We can't all be Eric Bristow but we can aim to do better

Life's little disappointments can weigh heavy. Like last weekend when, as a keen fan of indoor sports (though drawing the line at bowls), I learned that the legendary dartist Eric Bristow hit his first 180 when he was 12, writes Ian Darby.

The realisation that, however much I tried, I could never match that achievement caused a few moments of pain. But, after reflecting that Bristow, like snooker star Ronnie O'Sullivan (first maximum break at 15) or Mozart (playing piano and violin at three), was a prodigy of unfathomable talent, my resigned smile returned.

Until recently, that's how I'd imagined the directors at the bland network office supreme Universal McCann must feel. Casting envious eyes at more dynamic achievers elsewhere pulling in the new business and awards.

But, while no one could accuse the Interpublic agency of being run by prodigies, it has turned something of a corner. It's even started hitting the odd bullseye.

Its work for its long-time client Sky earned it a Campaign Media Award last year and, since appointing Andy Jones and Damian Blackden as managing directors, it has triumphed in two pitches in a row: RHM Foods and Telegraph Group.

So welcome stirrings of energy down in Clerkenwell. But no sooner does Universal start to get its act together then a rival network goes and raises the bar further.

In this case, WPP, with the launch of Nylon, its communications planning business. There is nothing new here in that the essential concept -- communications planning and project management for clients -- essentially apes the Nakeds of this world. However, it is the first example of a large network setting up a planning company backed jointly by a media agency (Mediaedge:cia) and a global advertising network (Young & Rubicam).

This differentiates it from other networks and allows the agencies involved to work differently for clients while boosting their revenue streams.

It's too early to say if this will work but it will be interesting to see how rival networks respond in future weeks. Are we likely, for instance, to see similar ventures between, say, Interpublic agencies such as Initiative and Lowe or McCann-Erickson and Universal McCann?

The problem is the usual one of childish squabbling and petty jealousies between sister media and creative agencies, something that, somehow, Mediaedge:cia and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R and other Y&R agencies have managed to put to one side.

If the large media networks intend to offer upstream communications planning, then the Nylon model seems a good one to steal. But I'm betting that most will struggle to create the right relationships with sister agencies and will continue to look on in frustration at the brilliance of smaller shops that have the talent to succeed.

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