Ian Schoolar, head of brand communications for NatWest, may not have
realised it, but he made a telling comment last month in talking about
the bank’s decision to appoint Ammirati Puris Lintas to its print
account (Campaign, 12 January). Describing his approach to APL, he said:
‘There was no other blue-chip agency without competitive business that
had experience in posters and press ads.’
And indeed this is true. We live in an over-supplied market, yet clients
who worry about competitive business and conflict can sometimes be very
strapped for choice. In financial services, there isn’t a single top 20
agency without a client in that field. Take cars and pretty much the
same applies. Now look at retailers like Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and
Safeway. All are diversifying into other areas, whether it be petrol or
books, and, as they grow, looking for appropriate homes for their
business becomes increasingly difficult. The result: conflict puts a
ceiling on agencies’ ability to grow and clients’ choice.
Add the international dimension and the reality becomes even starker.
Thus, it is not surprising that a group like Euro RSCG has rushed into
setting up a second network (Campaign, last week).
Flimsy as Campus may look, you can do wonders with Robin Wight and some
smoke and mirrors. And surely Euro is right when it says there are
enough mid-sized European clients to make it worth its while.
Nonetheless, the conflict problem dogs the advertising business. And it
is difficult to see how to break the impasse. As long as it remains, the
agency sector will always be fragmented. That restricts clients’ choice.
But the onus for change has to be with clients. Only they can make it
happen. Somehow, some of the big ones have got to get together to sort
it out. This may involve a pact agreed in a smoke-filled room, but it’s
a lot better than the alternative.