The release of this year's MMS billings table seems set to reignite
the debate over whether these figures, or revenue, provide the best
guide to adland's performance.
The McCann-Erickson chairman and chief executive, Ben Langdon, for one,
disputes the methodology involved in tallying the figures, and his
comments are echoed to some extent by OMD.
However, the fact remains that the figures reflect tough market
conditions for many of the UK's top agencies and that drops in billings
cannot be put down solely to eccentric mathematics.
So here are the explanations behind some of the more dramatic billings
shifts and some early signs of where agencies might make up the lost
ground next year.
McCANN-ERICKSON - Billings down from £237.29 million to £209.29 million
Langdon disputes the MMS results for both McCann-Erickson and Universal
"I'm flabbergasted by this data," he says. "It has no correlation with
ours. Year on year our billings are up 10 per cent." Langdon insists
that this is the case, even if he agrees with MMS's decision not to
include the regional offices along with the London agency.
Langdon argues that McCann-Erickson has not been correctly attributed
with billings for Bacardi-Martini, Hennes & Mauritz and Nestle, among
"If we talked revenue rather than billings, we would avoid these errors
and get a true picture of individual agencies," he says.
UNIVERSAL McCANN - Billings down from £339.50 million to £250.81 million
The agency believes there has been an error in counting billings from
Nestle and L'Oreal.
Universal concedes, though, that poor spending in food and drink
categories could have been a factor. Universal's chairman, Chris Shaw,
says: "Financial services is the only place there has been growth, and
we don't have a financial services client."
ZENITH - Billings down from £641.55 million to £552.70
John Perriss, the Zenith chairman, is unsurprisingly dismissive of
billings figures as an accurate indicator of an agency's economic
"We've won a load of planning-only assignments that bring us revenue but
not billings," he says.
Nevertheless, the departure of BMW, Rover's drop in spending and a
reduction in activity from Mars and Kraft Foods have clearly had an
OMD - Billings down from £393.89 million to £330.29
Like McCann-Erickson and Universal McCann, OMD questions how MMS has
assembled its figures and bemoans the exclusion of BMP Solutions in
Media in its tally.
The year's major loss was the departure of the £50 million Boots
account to MindShare "We're down a little and there has been client
switching," Paul Taylor, the agency's chief executive, admits. He
argues, though, that if Solutions' successes had been taken into
account, the £30 million Reckitt Benckiser win would have offset
the Boots loss.
BMP DDB - Billings down from £306.07 million to £244.11
Cuts in spends by clients across the board and some significant losses
combined to send billings tumbling by 20 per cent at BMP DDB.
Compaq and the £15 million-billing Alliance & Leicester both
walked, but worse was the departure of Vodafone's £47 million
account to WCRS. BMP has also had its share of dotcoms whose adspends
flattered to deceive.
"I'm in the gloomy camp," BMP's chairman, Chris Powell, admits. "Until
now it's been a business-to-business recession. But it will become a
consumer one as companies start making redundancies."
TBWA/LONDON - Billings down from £237.92 million to £183.54
The loss of the £50 million NatWest account explains most of the
agency's shortfall. Garry Lace, the company's chief executive, feels
that the departure of the business to M&C Saatchi may be responsible for
up to 80 per cent of the drop. The remainder is a probable legacy of
Nissan's decision last year to move the bulk of its pan-European
business to Paris, leaving the London agency to concentrate on tactical
With last week's capture of the £30 million Hutchison Whampoa
business, however, equilibrium should be restored.
D'ARCY - Billings down from £203.34 million to £162.06
D'Arcy professes bewilderment at a billings drop of more than 20 per
cent, and it's true that the agency has been insulated from the dotcom
and telecoms carnage that has hurt rival shops.
However, there have been some unwelcome losses. St Ivel moved its entire
£9 million yellow fats business into Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and
the £5 million accounts for House of Fraser and Hovis both walked.
All this while the agency's bedrock clients, Mars and Procter & Gamble,
have been cutting back.
M&C SAATCHI - Billings down from £250.86 million to £213.79
M&C Saatchi ascribes its billings drop to the ups and downs of
commercial life rather than economic downturn. "We're broadly in line
with the market," Moray MacLennan, the agency's joint chief executive,
The agency has lost its Sainsbury's TV work, which ended when the
supermarket returned to its emotional home at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO,
and has been affected by straitened circumstances at MG Rover since it
was cut free by BMW.
Meanwhile, the agency has also suffered from ailing dotcom accounts.
The NatWest, police recruitment and Inland Revenue accounts have yet to
impact on the billings figures.
LOWE LINTAS - Billings down from £273.92 million to £238.9
Insiders at the agency claim a levelling off in spend, which
counterbalances the win of £30 million in Orange billings from
The agency managed to defend its Burger King and General Motors billings
when they moved in other jurisdictions. However, a major loss came in
May when McCann-Erickson pinched the £30 million Magnum task.