Media Perspective: It is tough for small media shops to live in the land of giants

Nobody likes a loser. Somebody should tell this to that annoying Irish bloke off The X Factor, who is still hanging around after being voted out of the reality show, writes Ian Darby.

But occasionally you have to find room for softer feelings. It's hard, for example, not to feel for losing media agencies in pitches. Coming second to "bloody MindShare" or "f-ing Carat" must be even worse than having your dreams of stardom shattered before returning to your caravan in Sligo.

Worse still is when agencies apparently win in their local markets but still lose the business because of regional or global machinations. Upset agency management forlornly keeping letters of commiseration from clients to prove they were the best among the UK agencies seems to be a growing phenomenon - a masochistic trend akin to carrying around your lost lover's picture in your pocket.

More seriously, there's a human cost that can't be underestimated: when media accounts move, people tend to lose their jobs or switch agencies.

Initiative staff working on Unilever have been the recent subjects of uncertainty.

All this emotion and competitiveness is translated into cold numbers in Campaign's new-business league, with the final table of the year published in this week's edition. And what becomes clear from looking at this is that, top three aside (and MindShare in particular), there hasn't been much up for grabs.

Which makes it hard for some of the smaller, local agencies precluded from pitches of the scale of Unilever or Nestle. There are always a few good domestic pitches (Diageo, which still pitches its media on a local basis and retained Carat, and the ongoing UKTV process spring to mind) but not enough to sustain the entire group of agencies who rely on UK-only business for their living.

There is the argument that there will always be business for good, small, independent agencies (the likes of BLM Media and The Allmond Partnership) because they can deliver a stronger, more personalised service to local clients than the international networks offer. But even UK-based companies are moving their business away from smaller agencies. HBOS is one such example, this week moving its Intelligent Finance account out of BLM Media and into the Aegis-owned Vizeum.

This is making it much harder for such businesses to survive, which is not to say they will inevitably fail (BLM, despite the HBOS loss, is a healthy fifth in our end-of-year league) but it is a daily struggle and there will be agency closures before too long.

I'm not sure I would want to be chasing new business as a small agency now. A caravan in a damp Sligo field sounds like a far more attractive place to be.


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