Rupert Howell is one of those IPA presidents who has attracted as
much praise for his achievements as criticism for what some have seen as
his tendency toward personal hype. But the fact that he has managed to
persuade the top 20 UK advertising agencies to reveal their income
figures for the first time says much for his personal charm, which is
legendary, and even more for the IPA's ambitions for the advertising
industry as a whole.
These are simply the best figures to demonstrate that, compared with
their largest clients, ad agencies are relatively small companies which
punch massively above their weight in terms of business
We publish the figures for the top ten on this week's front page, with
billings figures side by side by way of mischievous comparison. So what
are the juiciest details?
First, much will be made of McCann-Erickson UK Group's extraordinary
lead - at pounds 74 million, it is churning out pounds 17 million more
income than its closest rival, Saatchi & Saatchi. Even allowing for the
fact that McCann groups a number of subsidiaries where others do not,
and the resulting apples and pears comparisons, Ben Langdon is heading
London's most profitable agency group.
Those agencies that appear to be the biggest fibbers, the multinationals
such as AMV and BMP, might merely be demonstrating their international
credentials with these figures. In other words, where billings cannot be
diluted, commission can easily be shared with sister shops - hence the
disparity between the two tables.
But one detail stands out above all the rest. In newspapers late last
year, much was made of M&C Saatchi finally overtaking its old rival
Saatchi & Saatchi in the billings league tables. Overtake 'old' Saatchi
'new' Saatchi certainly did, but look at these figures for a more
revealing picture. Saatchi & Saatchi in second place by income with
pounds 56.9 million and M&C Saatchi at eighth by income with pounds 34.7
million. Who's gloating now?
A final question is whether, belatedly, the IPA media agency members too
will try to smarten up their act on releasing income figures. In this
year's Top 300 entry form, Campaign invited media specialists to give us
their income figure. Only six responded. And when the issue was debated
recently by the media policy group within the IPA, I understand that it
only took a couple of words to dismiss it - and the second one was
'off'. No harm in that, perhaps, for media agencies are bound to be
uniquely obsessed by measuring themselves in terms of sheer clout
because of the very nature of their business. But three cheers to
creative agencies for showing themselves mature enough these days not to
be obsessed by size. What matters, they now realise, is not the sheer
volume of money being spent by clients but how that money translates
into the bottom line.