COI bosses want successful new agencies that have launched since its last review in 2001 to put themselves forward for the right to pitch for government business. COI is not naming names, but it hopes that shops such as Clemmow Hornby Inge, Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest and Campbell Doyle Dye will apply.
The review process is likely to lead to some agencies being dropped from COI's list, as it intends to keep the number of creative shops at about 30. With government spending on advertising remaining buoyant, some 200 agencies are likely to apply.
COI officials want to use the breathing space created by the expected election, when virtually all government advertising will halt, to vet applications to join its list. The move will be followed by a similar review for COI's seven-strong roster of strategic media planning companies, which work alongside its creative agencies.
Peter Buchanan, COI's deputy chief executive, said: "There are quite a number of new agencies that have joined the market in the past four years. We are obviously very conscious of that and we would expect those agencies to apply. We are very pleased with the agencies that we have got on the roster, but it would be nice if the new agencies applied."
All the shops on the roster would expect to get the chance to pitch for at least one Whitehall campaign during the next four years.
COI is increasingly confident of healing the damaging split with the Department for Transport, which broke away to run its own advertising. The department will play a full part in the media review, which Whitehall officials believe will persuade it to return to the COI fold if it is satisfied.
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