With most media pitches, two things are guaranteed. The first is
that every agency except the winner believes it came second. The second
is the winning agency is often accused of ’buying’ the business by
offering either to handle it at suicidal commission levels or by
promising a level of discount that would be impossible to achieve.
However, the opportunity could exist to lay such unsporting suspicions
to rest. You will have read in Campaign last week that the Institute of
Practitioners in Advertising is set on issuing a league table of income
levels to stand alongside the traditional billings figures.
The move would be good news for the likes of Michaelides & Bednash,
whose business is such that it doesn’t register in any billings-related
I laboured through much of last year believing that M&B had suffered
from the loss of key accounts such as Cable & Wireless, only to discover
that the agency’s income was actually up by 35 per cent and profits up
by a staggering 75 per cent.
Consider, too, that New PHD’s triumph in securing strategic planning on
BT’s pounds 150 million business will not move the agency up one pence
in the billings league table. As media agencies increasingly embrace a
gamut of communications tools, billings from media placement represent a
falling share of their total business. So you might imagine that all
media companies would be baying for income-related leagues.
Of course not. And it’s clear why some will resist. This industry has
been its own worst enemy on commissions, with agencies undercutting each
other to win business in a strategy that undermines the work they
Published income figures could throw commission levels into the
spotlight and make them even more of a competitive issue. To publish
income figures would, for some agencies, effectively be to publish
average commission figures. Clients paying their agencies above the
average would demand evidence that they were getting a better service
and that they were not subsidising other clients. Those getting it cheap
might start asking where corners are being cut.
It’s not an easy issue to resolve, but income figures would certainly
mean agencies will have to prove the value of their service more than
ever before. And that means a fresh focus on great planning, added value
and better marketing of media agency brands.
The IPA believes real advantages can be gained from releasing the
Of course, there should be greater recognition for the services media
companies now provide, which have nothing to do with media
But publishing income figures is just one step. What about a real code
of practice to move to a more professional status for the business. This
could finally mean getting paid a fair price for the business of
Have your say in CampaignLive’s forum on channel 4 at