PERSPECTIVE: Why billings alone don’t measure up in agency leagues

Is it possible for a bunch of successful agency managers - the 48-strong Institute of Practitioners in Advertising Council, for example - to act in the interests of the entire industry? According to received media wisdom, anyone working in advertising must be incapable of acting in anyone’s interests other than their own or their client’s. Some would argue that, like sending a scorpion for religious instruction, it entirely misses the point.

Is it possible for a bunch of successful agency managers - the

48-strong Institute of Practitioners in Advertising Council, for example

- to act in the interests of the entire industry? According to received

media wisdom, anyone working in advertising must be incapable of acting

in anyone’s interests other than their own or their client’s. Some would

argue that, like sending a scorpion for religious instruction, it

entirely misses the point.



Happily, however, it looks like the IPA is heading for just such a

policy change in its likely move towards releasing annual agency income

figures for public consumption. Following a lively council meeting last

week, and in light of Rupert Howell’s welcome appointment to the IPA

presidency for next year, now seems like a good time to revisit the

issue.



Certain kinds of agency will benefit more from the move than others.



At the moment, shops like Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Leagas Delaney and

others who do a lot of European or global fee-based work find their

achievements woefully under-reported. BBH, for example, would move from

about 18th by billings to eighth by income. And McCann-Erickson would

move from 14th to sixth.



Which only goes to prove that billings alone no longer give an accurate

picture of agency fortunes at a time when commission-only relationships

are increasingly rare and agencies are increasingly entrusted with

activities like new product development, strategic consultancy and

through-the-line campaigns.



Agencies like M&C Saatchi or Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, would probably be

against it: they earn vast Dixons and BT billings on which the income is

tiny. And AMV - with its portfolio of through-the-line agencies to

consider - might justifiably raise the question of inconsistency in a

gross income league: would such a table include direct marketing and

sales promotion, for example?



In theory, the major benefit of a league based on billings is the

inescapably independent assessment of MMS and ACN Meal.



But although these companies produce perfectly accurate records of the

amount of advertising an agency creates and runs for its clients, should

we not be acknowledging the wider role that ad agencies have to play in

their clients’ business success?



For the record, I’d suggest that the industry would be well served by

two league tables: one based on billings, another on gross income.

Acknowledging that we have been as guilty as anyone in concentrating on

measuring agencies by billings, Campaign would be happy to publish

both.



Have your say in CampaignLive’s Forum on channel 4 at

www.campaignlive.com.



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