MEDIA FORUM: Is there a real role for Made to Measure in media?

Will Made to Measure, Manning Gottlieb OMD's spin-off for smaller clients, pose any threat to smaller media agencies, Alasdair Reid asks?

They're probably sick to death of tailoring jokes down at Manning Gottlieb OMD, but what did they expect when they announced the launch of Made to Measure? It's almost impossible to resist imagining a shop floor double act with Nick Manning taking the Paul Whitehouse role and Peter Thomson playing the Mark Williams character. Or should that be the other way around?

Which is singularly unfair, because they have a serious point to make here. Made to Measure is a spin-off from the main agency pitched at "small" clients - those with budgets of less than £5 million a year. It will be run by Thomson, who was formerly the managing director of CDP Media (the operation now called Mediahead).

Manning Gottlieb took the decision to launch the agency on the basis of research showing that smaller advertisers find it difficult to get the media product they ideally require. They feel lost within large specialists, where they seldom get the attention and levels of service they feel they deserve; whereas if they go to small bespoke shops, they get all the loving care they could ask for but the resources and systems aren't in place to guarantee best-value delivery.

Made to Measure, Manning argues, will guarantee the best of both worlds.

This is have-your-cake-and-eat-it time. A personal service with the logistical back-up - everything from research to buying muscle - of one of the biggest players in the marketplace. Manning claims that he's opened a whole can of worms here - and he believes that smaller agencies will feel particularly threatened by this move.

Well, are they? Quite the reverse, actually. John Ayling, the principal of John Ayling & Associates, is slightly miffed at the inference he runs a small media shop, but he can see why larger agencies are feeling uncomfortable in the current climate. Anything in the region or £5 million is a significant expenditure level by anyone's standards, he asserts. But structural changes and reduced margins in a depressed market have made many clients feel they don't get the personalised service they deserve from the larger buying points.

Ayling adds: "Staff reductions in these companies have inevitably resulted in senior experienced people having to concentrate on the biggest accounts with the result that the smaller clients tend to be serviced by executives who are bright and enthusiastic but lack experience. Service in value terms is often also glaringly lacking. Agency deals are predominant in these companies solely to the benefit of their top three or four clients; smaller, less media-literate clients are subsidising them to the tune of 50 per cent or more in some instances."

Steve Booth, a partner at BLM Media, agrees. What we're perhaps witnessing here is a big media agency very publicly owning up to its deficiencies.

"Consolidation is inevitable, it's a steamroller you can't stop but with it comes problems. There's a tendency to say that one size fits all and that's XXXL," he states.

And he believes it's a fanciful notion that this will be a threat to smaller agencies. "It's surely targeting the smaller clients of big agencies - they are the ones who are currently under-served, not my clients. Big agencies have a long tail and the 80/20 rule applies - 20 per cent of clients account for 80 per cent of billings. And at least half of the clients of big agencies are small - they are the ones who feel under-serviced.

At the moment, the only people that appear threatened are Manning Gottlieb OMD - why else would they be doing this? They've finally worked out that big agencies are not everybody's cup of tea and that they simply can't ram their over-simplistic solutions down everyone's throats. It seems like they're the ones doing the U-turn here. In that respect, Made to Measure is the new boy on the block here. They're the ones with it all to prove."

But hang on. Surely every client service team in town, no matter what size agency they work for, exists to do precisely that - to service to the highest possible standards the client or clients under its wing. You don't need to launch a separate brand to do that surely?

Peter Thomson, Made to Measure's founding director, says that you do: "There's a different way of working with a big organisation and it's easy to feel like a small cog in a very big machine. For instance, trading decisions will be made many layers above you and there's a limit to innovation and a limit to what you can do to make a difference. So it's not always fulfiling to the people who work there. The people who will want to work at Made to Measure will be more entrepreneurial and will want to be where they can make a difference. They will want to see directly the effects of the input they've had. In turn, that will attract the entrepreneurial clients, clients who will maybe want senior people working directly on their business."

This is one aspect of the business that thoroughly irritates not just small advertisers but medium-sized ones too. They're pleased and flattered when a senior team of top talent turns up and sweats blood to win the pitch - but then they're rather less than happy when they never see the A-team again. There's also a widespread feeling in the advertising industry that, although consolidation may be inevitable, the larger conglomerates have been getting the balance badly wrong. In a recent Campaign article, Bob Willott, an advertising analyst and academic, argued that "some of the global players may have become too preoccupied with profits and procedures, leading to an institutionalised and greedy approach to client relationships".

Harsh words. Does Mark Craze, the chief executive of Carat, recognise even a smidgen of truth in them? No, basically. "We have a large number of clients spending under £5 million - it's crucial for any business to be able to handle a range of clients," he points out.

"Operationally our people are driven by getting outstanding feedback that they're doing a good job. No-one comes in each morning thinking, 'the account is only worth £3 million, so I won't do a good job'. We expect everyone here, no matter what account they are working on, to supply an excellent level of service."

And access to senior talent is, he argues, also a red herring. Some clients have a relatively small budget but they agree terms with the agency whereby their business is handled by a specified senior team. In the end, though, the whole issue boils down to mutual respect. "It's not about billings, it's about how the client behaves. The thing that will get people to go the extra mile is how clients treat them. Quite simply those clients that are a pleasure to work with will motivate their team to deliver that little bit extra," Craze concludes.

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