CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE - MATCHMAKERS. New-business brokers have the market sewn up

With reviews getting fewer, could a new matchmaker succeed, Glen Mutel asks.

Last month's £43 million Orange pitch highlighted just how important the AAR is to advertising agencies. Lowe's resignation of the account sent the new-business directors scrambling to get their credentials seen, but only those registered with Martin Jones' matchmaking service stood any chance of landing this massive piece of business.

It's reviews of this size that make subscribing to the AAR more or less a necessity. While the £10,000 to £12,000 annual fee, plus the cost of shooting an AAR reel, may seem steep, it's money well spent if it yields a multimillion-pound account win.

But for those agencies that complain that the AAR neglects them in favour of today's in-crowd of fashionable creative houses, there are alternatives.

The newest of which is Creativebrief. This is the brainchild of Tom Holmes, a former Grey vice-president, Lowe and Saatchi & Saatchi director.

The three years Holmes has spent researching the agency/client matchmaking arena encouraged him to finance the venture himself. It's a gamble. Especially when one considers how thin on the ground reviews have been this year.

Is there enough room for another matchmaker?

The company's biggest point of difference is that it is an online service.

Not only agencies but also actors and production houses can showcase their work and credentials online for the benefit of prospective clients. Its weakness is that for clients lacking an in-depth knowledge of the advertising sector, the absence of any informed third-party guidance may be discouraging.

Still, no-one can quibble about the price - it costs a mere £140 per year for both agencies and clients. A sensible business model, some might say, but cheapness can equate to a lack of credibility.

Creativebrief enters an already crowded market. Fewer pitches, owing to the recession, mean the existing matchmakers are already diversifying into other areas, such as consultancy.

The AAR may have started out with above-the-line advertisers in mind, but it has since branched out into other areas. The prudence of this move can be seen during any recession when traditional advertising is often out-performed by other disciplines such as below-the-line marketing.

What differentiates the five matchmakers from each other? The most important factor is that the AAR and The Haystack Group are focused on agencies whereas Agency Assessments, Agency Insight and ISBA are client led.

The matchmakers are very personality-led entities. Here Campaign profiles the five big players and assesses what distinguishes them from each other in the eyes of the advertising agencies.

MARTIN JONES

Organisation: The AAR

Cost: £11,000 for ad agencies, £6,000 for media agencies and £4,000 to £5,000 for DM agencies. Clients are charged between £3,000 and £10,000 depending on the brief.

Speciality: The AAR is a review specialist. Its services incorporate creative, media, direct and PR agency search advice. Its reputation is based on its creative agency expertise, and it is considered the most significant of the matchmakers, handling many of the UK's biggest creative reviews. Jones works closely with agencies, and understands their cultures and business.

About Jones: A former new-business director at JWT, Jones likes to be kept abreast of the industry's goings on (although he is discreet about his clients). You'll find him at industry events and agency drinks parties.

ANDREW MELSOM

Organisation: Agency Insight

Cost: Free to agencies. Undisclosed client fees depend upon the length of the job.

Speciality: Agency Insight operates like a marriage guidance counsellor, advising clients how to get the best out of agencies. As such, it will not always recommend reviews. It has fewer clients than the AAR, but those it has are long-standing and large, such as UDV.

About Melsom: Known to be elusive, Melsom takes a lot of getting to know. Some agencies find him unnecessarily curt, while those that have his ear eulogise about his dry sense of humour and unwillingness to play the game.

Like Wethey (below), Melsom likes to talk to the top people in an organisation. He is formerly of JWT and ran BMP Business for seven years before it was sold to Omnicom.

SUKI THOMPSON

Organisation: The Haystack Group

Cost: £3,000 for agencies to appear on its website. For this price, agencies are given not only exposure, but also access to marketing research. Clients are charged from £2,000 to £10,000 depending on whether Haystack is overseeing a review or helping to assess an entire agency strategy.

Speciality: The Haystack Group makes 90 per cent of its money from clients, as many agencies have yet to register on the relative newcomer. Like Agency Assessments and Agency Insight, it looks to help clients get the best out of their existing agency relationships, and oversees pitches. A strong start to the year saw it oversee the AA's above-the-line review. However, to date the organisation is regarded as being more of a DM specialist.

About Thompson: Thompson is a very good networker who is well-liked in the industry. Because of the relative youth of The Haystack Group, creative agencies are still assessing her significance in the market.

DEBBIE MORRISON

Organisation: ISBA

Cost: Free to agencies. Free service to members - the membership fee is 0.01 per cent of the client's overall published ad spend.

Speciality: ISBA's agency selection service is an addition to its core member benefits. The body advises on a relatively small number of reviews, such as Marks & Spencer and more recently APACS, but they often are for big, significant advertisers. For this reason, new-business directors generally feel it worth their while to foster a good relationship with Morrison.

About Morrison: Morrison is liked for being energetic and vivacious, although some of her critics say she's too hectic in her outlook. Her enthusiasm is infectious but can also be exhausting. Agencies appreciate her friendliness, which does not come with a price-tag attached to it.

DAVID WETHEY

Organisation: Agency Assessments

Cost: Free to agencies. Agency Assessments refused to disclose client rates.

Speciality: Like Agency Insight, Agency Assessments looks to help its clients forge stronger relationships with agencies, helping them to avoid the expense of a review if necessary. When a review can't be avoided, Wethey's team will advise on a shortlist and pitch. The company has strong international credentials, and is currently handling the Cadbury pitch.

About Wethey: Wethey is a no-nonsense member of the old school, who doesn't suffer fools gladly.

Agencies complain, however, that he is only willing to talk to the chief executives. After stints with McCann-Erickson, Wethey was chairman of Wethey Scott Pocock.

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