Has US media eclipsed the UK?

Does the Gunn Report show the UK is no longer cutting-edge, Alasdair Reid asks.

We are all suckers for league tables, no matter how tenuous or superficial.

The best example in the national press last week was the worldwide (biggest ever!) sex survey sponsored by Durex, where the Brits limped to a disappointing seventh place, scoring, on average, 118 acts of sexual congress each year. Greece came first (sorry) in a field of 41.

We are clearly much more competitive when it comes to media and advertising, though The Gunn Report for Media, which features a league table in which we come second, is not without its causes of anxiety. In fact, the table in question, which ranks major markets in terms of the awards picked up by their media planning and buying agencies, is, on reflection, rather alarming: historically, this is a table we have topped.

It ranks countries by the number of awards their media agencies have picked up this year and places the US on 167 points, followed by the UK on 148 points. The rest trail miles behind, headed by Spain on 65 points.

What is going on here? London is, after all, the cradle of this industry.

We invented it decades ago, and in the US even relatively recently, media was still regarded as a subordinate department of full-service agencies.

While we have progressed to ever-more sophisticated communications planning models and increasingly audacious cut-through techniques, US models surely have remained cumbersome and crude.

Is the UK losing its leadership of this business? Should alarm bells be ringing? Colin Gottlieb, the chief executive of OMD Europe, says he does not want to be jingoistic but he finds it hard to believe the UK - or Europe, for that matter - has been falling behind the US in any way. But it may also be true that some western European markets tend to have a high opinion of themselves.

He states: "Most think they are a little better than they actually are - and, for instance, it is fascinating seeing the stunningly good work produced by the smaller European markets. One thing is certain, though - the US is very different from European markets and comes from a background where it has been (more recently) subservient to creative agencies. But the truth is there has been no huge change overnight. The US market is distinctive but there is no simple answer - there are talented people on both sides of the Atlantic."

However, George Michaelides, the managing partner at Michaelides & Bednash, is not convinced. He says it may well be true things in the UK are not moving as quickly as they were before and consolidation is probably contributing to that. In other words, perhaps some UK agencies have become somewhat Americanised. Other agencies have become complacent.

But still, he is surprised at the Gunn Report's apparent findings. He states: "It is true there has been some staggering work in the US recently.

But my feeling is that consistency of work may be a different matter.

US clients will complain all they get from their media agencies is two-for-one promotion ideas, then admit they are under more pressure to deliver sales than ever. There are talented people working in the US but it is organisations rather than people that tend to be stupid."

Chris Shaw, the regional director, EMEA, of Universal McCann, says no easy conclusions can be drawn from such a league table, but he adds that there are some interesting things happening in the US these days. He states: "We are seeing more in the way of strategic planning assignments being awarded. It has gone beyond the small shops such as Media Kitchen and into the mainstream. That is great for the market. It does not make it more sophisticated overnight but it does drive it in the right direction."

Steve King, the chief executive of ZenithOptimedia Group, agrees that, if the table reflects anything, it is the increased willingness of US media agencies to enter awards. "And, given the sheer volume of work that comes out of the US, it is no surprise that it is now well represented," he states.

On the other hand, King adds, it is perhaps a further wake-up call to those who, perhaps rather complacently, have continued to believe in the UK's effortless superiority. He concludes: "I now spend four days a week outside the UK and I have to say the quality of intellect and the ideas being developed in many markets is ahead of the UK. Some emerging markets are attracting high-calibre people and, perhaps understandably, they are achieving a far faster rate of progress."

MAYBE - Colin Gottlieb, chief executive, OMD Europe

"The explanation may simply be that in the past, our US colleagues may not have insisted their work be entered in awards or showcased in any way. Now they are taking that sort of thing far more seriously."

NO - George Michaelides, managing partner, Michaelides & Bednash

"The US business is still metric-driven and is treated that way by both clients and creative agencies. There are bright people in US media agencies but there are more structural and cultural issues."

MAYBE - Chris Shaw, regional director EMEA, Universal McCann

"When you move from a London role to a more international one, you get a different perspective on all the talk about how good the UK is. There is clever stuff out there - and London has its own distractions."

YES - Steve King, chief executive, ZenithOptimedia Group

"I think it is telling the UK industry has started to worry about the quality of entrants. Many other markets have no such problems where people see media as one of the most engaging industries they could work in."

Got a view? E-mail us at campaign@haynet.com.