Opinion: Global groups do not warrant more EC meddling

Over lunch a few weeks back with the eminent lawyer and ad industry celeb Roger Alexander, talk turned to his recent trip to New York, when he'd visited Mother's Manhattan office. "Do you know, even if there had been no name above the door you could still tell this was a Mother agency," he said.

Mother has nascent plans to open more offices, though most definitely not in a rush for global domination, and I'd like to bet that they will carry a Mother DNA that makes them immediately, obviously, related.

The same, apparently, goes for Bartle Bogle Hegarty's micro-network of offices, all bearing a tangible BBH-ness that contrasts sharply with the bigger, global networks where consistency is often found only in the preponderance of corporate blandness. It's no surprise that BBH is consistently held-up by local UK agencies and multinationals alike as a model for the network of the future, bearing passionately ingrained creative credentials, a strong identifiable culture and local stature without the crippling bureaucracy and management charges of a fully global presence.

The fact is that sheer size and flags on maps are no longer the most important things when it comes to international networks. Cue new research this week from adland's own brigadier, David Wethey of Agency Assessments International, which suggests that some clients think that networks ain't all they're cracked up to be.

Only 4 per cent of clients reckon multinational agencies deliver a better all-round performance than local ones. OK, the figures are based on a painfully small sample, though one firmly plumped with bulging multinational budgets. Nevertheless, that such a high percentage of clients should believe that networks don't offer enhanced benefits effectively knifes the conventional wisdom of advertising's internationalisation.

And perhaps you won't be surprised to learn that fewer than one quarter of the agency chiefs polled (a significant number of whom run the UK offices of international networks) thought that multinational agencies beat local ones on all-round performance.

All of which is good news for bullish local agencies with modest international ambitions. And, after all, if it's simply an international delivery mechanism you're after, then there are plenty of truly global media networks around to complement the locally sourced creative treatments.

It could, too, be strangely good news for Sir Martin Sorrell, whose acquisition of Grey is currently being sweated over by the European Commission to ensure it's not anti-competitive. It is, of course, farcical that the EC should feel there's an issue to answer. The idea of a concentration of power on the creative side of the business is ridiculous on so many levels, not least because - as the AAI survey highlights - in almost every key market around the world there are thriving independent creative hotshops.

They are often setting the creative agenda ahead of their networked rivals and are increasingly appealing to global blue-chip advertisers. And with more of these local agencies - such as the UK's Mother and BBH or Portland's Wieden & Kennedy - growing beyond their key markets, the notion of a WPP (or Omnicom or Interpublic Group or Publicis Groupe) having a monopoly on creativity is a nonsense.

Where the EC has got a case to consider, perhaps, is in the field of media concentration. As our analysis on page 19 points out, the Grey/MediaCom deal now gives WPP almost 40 per cent of the German media agency market.

But combining media clout is generally considered to be to the benefit of clients and does, anyway, simply reflect and match the concentration on the media owner side of the business. Advertising remains fertile ground for the different, the entrepreneurial and the local and the EC's latest meddling seems like nothing more than another bureaucratic waste of time and effort.

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