Last week, Mediaedge:cia was the subject of this column in light of its relatively strong performance following a grim few years. The continuation this week revolves around the issue of whether any agency is really having a good time given the manacles that many claim are being attached to them by clients.
Apparently, it's hard for any agency to deliver its 15 per cent margin these days because, on the one hand, clients want more for less and, on the other, young talent with two years' online experience is demanding more cash. It's not hard to sympathise with this view.
It seems that agencies are being pushed ever further in pitches. Take one recent shoot-out. Apparently, the successful agency had to agree to something called a "liquidated damages clause", which means they would have to pay back lots of money if they failed to achieve the promised buying targets. The trust in that relationship must match that between Sir Paul and Lady Heather Mills McCartney.
But let's not lapse into world-weariness. There's still much room for hope that agencies can deliver excellence. The smart money at the moment is on the second tier of agencies (Mediaedge:cia, Vizeum, PHD and MPG) snapping up the new business next year as they fill client gaps and, in the case of the first three at least, capitalise on the buying power of their group offer.
Obviously, this emphasis on group buying leaves MPG out on a limb, but the strength of its offer, in theory at least, is a premium service. And, the encouraging thing, anecdotally from intermediaries at least, is that a growing number of clients yearn for this special treatment from agencies fleet of foot enough to deliver it. But those agencies must hold true to their positionings and not sell out if they are to deliver on their promise (as PHD managed to deliver last year and for most of this, too).
And there's certainly some truth in the notion that a minority will always spend that little bit more for a touch of quality. As a friend of mine pointed out on a trip to Gillingham recently: "This place has more kebab houses than any other town I've been to." This ticking of boxes on a map didn't impress us, so we went for a curry and a couple of beers instead. The second beer was one of the best I've ever tasted.