For some agencies, the only way is Essex

For some agencies, the only way is Essex

A creative start-up heading for Canvey instead of Cannes shows how hard independent shops are finding it keeping up with the networks.

Given the eye-watering cost to attend Cannes next week, is it any wonder that Atomic London has decided to go to Canvey Island instead? You wouldn’t even be able to get a beer – never mind a glass of rosé – for the cost of a train ride from London to Canvey’s closest rail station (which is Benfleet, if you’re wondering). The agency’s commendable reason for heading to Essex is to inspire a wider range of kids to consider advertising as a profession.

But even if you have a company credit card nestled in the wallet of a network agency, your approach to Cannes might be a little different this year. In 2016, WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell indicated that the owner of Ogilvy & Mather and MediaCom might pull back support for the festival in a number of interviews, calling it a "very expensive exercise" and saying the industry doesn’t "do itself any favours by overspending" in Cannes. Speaking to agencies over the past couple of weeks, it certainly seems that WPP shops have dialled things down.

Amid the continued uncertainty over Brexit, it can’t do any harm for WPP investor relations to signal a willingness to cut costs – even if Cannes Lions’ managing director Jose Papa is focusing on delegates’ ROI (see p8). But if major holding groups need to find savings in this way, it must be tough for independent agencies such as Atomic. Founder-owned agencies must feel like they’re on a night out with a bunch of university friends who all went into finance. And the problems for start-ups don’t end with the high cost of entertaining.

If you look down the list of the 102 agencies in Campaign’s School Reports, there are a number of shops launched by talented, impressive people that have failed to emerge from puberty fully formed. Whether it’s because big companies are more worried about taking a risk and handing chunky business to a less-proven start-up, or because they are looking for additional services that start-ups find it difficult to offer, many independent agencies are finding it harder to pick up the big-ticket accounts than similarly talented shops might have done in the past.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that Lucky Generals’ head was turned by TBWA when it came calling? Despite being one of the most interesting start-ups of the past few years – and certainly the one with the loudest buzz – Lucky Generals found itself struggling to convert some interesting opportunities because it lacked a global presence and digital capabilities. We have yet to see the true fruits of the union but, with Sara Tate on board as partner, you’d expect Lucky Generals to have a busy end to 2017.

I’d wager that we will see more deals done by the end of the year. It’s a sad but undeniable fact that the modern tides of business demands are difficult for independent agencies to navigate without the support ships a wider group can provide. Hopefully the launch of Nils Leonard, Lucy Jameson and Natalie Graeme’s start-up at the end of the year will show there’s still space for a plucky, independently captained boat to make the crossing alone.

Maisie McCabe is acting UK editor of Campaign.

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