By now, all your festive hangovers should have cleared so you’ll be able to reflect soberly on the goings on of 1998 and look with an unflinching eye at the prospects for 1999.

By now, all your festive hangovers should have cleared so you’ll be

able to reflect soberly on the goings on of 1998 and look with an

unflinching eye at the prospects for 1999.

Elsewhere in this week’s Campaign, we reveal our choices for the star

players of 1998 in the mainstream ad and media industries. But what of

the interactive world? What were the significant developments and which

companies have led the way?

It’s been a year of growing online adspend in the UK and, more

importantly, we’ve seen an influx of new advertisers - with mainstream

clients such as Budweiser and British Airways producing interesting work

and learning valuable lessons as they did so.

It’s also been a year of mergers and acquisitions, with most of the

funds for these deals flying in from across the Atlantic. After the

sales of Online Magic to and CHBi to Razorfish, the arrival

of the highly acquisitive iXL, and the taking of a stake in Hard Reality

by Leo Burnett, it is getting harder to find a decent, independent,

UK-owned, new-media agency.

Is that a bad thing? Maybe not. After all, nobody worries that BMP DDB

is owned by the Yanks. It doesn’t make the agency any less attuned to UK

culture or any less brilliant at what it does. But the same cannot be

said about Grey or McCann-Erickson. The London offices of these and a

number of other US-owned agency networks still suffer from the

perception that they are dominated by their American parent.

So the future health of the UK web industry is now largely in the hands

of its US benefactors. A lot will depend on the extent to which they

allow their new acquisitions to operate independently.

The good news is that both the CHBi and Online Magic deals bring these

agencies into the Omnicom stable - and Omnicom, as it has proved with

BMP, takes a relatively hands-off approach to its companies around the


Overall, as we turn our eyes to the future, I think there are bigger

things to worry about than the US invasion. The impending economic

slowdown, for one. Given the reluctance of so many advertisers to spend

money online to date, it’s not hard to work out which bit of their

budget they will slash when the going gets tough.

As long as they still see the net as an interesting area of

experimentation rather than of critical importance to their marketing

effort, its presence on advertisers’ media schedules is far from


The smart new-media agencies have already realised this and have begun

steering their efforts in other directions. Building intranets and

working with companies’ IT departments on internal, business-focused

issues - rather than external marketing-focused ones - may not be

glamorous, but it’s very well paid.

As someone said to me recently, there’s no room at the moment for a

lavish, Lowes-style web agency. But that, while hardly a reason to go in

search of the left-over bubbly from New Year’s Eve, is not necessarily a

terrible thing either. Unless, of course, you refuse to look at it

soberly and recognise it as reality.


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