Who will win the UK’s creative agency billings crown?

A comeback of sorts for AMV BBDO is well overdue

It’s nearly time for Nielsen/Campaign to reveal the UK’s top creative and media agencies by billings in 2023 and, while it’s no longer the most accurate guide to agency fortunes, it’s still revealing.

Media agencies won’t detain us as WPP’s EssenceMediacom is bound to be top although whether or not ‘conflict’ agency Essence Mediacom X is included in the main total will be interesting to see. EM handles Sky and BT (Sky, at £250m the UK’s biggest media account, is reviewing.)

Creative agencies used to vie furiously for top spot with their own “estimations,” led by the empire-building Saatchi brothers. All sorts of accusations were wafted around until Nielsen entered the fray. Needed in many ways although it does rather delay proceedings.

For two decades Omnicom’s AMV BBDO ruled the creative roost, miles ahead of its rivals. This in the days when it handled Sainsbury’s and BT, among others. Didn’t make it the best agency of course although it was pretty close by most measures. Omnicom sibling adam&eveDDB supplanted it after a few years of Cain and Abel rivalry, now VCCP is the current title holder with a lead in 2022 of £120m over Saatchi & Saatchi.

VCCP did it without a supermarket (as did Saatchi then, it now has Waitrose), no mean achievement.

Will AMV one day bounce back? The agency has suffered from years of CEO instability ever since long-serving Cilla Snowball stepped back. Now global boss Andrew Robertson has lured Xavier Rees from Havas, where he has won good reports. He won his spurs at adam&eveDDB so he knows all about the billings game too.

Too early to measure his impact (he’s probably still confined to his garden) but it looks a sensible (and much-needed) move. AMV’s strength was always combining solid, occasionally outstanding, creativity with the big agency smarts needed to keep big clients happy.

In its formative years David Abbott conducted the creative orchestra (he was also its leading soloist) while Michael Baulk charmed the clients. Baulk could have easily have doubled as maître d’ at the grandest of hotels.

AMV needs to rediscover its creative mojo and, recently, there have been some good signs even though CCO Alex Grieve departed for BBH (itself a biggest agency contender as cash-rich Tesco has been spending heavily.)

Here’s a recent AMV effort for Essity-owned Plenty kitchen towels, cleverly encapsulating those excruciating moments when bride and groom exchange ever more unlikely vows.

We didn’t review this at the time (it would have had an 8.) But it’s the sort of stuff that AMV used to do so well: civilised advertising that big clients (and the chairman’s wife) just love. More of it and AMV might be back some day.

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