Once the final Nielsen billings came in it was clear that the situation was more extreme than we had supposed. There are some serious tumbles here. Yes, we knew Lowe would be badly hit (down an eye-watering 42 per cent), but it's not alone in recording worrying levels of decline. The overall picture is dramatically pointed: of the 13 networked agencies in the Top 20, eight have declined by more than 10 per cent in billings.
Ogilvy and Euro RSCG are down by more than 20 per cent, Saatchi & Saatchi is out of the top ten, an emotional benchmark. The results make modest declines at Leo Burnett and McCann Erickson look like positive triumphs, while modest growth at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R and JWT seem exemplary. And Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, still sitting sweet at the top of the chart, looks in a league of its own as far as local offices of the global giants go.
There's real drama in the media tables, too. It's fair to say that these figures should give Interpublic Group some serious cause for introspection. Universal McCann is down more than 40 per cent, a whopping and disturbing slide, while Initiative is down more than 20 per cent (and that's without the loss of its General Motors business, which is not due to be felt until the 2007 billings tally).
Of course, billings are just one measure of an agency's success across the year, often reflecting the impact of wins and losses from the year before rather than the one in question and giving no inidcation of income buoyancy. Which is why our school reports give full consideration to business initiatives, personnel moves, wins, losses and, of course, work to give a rounded assessment of performance. That's also why a good rise or bad decline in the billings league won't determine an agency's score in our reports.
And, once again, agencies have been given the chance to disagree (or occasionally agree) with us, providing their own assessment of their year. For the most part, these are more generous than our own scores, as you might expect from an industry acutely sensitive to image and relentlessly (publicly) positive. Either way, these thumbnail sketches of performance from within the agency ranks make for equally fascinating (sometimes fantastic) reading.
With 2007 now well underway, bringing with it some very real structural challenges for agencies of every hue, this report will be a useful companion in sizing up the implications of last year's successes and failures.
Claire Beale, editor, Campaign
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk