Greg Paull
Dec 23, 2015

2016: Is farming now the future for agency deals?

An extraordinary year for deals and pitches sets the stage for a very different advertising and marketing landscape going into 2016, writes R3's Greg Paull.

A farm machine firm spent more on agencies in Asia this year than WPP or Dentsu
A farm machine firm spent more on agencies in Asia this year than WPP or Dentsu

This has been an unusually active year for deals and pitches. In Asia- Pacific, more than 4,000 accounts changed hands (yup, that’s more than 12 per day) with over US$650 million in revenue flowing into new pockets — a new record since we started been tracking the New Business League with Campaign.

When it comes to deals, you may not be shocked to learn that WPP and Dentsu led the way with seven deals each in Asia-Pacific. What might shock you though is to know that they only ranked fourth (Dentsu) and eighth (WPP) respectively in our M&A league table. Who led? A farm machine firm. 

So what did we learn from all the activity this year that will take us into 2016?

It’s still hard to beat Ogilvy in Asia

The network picked up more than 440 wins across all their disciplines, keeping them at the top of the Creative New Business League yet again. The past year, though, wasn’t about winning big — none of the top 20 creative wins in 2015 came to them — it was about winning often. Imagine a new business engine where every day, somewhere in Asia-Pacific, you’re winning a new client.

Let’s lay off McCann

For the much maligned agency for many years in Asia-Pacific, 2015 was one of their strongest years for some time. The network ranked just behind Ogilvy in the Creative league, boosting their offices with wins from Coca-Cola, Microsoft and other top brands. Going into 2016, their Shanghai office alone is now over 500 people, tripling in size across recent years. They are certainly punching above their weight on new business  wins in Asia.

Small boutiques will be staying that way

Unlike in the US, where Wieden + Kennedy leads all agencies in our table, the boutique networks of W+K, BBH, Bates and others found 2015 tough going. BBH lost Johnnie Walker globally, Droga5 closed its Sydney office and Bates CHI & Partners failed to grow. While we keep getting requests to include ‘creative boutiques’ in most of our pitches, clients under pressure to hit their numbers may often be making safer choices.

Creative wins will be much smaller. 

The traditional ‘Creative AOR’ is becoming an endangered species as marketers keep looking around the corner for the next concubine. We ran one of the largest creative pitches in the region for a well-known company in 2014 — that company now has seven agencies on the roster this year and growing. No one has yet found the right secret to client loyalty in Asia, especially when business is tough.

Dentsu’s investment in Carat pays off

Carat continues to lead our Media Agency Performance table with over 380 wins, including the Asia-Pacific Mondelez business and more in key markets. The successful integration with Isobar and iProspect is expected to help them move into digital faster in the year ahead than some other of their media agency competitors.

WPP’s media agencies start to lose steam

Normally at the very top of our Media Agency table, GroupM’s gang of four ranked fifth, eighth, 12th and 15th respectively in 2015. MEC lost Citibank to Starcom and Maxus lost SC Johnson to PHD. MediaCom is performing the best of the group, winning more Huawei business and others in China — but this is not the group’s best new business year so far.

Will WPP turn to organic growth? 

We estimate the sales price of WPP’s seven acquisitions in Asia this year to total around US$39 million. This represents less than three per cent of the British giant’s global plays (more than US$1 billion).  Time will tell if WPP intends to rely more on organic growth after leading the way with acquisitions in previous years.

Chinese companies will keep investing

A year after BlueFocus bought Canada’s largest agency, the new Chinese agency group made more investments in Domob and Madhouse in China. But it was the agricultural company, LEO Group, fresh off investments in Arkr and Amber in 2014, that bought local agencies Wan Sheng Wei Ye China and Miage China for US$480 million that topped the league table. Leo Wang, the group’s chairman, sees himself as the next Jack Welch of China, building a diversified business conglomerate, which it seems communications and digital will be part of.  

Greg Paull is principal and co-founder of R3


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