Opinion: Perspective - The real stories behind adland's facts and figures

I love the annual Willott Kingston Smith Agency Performance report. There are so many hidden, interesting stories. Here's a small selection.

St Luke's: gross income down 12.5 per cent, yet the agency still manages to boast one of the highest director salaries in the indie sector (some lucky sod was on £224,000 when the last reports were filed). And together the top 50 agencies paid their directors £34.4 million in total.

Or how about the fact that Saatchi & Saatchi - with its troubled management history - turns out to be a star performer, with operating profits up £9.8 million from a loss the previous year (a whopping 300 per cent improvement). Or JWT's impressive profits performance (more than double the previous period) at a time when, to the outside world, it seemed to be suffering a wave of blows.

DraftFCB's exceptional costs relating to the accounting scandal at parent company IPG - the "misstatements arising from incorrect recognition of income from customer contracts" that affected the then FCB - is no surprise. But the £5.7 million price tag is heftier than you might have thought.

And the increasing failure of billings to provide a barometer of agency health is highlighted by the fact that Y&R Group and M&C Saatchi are number one and two in the rankings by gross income; Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, the UK's biggest ad agency by billings, is at number eight.

The really good news from the report is that across the top 50 agencies operating profit per head (the ultimate marker of a well-run agency) was up a healthy 9 per cent. At £11,672, it still lags the desired £15,000 but all the signs are that agencies are becoming ever more efficient businesses.

Comparing margins, though, always makes for fascinating reading, particularly in light of the debate about integration and the drift of media (or part of it) back towards the creative agency axis. Take a look at the media buying table on page 23 (and weep if you run a creative agency). The operating profit margins are astounding (and the guys at Walker Media clearly deserved the millions they've pocketed out of their venture).

And, though there's always a degree of slush and smoke and mirrors behind all these figures, its interesting to see that MediaVest Manchester - easily enough dismissed as a slightly grubby regional player - is making more operating profit on its £13.7 million income than the mighty ZenithOptimedia is on its £21.9 million income.

Meanwhile, over in digital, where you might think all the action is if you believe everyone else's hot air, gross income was higher than any other sector but margins are still lower than for any other discipline: a disappointing 8.7 per cent.

Given the youth of the agencies, without all the lard carried by more traditional agencies, you'd expect digital shops to be leaner and meaner and more efficient. Clearly the general lack of ingrained management expertise across the sector means that the businesses are not being run at their optimum to take advantage of the current (and surely finite) opportunities to steal a march on traditional agencies.

The IPA is debating whether to seek chartered status, an issue that has come up several times over the years.

Some of the IPA's constituents will acknowledge that going chartered will give the body a respectability that certainly wont do any harm as it lobbies ever more fiercely to champion the industry. Others will no doubt argue that the chartered status is at odds with an intensely creative industry, where mavericks, risk-taking and personalities cannot be kite-marked.

It's up to the IPA Council which way this one goes. But it's certainly true that in the battle to underline advertising's contribution to the economy and to business health, adland desperately needs to underline its professional credentials.

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