The number of completed new-business reviews in 2018 fell by 2.9% year on year, AAR’s New Business Pulse report has revealed.
Creative reviews remained stable overall, down just 0.3%. However, looking at the most lucrative accounts, 11 brands with a media spend above £20m called a review in 2018, compared with just seven in 2017.
These were: Asda, Betway, Camelot, Co-op, Coral, Ford, Lidl, Moneysupermarket.com, Simply Be, Sky and Sofology. AAR labelled 2018 as "the year of the pitch" because these clients all found a new agency through a competitive pitch process.
"Contrastingly, in 2017, all seven £20m-plus clients moved to a new agency without a competitive pitch having taken place," the report added.
There were also more brands that called a review in 2018 that were appointing an ad agency for the first time. These were generally digital-native brands, including Emoov, Good Hemp, Habito, iZettle and Pertemps.
Media was the only sector that showed growth, with completed reviews up 18.9% year on year. AAR said this was in part because of "several global brands using the pitch process as a means of evaluating their incumbent’s transparency versus the marketplace".
There were also UK media reviews from the Co-op, Coca-Cola, Heineken, LV=, Lloyds, Mondelez International, Specsavers and Whitbread.
CRM reviews showed the biggest fall at 13.4% year on year, while integrated pitches were down 6.4% and digital reviews fell 2.5%.
In terms of market sectors, retail fell from the top spot, making way for a greater number of motoring clients reviewing their accounts. This was followed by food, then finance and retail in joint third.
The AAR report also noted that an increasing number of agencies are declining pitches that they may have accepted in the past. Higher pressure on budgets has meant that many are becoming "more selective and commercially pragmatic".
Kerry Glazer, chief executive of AAR, said: "I don’t have a crystal ball to help me forecast how the market will perform this year, but I can confidently say that 2019 has kicked off at very brisk new-business pace.
"Despite the business anxiety caused by Brexit and fears for the economy, brand owners aren’t following the ‘better the devil you know’ approach. Agency reviews are still happening and are still primarily driven by a failure of some part of the relationship between the brand team and their incumbent agency."