A 37% surge in media agency reviews has fuelled a big increase in new business in the first six months of 2021 compared with a year earlier during the nadir of the pandemic.
Overall, appointments across all agencies (media, creative and digital) was up 12%, according to new business and pitch consultants AAR Group.
Creative agency reviews were up 14% year on year while digital was flat on a year ago.
The number of reviews instigated by brand owners with £20m-plus-a-year media budgets grew a huge 400%.
Between January and June of 2020, a mere two clients with £20m-plus accounts shifted agency whereas during the same period this year, Asda, Betfair, DfT, DFS, Just Eat, Moneysupermarket, TfL and Virgin Atlantic/Holidays all concluded reviews.
For digital shops, the majority of appointments were for transformation work as opposed to marketing communications activity, due to the behavioural change among consumers during lockdown.
Victoria Fox, the AAR's chief executive, said: "This is certainly a hectic time for media agencies. So much so that they're turning down briefs and pitch opportunities as there just isn't the bandwidth to deliver well. Last year was tactical, and now brands are looking up and thinking more long-term again."
Paul Phillips, AAR managing director, added there were four main factors that contributed to media agency new-business recovery so far this year: pent-up demand following a year of inactivity; the end of Donald Trump's turbulent "rule" and resulting confidence boost to financial markets; a "smoother"-than-expected Brexit; and the UK's advanced vaccine roll-out.
Chanel, Channel 4, Comparethemarket, Dyson, Facebook, Kingfisher, Unilever and Zwift are among the brands which have called media reviews this year.
Coca-Cola and British Airways owner IAG are also holding major integrated pitches.
Looking ahead, Fox said it was difficult to make a reliable forecast, as "the first three months of 2020 were pre-lockdown".
She added: "We'll need to wait until Q1 2022 before we can really evaluate the impact of Covid-19 on the new business market.
"However, these latest figures will hopefully give agencies comfort that the market is buoyant and is showing signs this is set to continue for the foreseeable future.
"While lockdown put the handbrake on the new-business market for many brand owners, it also represented an opportunity for them to re-examine the design and performance of their marketing ecosystems and, in some cases, demonstrated the need for external agency resource where none had previously existed."
Given the evidence so far, the AAR said it was "cautiously confident" that by the end of 2021, the UK ad market could see a return to pre-Covid levels of appointment across "all disciplines and all sizes of budget".