Katherine Levy: In procurement era, agencies must offer more than top work
A view from Katherine Levy

Katherine Levy: In procurement era, agencies must offer more than top work

No sooner had the industry heard the news that MEC had lost its long-standing Specsavers account to Manning Gottlieb OMD, than there were proclamations that MEC was on a downward spiral. Having lost other chunky clients in Gocompare.com and Wickes at the turn of the year, this, some observers said, surely serves as confirmation that MEC is losing its grip.

Yes, MEC has lost three large-spending clients in quick succession (and a whopping £90 million in billings) and, yes, this is not exactly a chief executive's dream. But in a procurement-led world, this does not necessarily mean that each client felt that the product and service of the agency was lacking in comparison to its competitors. Mind you, MG OMD, which is enjoying a worthy renaissance with a run of new-business success and a hot planning positioning, clearly impressed the Specsavers client and deserves to have a stab at the business after MEC had worked on it for two decades.

But with all three of MEC's recent losses in mind, it is important to note that, in more buoyant economic times, it would have been clearer to see why the clients had moved their businesses. Previously, scrutinising an agency's business record was the obvious way of seeing if it was up to scratch. But in these double-dip times, this approach seems dated.

We are living in an era when not all marketing directors will fight their corner to keep hold of the best agency for their business if that agency does not also offer a bargain. More than ever, the chattering around media agency pitches in the UK involves talk that the client went for the cheapest deal. In the current climate, therefore, it would be advisable for the industry to stop judging an agency's performance predominantly on account wins and retention.

These days, it is no secret that while all clients are looking for the best deal, some of them interpret this to mean the best price. And the more agencies are willing to oblige, the more clients will expect it from them. The fact that our industry has been driven towards a more commoditised position is not just the fault of the money-minded client.

Yet sometimes agencies would be wise to accept this, and perhaps it is better to retain a client on less immediately appealing terms than risk losing them all together. The clever agencies will then turn their attention to selling in to that client a range of different services and up-sell from there.

But for the WPP giant MEC, losing three out of its 265 accounts - whether big or small - shouldn't be reason enough in these frustrating and unpredictable times to speculate that its talent is waning.

As Don Draper says, this is the business we operate in: accounts come in and accounts go out.