UK government ad cutbacks could kill WPP’s M4C media agency at birth

WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell is very keen on creating bespoke agencies to handle big bits of business but all too often these are confounded by what might be called ‘events.’ One such was his attempt three years ago to establish the Enfatico agency just to handle Dell, which collapsed fairly shortly after.

Now the latest WPP effort, the M4C media agency formed to handle all the UK Government’s media buying needs via the COI also has its head on the block.

When WPP won the media buying business against competition from a combo of Starcom and i-level among others a clinching factor seems to have been the shiny new construct called M4C. An account that spent £211m on conventional media and £40m on digital seemed to deserve no less.

Now, though, the Government has slashed back its ad spending by about three quarters and it’s even contemplating killing off the COI entirely (whose primary purpose is to spend money) and bullying the BBC into agreeing to run government ads for nothing, which the Beeb completely opposes saying it will compromise its “impartiality.”

M4C managing director Alex Altman seems to have seen the writing on the wall when he quit to become CEO of Initiative in the UK back in August.

So what is there left for M4C to do?

Well there’s a certain amount of government media buying to undertake but hardly enough to merit a whole new agency. M4C was apparently told by cabinet office minister Francis Maude, the client from hell, to investigate the benefits of advertising on the BBC, which is a bit like being asked to make arrangements for your own execution.

The COI review that gave birth to M4C was carried out in February this year even though it was pretty obvious then that government advertising was likely to be cut at the hands of the Tory party, hot favourites to win May’s general election. M4C no doubt promised that its scale and dedication would bring cost savings. But the review, headed by COI boss and former adman Mark Lund, has proved to be a disaster, not just for M4C but also for digital agency i-level which rapidly collapsed after losing its biggest account.

It looks increasingly like M4C will join Enfatico in the Farm Street drawer marked ‘seemed like a good idea at the time.’

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