Media: A Moment with Marquis

If, as reported in the trade press, Group M is having trouble securing over-arching press deals, should anyone be very surprised?

It seems that neither the WPP agencies it represents nor the media owners want anything to do with Group M's sledgehammer deals. The reason is not hard to see: they reduce market freedom.

This is ironic since, no doubt, the thinking behind them is to free up trading conditions in some way, to crank up advertiser/agency power and simplify the convoluted business of exchanging advertising space for money.

That there appears to be little appetite in any quarter for the Group M press solution indicates that perhaps consolidation and centralisation have finite boundaries; that the benefits of clout are not limitless.

Haven't we seen this coming for years? First, the big agency groups pooled their media departments into large buying units; then there was a further wave of mergers that saw the creation of MindShare and ZenithOptimedia, among others. The latest twist has been for the global marketing services groups to create media trading empires such as Group M. The ability to improve value was surely bound to run out of steam eventually.

The problem is there are now so few buying points, media owners' scope for dealing is reduced and the clients and their agencies have less, rather than more, choice. It smacks of one-size-fits-all and no-one is very keen on that in a business obsessed with competitive advantage.

On the creative side of the ad business, there is a built-in corrective.

Talented people can strike out on their own with only a windowless garret and an A3 pad to their names. In media, the opportunities are fewer. Strategic planning is the preferred route to independence, although not many make it beyond cottage-industry size. Anyone chancing their arm with a buying brief has no clout to speak of.

But the fact is, there are a number of smallish agencies that never appear in the trade press, whose prices cause them no shame with clients or auditors.

They prove that big is not automatically best. So there may be room for entrants canny enough to know a good deal from a bad one and nifty enough to dodge beneath the radar. The media owners will (or at least should) give them plenty of juicy off-cuts to encourage them.

As for Group M, it is too smart not to learn from the difficulties its immense clout has encountered.

But the crude take it or leave it, sod the rest of you mega-deal is not looking like the way forward.