They didn't reckon with digital media, though, and next month will see the unveiling of Infectious, a digital media agency founded by the former Agency Republic media director Martin Kelly and the Isobar UK trading director, Andy Cocker. The fact that it will be a media full-service business, offering buying across digital channels as well as planning, raised a few eyebrows.
The Infectious founders might have plenty of digital experience (nine years each, on top of traditional media backgrounds at Zenith Media), but there may be forces working against them. As discussed in Campaign in recent weeks, there seems to be a strong move towards large clients consolidating their online media with offline business (Kelly saw this first-hand when Agency Republic's O2 business moved into ZenithOptimedia).
There are plenty who will counter this argument - i-level, for one, will say that its specialist skills and systems can more than compete against the generalist agencies, and has recently landed business from Sony to back up the point. Cocker and Kelly's argument is that, much as with traditional channels, there is room for an agency to offer buying services as well as planning to smaller spenders (in the case of Infectious, those who spend around £2 million to £3 million via digital channels).
While other digital media agency launches have steered clear of buying (notable among them the Media.Com breakaway Agenda21), there may end up being some method in the Infectious madness. For starters, because with some digital channels and formats, it's not necessarily all about volume, and, second, because they intend to underpin the executional side with ideas and data (though some of this remains open to question until the identity of a third partner, bringing data and technology expertise, is known).
Cocker and Kelly believe that scale is less of a barrier to entry when dealing with digital channels, but remain realistic about the type of clients they can capture, and claim that they can profitably service smaller and mid-service clients.
It may never be a large agency, but, regardless of this, the launch of Infectious is positive - not only because it's a buying agency when few thought we'd see the like again, but also because its founders have laudable goals of combining "great ideas, creativity and consumer insight".
Now they've just got to land some clients to prove their point, otherwise Infectious will be the last of its kind and the media agency landscape will revert to the obvious.