EDITORIAL: Independents now face tougher battle

The interesting action in this year's Top 300 report is played out at the bottom half of the top 30 creative agency league.

Although the big money is shared between the UK's largest 15 agencies, there was little change in their rankings. However, pass the 15 mark and there are a lot of new agencies making their top 30 debut and turning in staggering percentage increases to their annual billings.

Welcome to Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest, which came in at 26th with almost £50 million in billings. Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy moved from number 40 to 27 with a 62 per cent billings increase. Clemmow Hornby Inge debuts at 23rd and a healthy 139 per cent rise in output.

The performances of Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners and Mother, although they broke into the top 30 last year, are also worthy of note. Mother became London's 17th-biggest agency last year, with billings rising to almost £100 million; DLKW, meanwhile, increased its billings by 41 per cent.

Between them these agencies have attracted advertisers including Coca-Cola, British Gas, Boots, O2 and Vauxhall from the likes of McCann-Erickson, Lowe, J. Walter Thompson, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and DDB London. There's a clear trend: large agencies losing large accounts to independent shops.

The independents have been the success stories of the downturn. Those named above share a key characteristic: they are all still run by their founders. These individuals' hunger to succeed, fuelled no doubt by the prospect of an eventual lucrative sale, is clearly attracting some big-spending clients.

And if it is this enthusiasm that is driving the success of the independents, it's the lack of it that has been holding back their larger rivals. Job losses and insecurity have dogged staff working in the international networks for two years now. Clients not only sense reduced morale, but fear their agencies' primary concern is not for servicing their advertising needs, but for placating their own shareholders' demands. This sentiment has been making the independents a very attractive alternative.

But this is about to change. WPP's improved results, out at the end of last week, signal the long-awaited end of the downturn. The cutbacks that have so injured the networks will begin to be lifted and a new optimism will set in. The independents that have so profited from the woes of their larger rivals are about to have a much tougher fight on their hands.

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