Editorial: Upstart will not find clients easy to win

Surely TBWA\London, which last week announced the launch of a division tailored for modest-spending clients, is not the same agency that not long ago was showing such minnows the door? Jettisoning such business may have seemed OK when the dotcom boom was at its height and agencies naively chased crocks of fool's gold. But that bubble has long since burst.

And cynical clients with memory spans longer than those of a goldfish - and that's most of them - might be forgiven for thinking that in launching TBWA\Upstart, the parent company is being more than a tad self-serving.

It's easy to see why such a second-string operation is appealing to the bigger agency that spawns it. Conflict becomes more easily manageable and staffers get the chance to cut their teeth on the small fry before moving on to meatier pieces of business.

Many clients will take a different view. While they might understand the agency's enthusiasm, they may fail to see what's in it for them. What's more, the small ones will inevitably find it hard to escape the feeling of being treated like race-course punters who can only look enviously at the free-spending top hats in the posh enclosure.

Much has moved on since the dotcom collapse. For one thing, £2 million no longer constitutes a small spend. Good-sized agencies will happily get out of bed for such business these days and most are willing to take an assignment that might not add much to the bottom line but presents some terrific creative opportunities. The Economist's adspend barely touches £2 million, but what agency wouldn't kill to have it?

For another, small clients no longer have to content themselves with being ghettoised in a big agency's cut-price division. Hungry newcomers such as Campbell Doyle Dye and Isobel can just as easily offer a personalised service along with lots of big-agency experience.

The mistake is for big agencies to believe that their smaller offspring can simply vacuum up the burgeoning numbers of small accounts becoming available as recession recedes and purse strings are loosened. While such business is more plentiful, the clients who control it are looking to get the biggest possible bang for their bucks. That often means going into a "one-stop shop" where small budgets can be made to work hard.

TBWA clearly thinks it has found a gap in the market. Whether or not there is a market in the gap remains an open question.

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