do it. I understand why. For too long, media has
been a business where agencies have undercut each other and handled work
for ridiculously low margins; income data potentially intensifies the
spotlight thrown on to what each advertiser is paying their agency.
Yet billings alone are really no way to judge an agency’s progress in an
era that embraces new and old media, creative planning, hard-nosed
buying, econometric advice and a raft of rounded communications
Income data is no panacea, but it’s surely a fairer measure of an
agency’s success when looked at alongside billings figures. And as long
as agencies allow themselves to be judged merely by their position in
the billings league, they are inviting many of the less sophisticated
clients to use similarly crude pile-it-high, buy-it-cheap measures of
You’ve only got to look at last week’s report into finance directors’
views of marketing - which shows that client companies still have a deep
suspicion about the real value of advertising and marketing - to see how
far agencies still have to go to justify charging a real price for their
services. If media is to raise its status within the wider industry,
such issues must be addressed. Until that happens, while we pore over
the new media agency league tables, there’s one sector of the business
that probably won’t have a comprehensive view on them, and that’s the
clients themselves. Unfortunately, many client company chiefs still
don’t give a damn.