EDITORIAL: Confidence is vital to agency success

What does it take to turn around a large but ailing London agency?

A bit of luck? Certainly. Support from the network? That's important too.

Patience while clients and new-business prospects appreciate the changes taking place and begin acknowledging them? Absolutely. But, most of all, it's down to the feelgood factor. When the economic climate is brutal and unforgiving and making the numbers is the priority, it's easy to overlook something so intangible yet so important as positive thinking.

Agencies such as Grey Worldwide London and Bates UK, both in the spotlight, are among those who have been too inhibited by their history and their mindset. Grey, whose client list is dominated by three mighty internationally aligned advertisers (Procter & Gamble, Mars and GlaxoSmithKline), has too often lacked the collective confidence to tilt at more sexy local business; Bates has frequently found it hard to convince either prospects or itself that it isn't just a retail ghetto.

Clients can smell agency insecurity a long way off.

Yet, as Grey proved last week, a change in the mental approach can yield some astonishing results. After what seemed an eternity of being unable to win any significant extra business apart from new assignments from its bedrock clients, Grey has successfully scooped the Visa International and consolidated Dairy Crest accounts.

The Dairy Crest win is a particularly relevant example of a triumph over negativity. Garry Lace arrived as the new chief executive to find the agency's portion of the Dairy Crest business under review and what he sensed was a disturbing defeatist attitude. Why, he rightly asked, did people regard Dairy Crest as a glass half-empty rather than one half-full?

Of course, Grey has a long way to go yet. The 48 redundancies announced this week will be a severe test of morale. But it's amazing how much wind a couple of decent wins can put in an agency's sails.

Renewed morale is needed at Bates, whose cash-strapped Cordiant parent has been forced into a fire sale of its non-core businesses. Seriously disadvantaged by being linked to a US operation that has failed dismally to lure major global advertisers into the network, the London agency has had to make its own luck. What's more, Bates staff can only watch impotently as Cordiant appears to be setting itself up as an acquisition target.

The hope for both the Grey and the Bates networks is that they can successfully capitalise on what seems like a growing client disenchantment with the service they get within the supergroups. If that happens, London offices with success built on self-confidence will be vital.