Media Perspective: Carat's Adidas win shows clients value digital media skills

Life is full of surprises. Such as discovering that a corned beef pasty I bought on Saturday evening at Bradford Station for 85p was apparently safer to eat than the lasagne consumed at a top London hotel by a bunch of elite footballers (if you can call Spurs players elite, that is).

There haven't, though, been too many nasty surprises in the media world of late. We've seen Sky all but hold on to its Premiership football deal in the face of tough competition. Though the Irish broadcaster Setanta has won two of the six packages on offer from the Premier League, little will change for fans or advertisers, with live Premiership football still absent from terrestrial TV and Sky controlling the lion's share.

Then we had the result of the largest media pitch since the last one, with Carat landing the consolidated global Adidas/Reebok business. The move is a great boost for the Aegis network, especially given the uncertainty swirling around its head due to the on/off bidding for its parent. However, few can be surprised at the result.

MediaCom and Starcom apparently pulled out of the pitch at an early stage after realising that the business was likely to stay with one of its incumbents, OMD or Carat. You can see the logic - with the disruption of post-merger corporate restructuring involved, Adidas was hardly likely to incur the extra cost and upheaval of choosing a wholly new media network at the same time.

Which left Carat and OMD to slog it out. Apparently, Carat was the frontrunner and consolidated on this with a spectacular pitch presentation. However, by all accounts Omnicom (which held the Reebok account across Europe and the Adidas UK account through PHD) staged a good comeback and pushed Carat close.

Carat may well have been the favourite because of its hold on the bulk of the Adidas business, but Adidas said that the media agency triumphed because of its "strong strategic vision". Achieving cost savings on Adidas' EUR225 million spend may also be part of the attraction.

Another perceived strength of Carat/Aegis is its digital offering, with Carat focusing on its "digital leadership" in its pitch.

This was personified by Nigel Morris, the chief executive of Aegis' digital division, Isobar, leading the pitch. And online is an area where, on the media side at least, Omnicom is accused by its rivals of failing to get its act together.

So there are two lessons here. First, that clients are increasingly willing to work with incumbents rather than incur the cost of shifting a giant account, which is bad news for new-business directors. Second, that digital media is increasingly a differentiator in pitches. Those who ignore this do so at their peril and may face their own sickening surprises.