Editorial: Ad agencies should have spotted the signs sooner

The fact that ever-greater numbers of clients are looking to bypass their agencies and take direct control of TV commercials production should surprise nobody. The biggest surprise, though, is that it has.

From advertisers being urged by their procurement specialists to police their costs more effectively, to TAG Worldwide's extension of its business beyond reprographics and into TV post-production, the warnings were plain enough for those willing to heed them. But not nearly enough agencies seem to have done so. And those that did seem to view what's happening as no more than cynical cost-cutting by clients. A deeper investigation suggests this isn't the case.

What is becoming clear is that significant numbers of clients are looking to production companies rather than agencies to create ideas, and then to execute them across a multitude of media channels. And as more advertisers begin producing their own programming, their relationship with the production industry is set to get stronger. Indeed, a senior manager at a major UK production company says he is advising a multinational company that is commissioning 90 commercials a year on how its advertising could be just as effective by making fewer, but better quality, films.

Hang on a moment. Isn't this what agency TV departments have always done? Well, yes. The trouble is that many have downsized, leaving staff of insufficient calibre and experience to win clients' confidence and trust.

Nobody is suggesting production companies are about to morph into a new model of agency, filling the void being left by traditional shops. Broadcast production is too much of a complex and collaborative process for change to happen overnight. Not even ISBA, which recently called a meeting of its members to discuss decoupling, sees it as a panacea.

Nevertheless, the implications are clear. If agencies can't stop the decoupling trend, they must hire the talent to protect their status as strategic thinkers. But they won't be able to do this if clients neglect them in their rush to save money.