The total number of agency appointments fell 12.2% in 2019 compared with the previous year, due largely to a quieter-than-expected fourth quarter, according to AAR's New Business Pulse report.
2019 marked a downturn on 2018’s less drastic year-on-year performance, which saw appointments decline a marginal 0.5% on 2017.
While it is important to note that figures only cover appointments and not outstanding pitches, by the end of the third quarter (and as far back as last summer) AAR and the industry had hoped that the new-business market would achieve similar levels to 2018. But the final quarter ended up quieter for various reasons, not least the build-up to December's general election.
There was a divergence in the level of appointments made by sector, with CRM and performance marketing seeing a 21.2% boost to the number of concluded pitches – the only discipline to experience growth.
Of the other sectors, advertising suffered the smallest year-on-year decline, down 7.2%. Integrated fared the worst (down 43.9%), followed by digital (29.3%) and media (10.7%).
While the number of advertising agency appointments were down, in terms of value 2019 marked an improvement when it came to big-spending brands: 11 clients with media budgets in excess of £20m made appointments, compared with nine in 2018.
However, only seven held open reviews: B&Q, Barclays, Dreams, GoCompare.com, Ladbrokes Coral Group, Virgin Media and William Hill. The remainder – BT, NatWest, TSB and Wickes – appointed within their rosters or without a pitch.
For media agencies, the decline was offset by some major UK and global brand appointments, including eBay, Ferrero Rocher, Just Eat, Three, TSB and Vodafone.
New business for both media and creative shops was helped by new brands entering the market, including Bloom & Wild, Cazoom Good Hemp, Karma Cola and Pip & Nut.
The outright winner of 2019 was CRM and performance, in both volume and value, with appointments made by brands such as Comparethemarket.com, HSBC, Lloyds, Macmillan Cancer Support, Three and Toyota.
While there was a fall in the number of pure digital appointments, there was a rise in the number of brands on the hunt for specialist social agencies.
Victoria Fox, AAR’s chief executive, said: "The shape of the new-business market is what is most interesting, with the biggest drop in ‘integrated’ pitches and the biggest rise in CRM/performance pitches.
"In our view, this is the new ‘integration’, with brand owners looking holistically at their data-driven marketing and breaking down these silos as they put the customer firmly into the driving seat. This focus on customer centricity is also seeing more capabilities being brought in-house and accounted for the substantial drop in digital pitches year on year."
Fox was hopeful that 2020 would not experience further decline, as "marketers have no choice but to keep up with changing consumer demands".
She continued: "How the shape of new-business activity develops is fascinating. Brand owners will need to continue adding capabilities to their marketing mix (by in-housing and adding external partners to their rosters) as this is not seen as a 'nice to have' but, instead, a necessity to keep up in an increasingly competitive market."