PERSPECTIVE: Top 300 report is no PR exercise, except for the fortunate few

It's safe to assume that most readers of this column will already have snatched out our Top 300 report, checked their agency's position in the rankings, read and re-read their school report, then everyone else's, rung us up to complain (there's always something) and finally, once they've calmed down, settled down to read the rest of the issue.

So there's really no point in reiterating that our school reports' scoring system is based on how an agency has performed on its own terms, not how it's performed against its peers. Or that the compiling of the reports takes months of careful consideration and debate. Or that we take the responsibility seriously enough to age several years with the arrival of each new page proof.

The end result is a comprehensive picture of a £3.4 billion business and how its leading players are faring - uncomfortable reading for some.

Although it hasn't suffered as badly as some, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's performance last year will resonate with many. A bastion of decency and gold standards to which other agencies have aspired for years, AMV's disappointments in 2002 are a very real sign of the pressures on the advertising business last year.

AMV's 15 per cent slump in billings has hit hard and the news that McCann-Erickson has shaved almost £64 million off AMV's lead in the rankings will add to the injury. I suspect AMV will be extremely disappointed by its score of four but 2002 was well below AMV's own average. Some would go so far as to say it was the worst year in the agency's history; no doubt many at AMV will be hoping they're right.

Garry Lace may take comfort from Grey's score of four, surely the only way is up, and for HHCL, post Red Cell merger, the "year to forget" two can be safely buried as history. Not so for Leagas Delaney, Lowe and Ogilvy & Mather, each of which has outstanding issues that mean a firm line cannot yet be drawn under what was a dismal year for all.

Leagas Delaney's management structure remains unbalanced; Lowe has lost momentum and confidence with few signs of either returning yet; Ogilvy & Mather is still without a creative director and more than ever seems an outpost of an amorphous international network without a UK USP. In what was undoubtedly a difficult year for every agency, these three suffered more than most.

At the opposite end of the scale Mother, Harrison Troughton Wunderman, MediaCom, Naked and Glue should be justifiably punching the air right now. Innovation, flexibility and plain old smart thinking will always make a difference.

All have proved that even when times are tough, there will always be winners. So that's five agencies that won't have rung up to complain about anything by the time you've read this column. Hopefully.

- Caroline Marshall is on maternity leave.