Media Perspective: Are winds of change blowing in favour of local accounts?

International media reviews are thundering through with the frequency of juggernauts on the M25. Noisy and distracting for the agencies involved but the media networks seem only too keen to play the role of Little Chef or Colonel Sanders.

Increasingly it doesn't seem to matter where these 20-tonne beasts end up stopping - they're still guaranteed a bargain belly-full. The latest mega client to call a review is Unilever (following in the footsteps of Renault-Nissan, Nokia, Reckitt-Benckiser and Vodafone to name but a few).

Its £3 billion global process could end up saving the FMCG company millions of euros as the incumbent networks Mindshare (which has the bulk of the business), Initiative and OMD submit costs.

As with all the other pitches in recent times, the pitching networks will find some value to give to Unilever as they bid to win the account. But how does this model work? Surely, there's only so much cost-saving to go around and only so much that agencies can give before they lose money on a piece of business?

One theory is that cunning media agencies take value from smaller and more loyal clients to subsidise the outlandish offers being made in some of these fast-food, "grab it now" parades.

This seems an over-simplification but, nevertheless, there do seem to be opportunities out there for agencies competing on the basis of operating a healthy client-service ethic and who trade client by client, rather than through agency deals.

Local clients who spend £4 million or £5 million seem likely to get a better level of service and, arguably, more competitive pricing by avoiding one of the local outposts of the large networks. Accordingly, there is a definite trend emerging of good talent leaving these behemoth agencies for a career change or to join a smaller business.

They're fed up with spending "98 per cent of my time on costs, 2 per cent on planning" and think the pastures may be greener working on smaller, local business. This will not universally be the case but there are encouraging signs that some agencies which can't compete in the volume game are now searching out smaller, less-established clients that could steam out of the recession in top gear and maybe become the next Orange or comparethemarket.com.

And, without procurement department systems and regulations, who knows, they might even agree some profit-share deals with these emerging advertisers of the future.

Which would be positive evidence that not every client wants the media equivalent of a Zinger Tower Burger. Dining not far from the M25 recently, I sampled the delights of the Curry Garden Indian restaurant in Berkhamsted. It cost more than a KFC but it was infinitely more rewarding.

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