PERSPECTIVE: There is still a place for the small agency at adland’s top table

There’s a pleasing symmetry to the news of a Bartle Bogle Hegarty breakaway in the same week that WPP seems certain to snare Young & Rubicam in its maw .

There’s a pleasing symmetry to the news of a Bartle Bogle Hegarty

breakaway in the same week that WPP seems certain to snare Young &

Rubicam in its maw .

The triumph for WPP, of course, is not simply to be able to reshape an

under-exploited agency, but to ascend to the top of the global agency

rankings. And no matter that WPP was big enough before, being number one

will always hold a special relevance - ask Omnicom, which now slips down

to second place.

For clients there are clear potential benefits from such consolidation,

not only in terms of improved agency resource but also in terms of

access to a broader sweep of companies across continents and a more

cost-efficient and coherent international media offering. Once client

conflict subsides as an issue (and it will have to), consolidation holds

few downsides for international advertisers.

But for the people who go to make up these new merged groupings, life

will not always change for the better. Apart from the obvious (the

ramifications of hostile takeover, redundancies, cultural and physical

upheavals), the life of a smaller cog in a bigger wheel may remove for

many the reasons why they were drawn into advertising. For an industry

peopled by fantastic individualistic talent and based on a service

ethos, the inexorable drive towards the global mega-corporation holds

some new and real challenges.

How many people will read this week’s front page story about the BBH

breakaway with a twinge of envy? And how many of those former

entrepreneurs who have sold out to a multinational will remember the

willy-shrinking agonies of the start-up risk and the ecstasy of their

first new-business triumph with nostalgic fondness.

There’s no doubt that much of the lure of the new dotcom companies is

the chance to work for yourself, shape something and possibly make your

fortune. So it’s fantastic to see that in the era of the dotcom

brain-drain, where the advertising and media industries are losing so

much of their entrepreneurial talent to new-media companies, people are

still eager to put their shirt on the line to launch an advertising


It’s downright cheering that the UK ad business retains the

entrepreneurial thirst which has contributed so much to making this a

world-beating advertising market.

Indeed, with the likes of Mars and Unilever increasingly happy to tap

into local creative talent to supplement their multi-national rosters,

the opportunities for new agencies are more interesting than ever, as

Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy is so eloquently proving.

The problem is, of course, that for the ad industry to offer the

ultimate route to making a million - and so continue to compete, in this

sense, with the new-media companies - every start-up will inevitably

have a sale as its goal. Just ask Messers Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty.

Caroline Marshall is on maternity leave


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