What do the Campaign/Nielsen 2016 billings tables tells us about the health of UK agencies?

Nielsen has produced its computation of creative and media agency billings for Campaign, published alongside Campaign’s diverting “school reports.” The latter can be hilarious with agencies looking resolutely on the bright side with their own self-assessments – marking their own homework – overlooking catastrophic business losses and “losing” half the staff to focus on a gleam of hope from somewhere.

Billings – media expenditure by clients – are a more accurate measure of a media agency than a creative one. But, in the absence of uniform income statements from everyone, they’re an interesting guide to their fortunes nonetheless.

AMV BBDO (Walkers account below) has been on top of the creative list for what seems like forever and it remains in top spot with £516m, down from £533m in 2015. The gap with second place McCann has narrowed substantially (McCann is up 9.2 per cent to £390m). Does McCann include its regional offices in this? The gap may narrow further in 2017 as AMV charts a Sainsbury-free future.

In third place is adam&eveDDB with £294m, down from £310m. A&E insiders claim its income is highest but its new UK management faces a big challenge to maintain the stellar new business record of founders James Murphy, David Golding and Ben Priest. They’re now taking A&E to the US but the days when the agency won every pitch it entered had to end some time.

In fourth place is Grey, up 24.8 per cent to £271m. Grey is an astonishing success story although it lost Vodafone, its biggest account, at the end of last year. It did win Marks & Spencer though, this from WPP sibling Y&R which is in something of a tailspin. Former Grey EMEA boss David Patton is now in charge of Y&R everywhere outside North America (and, eventually, there too probably). So Y&R is a big opportunity for Patton to burnish his reputation within WPP although hardly an easy one.

BBH is in fifth place with £269m, mainly from Tesco which it won two years ago, but it’s started to win some other business too. There are still, though, plenty of outs and well as ins, most recently KFC which went to Mother.

In media land it’s much as before with the big boys dominating. WPP’s MediaCom sits on top with £1.3bn (although it lost Volkswagen to Omnicom’s PHD last year). Omnicom’s OMD is in second place with £988m and Carat third with £876m. The big one in media land is Procter & Gamble’s review of its £210m UK media business and there’s a new contender for this alongside the establishment in Omnicom’s new Hearts & Science which won P&G in the US. Will Omnicom stick with Hearts & Science in the UK if it doesn’t win at least some of P&G? No pressure there then.

Of the indie creative agencies – something of an endangered species these days – Mother is top followed by Krow (a big achievement for Barry Cook’s agency whose biggest client is DFS) and Brothers and Sisters. Campaign lauds Lucky Generals (which recently sold a majority stake to Omnicom/TBWA) for its “meteoric” rise in the agency rankings from 79 to 33. Well, yes, but 33 is still 33. The Generals have won lots of accounts but it’s clear that indie agencies (which Lucky Generals was when this table was compiled) are, mostly, scrapping for scraps.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.