Editorial: Why unlikely alliances now make perfect sense

The old saying that declares "needs must when the Devil drives" couldn't be more apposite when applied to the current marcoms scene.

Today's devil is the lingering recession. The needs are for some unusual - and previously unthinkable - alliances that will be needed to fight it.

For example, who would ever have thought that erstwhile rivals such as the media agency Starcom and the digital specialist i-level would unite in a common cause? Yet the pair have announced an alliance to pitch for the "winner-takes-all" contest for COI's £211 million media buying business.

With the account currently split six ways, the Starcom/i-level partnership would seem to present an interesting proposition. If the pair can prove that they can combine muscle with nimble thinking, their offering will be worth considering. And if they can also show that they share a similar business philosophy, their case will be strengthened.

The coming together of such bedfellows suggests that as more clients seek more bangs for their buck, they'll want much broader and more flexible services from their agencies. Whether or not they'll get them is an open question. Because while other parts of the communication business have recognised that they either hang together or hang separately, the penny hasn't dropped at a lot of agencies.

Earlier this year, a beleaguered ITV mooted a possible merger with Channel 4 and Five in order to save hundreds of millions of pounds and become a more potent competitor to BSkyB. And look at what's been happening among the regional press groups, traditionally fiercely competitive but now under such competition from the internet for ad revenue that they're pressing the Government to relax competition laws and allow them to merge operations.

However, this kind of radical thinking has yet to permeate adland to any great extent. Maybe too many agencies are so trapped within their historic structures to adapt themselves. Maybe there's an underlying fear that forging new partnerships means loss of control. Starcom and i-level may be about to demonstrate the shortcomings of such hidebound thinking and blinkered attitudes.