The total number of appointments made in the first half of 2019 fell 12.2% compared with the same period in 2018, according to AAR's New Business Pulse report.
While on first glance the fall could be interpreted as a decline in new-business activity, the figure only accounts for completed reviews and does not include outstanding ones.
AAR is predicting that once those reviews are resolved, 2019 will be largely similar to 2018 by year end.
Nevertheless, the AAR data showed that creative fared well in the first six months of the year – the number of ad agency appointments grew 7.8%, thanks in part to an increase in the number of new brands entering the market seeking agency partners, while CRM appointments were up an impressive 18.8%.
Yet the higher number of creative appointments did not equate to value. Only four in the first half of 2019 had media budgets in excess of £20m (Barclays, GoCompare.com, Virgin Media and William Hill), compared with five in the first half of 2018 (Asda, Camelot, Coral, Harveys and Moneysupermarket.com).
However, appointments by medium-sized brands were up, with Auto Trader, National Citizen Service, Iceland, Subway and Tesco Mobile selecting new agencies.
The integrated, digital and media disciplines took a hit, falling 44.4%, 34.7% and 12.3% respectively.
Media agencies did win business from a number of major brands, including Homebase, Just Eat, L'Oréal and Which?, and are still waiting to hear about pitches for brands including LG, Three and Vodafone.
In its last, full-year report, published in February, AAR revealed that the number of new-business reviews fell 2.9% in 2018 compared with 2017.
Victoria Fox, AAR's chief executive, was noted that the volume of pitch and appointment activity helped dispel "any major concerns that the new-business market would go into decline due to economic and political uncertainty".
She continued: "As in 2018, we have observed that agencies are becoming increasingly smart about the number of pitches that they undertake at any one time. Even the largest agencies are struggling to deliver their best performances on more than one competitive pitch in parallel and are consequently ruling themselves out early on or, occasionally, halfway through a review."
Looking ahead at the full year, Fox reinforced AAR's view that the volume of reviews and appointments would be at a similar level to 2018.
She added: "Any downturn caused by pessimism and fear of the unknown will be counterbalanced by the optimism of brands dipping their toes into the communications market for the first time as they seek to differentiate themselves from their competitors."