2003’s creative agency billings – more of the same at the top, all change down below

We did this ages ago for London creative agencies in 1968 – the neolithic period in adverts – so let’s look at 2003. Not that long ago really.

Here’s the top 20 Campaign/Nielsen UK creative agencies (21 is interesting.)

TOP 21 CREATIVE AGENCIES

Billings March 2003/2002

£ £ % chg

1 1 Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO 348.69. 398.53 -12.50

2 2 McCann-Erickson Advertising 297.17. 294.97 0.74

3 6 Publicis 277.65. 235.75 17.77

4 3 Ogilvy & Mather 270.12. 280.49 -3.69

5 5 Lowe 265.54. 253.43 4.77

6 8 M&C Saatchi 262.09. 213.87 22.54

7 7 J. Walter Thompson 262.07. 235.02 11.50

8 4 Leo Burnett 231.45. 270.94 -14.57

9 10 Saatchi & Saatchi 221.72. 198.46 11.71

10 11 TBWA/London 191.33. 180.05 6.26

11 12 Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R 179.87. 174.64 2.99

12 13 BMP DDB 174.00. 173.98 0.01

13 9 Bates UK 170.58. 204.82 -16.71

14 15 WCRS 155.47. 142.64 8.98

15 16 Grey Worldwide 154.88. 142.32 8.82

16 14 Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper 154.75. 152.13 1.71

17 18 Bartle Bogle Hegarty 132.38. 102.85 28.70

18 19 Banks Hoggins O’Shea/FCB 88.18. 86.76 1.64

19 23 Partners BDDH 88.14. 47.20 86.71

20 22 Delaney Lund Knox Warren 73.23. 48.22 51.85

21 17 HHCL/Red Cell 70.54. 109.21 -35.40

The top four could be this year’s top four (due out soon) but thereafter you can see the effect (or non-effect) of mergers. At 5 Lowe rather lost its bearings as it fell victim to a number of Interpublic maneuverings, buying, eventually, fast-growing DLKW in 20 – although ending up smaller. Now it’s morphed into MullenLowe.

M&C Saatchi has yo-yoed over the years (although it’s still with us.) WPP’s JWT, of course, has been subsumed into Wunderman Thompson and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R (an initially successful merger) is now VMLY&R.

Adam&eve was a breakaway from Y&R (one which led to an extended court battle) and later worked its magic on Omnicom’s BMP DDB as adam&eveDDB, currently the UK’s biggest agency by billings.

Bates UK (what was left of the US Ted Bates for which the brothers coughed up a scarcely believably $500m) kind of withered and died, the Bates rump in APAC ending up in Johnny Hornby’s The&Partnership. WCRS (as Engine Creative) is now in the process of joining digital group Next 15, which absolutely no-one would have predicted in 2003.

Banks Hoggins O’Shea/FCB (Banks was the former super-salesman chairman of Y&R, Hoggins and O’Shea two capable creatives) worked for a while but IPG was a mess then and FCB subsequently bought Inferno, which kind of worked too without propelling the agency into the big league.

Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper became Havas, absolutely no idea what became of Partners BDDH, although it clearly had a stellar 2003. HHCL/Red Cell in 21st was a classic example of how not to do mergers. Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury had briefly ruled the roost as London’s most happening creative agency (Tango, “Does exactly what it says on the tin” for Ronseal.)

HHCL had previously been annointed as Campaign’s 1990s agency of the decade, although there had been dissenters. But it then joined Tim Bell’s Chime group and fell into the hands of Sir Martin Sorrell’s WPP, a big minority shareholder in Chime. WPP had formed Red Cell, based on on agency that handled Fiat or Alfa Romeo (or possibly both) into which lots of other agencies the acquisitive Sorrell had picked up over the years were dumped. And that was the end of HHCL.

The story doesn’t quite end there though. Chime then bought VCCP, for what seemed an eye-watering £30m at the time, and VCCP subsequently prospered mightily. Now in private equity ownership, it will be in the top four when 2021’s agency billings are announced.

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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.