Fallon effect shows clients want to bechallenged

There's something of the heroic about Fallon's London management team at the moment. Not a soul in adland, not even at Mother, seemed to begrudge the agency its whopping Orange win. Indeed, there has been a total absence of the usual back-stabbing, "they cheated" kind of comments that accompany such account moves.

The reason for this is Fallon, now eight years old, has enjoyed the luxury of staying true to its values. If global management has been setting impossible financial goals, there's little evidence that Fallon has tried to achieve them. It hasn't offended rivals by undercutting on price, it hasn't gone out to steal clients from other agencies, but most important of all, its work has consistently challenged its clients and their consumers, sometimes to great effect (Sony "balls"), but in others to general bemusement (Umbro "goalposts"). Staying true to your values is not a good model for rapid growth if you work in advertising, so Fallon has been treading water just inside the top 30 for some years now.

But this appears to be changing. In the past six months, the agency has brought in Ask.com and More Th>n, as well as Orange. A similar story could be told about Wieden & Kennedy, which over the past year has picked up Pizza Hut, Yakult and FilmFour. It is unsurprising that both agencies have now been approached by The Guardian.

It seems the downturn held back the agencies with the strongest creative DNA, but its recent demise has unleashed their potential. Put simply, clients are less risk-averse than they've been for some time (the best example of which has to be More Th>n's replacement of Lucky the naughty dog with its new "normal is great" campaign).

Fallon and W&K's success will have a knock-on effect across the industry. Sony "balls" and Honda "grrr" is the kind of work that cuts through the increasingly cluttered media landscape that is so troubling advertisers right now.

This could mean that the agencies that have been trading on excellent client services and/or strategy to great effect over the downturn - Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners, VCCP, Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy and Clemmow Hornby Inge - are having to put more emphasis on creative to remain in the ascendancy. At this point in advertising history, several clients would rather be challenged than serviced.

So it seems such a shame that Lowe, a network that has continually traded on its creative brilliance, is going through such a hellish time.

Its latest restructure, you guessed it, is designed to relaunch Lowe as a micro-network. However, the world of advertising clearly needs a dictionary-style definition of what constitutes a micro-network because Lowe's 36 outposts doesn't seem that micro to me. Bartle Bogle Hegarty, for instance, has five offices (six when it officially opens in China).

Thirty-six offices is neither fish nor fowl. It's too big to have a core management team that can truly extend its vision and personal influence to its offices around the world, but too small to manage the massive, global, consolidated accounts that require people on the ground in every market. It's unclear what value a mid-sized network will bring to clients.

A year ago Lowe unveiled its "lighthouse" strategy, which took up the baton from a previous "superstars and superstores" strategy. Like this week's restructure, both talked about "hub" offices in reverential terms.

Lowe seems to be downscaling in a piecemeal fashion. Most likely, this is the only method its balance sheet can afford. The trouble is the new restructure, on the back of two similar ones, is unconvincing as anything but a cost-cutting measure. Should we expect another one in a year?

- Claire Beale is on maternity leave.