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Despite admonitions that their days are numbered, midsize ad agencies held their own this year in pitches pitting them against industry giants, according to an Advertising Age analysis.

Midsize shops batted better than .500, beating one or more large rivals in eight of 15 account reviews in which at least one midsize and one big agency made it to the final round. Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, became the latest example with its win of the $12 million National Car Rental account last week over the Minneapolis office of BBDO Worldwide and Martin/Williams, also Minneapolis. W.B. Doner & Co., Southfield, Mich., previously handled.

In all, Ad Age tracked 27 reviews of accounts worth $10 million or more. Big agencies were defined as those with U.S. billings above $750 million-a good cutoff, because it almost exactly separates those agencies with international networks from those without.

In some cases, midsize shops beat one big agency, while in others they beat two or three. Other times, big agencies lost primarily because of conflicts or potential conflicts. In the National review, Carmichael Lynch has more billings than the BBDO office that competed in the review.

Nevertheless, the survey backs up what pitch consultants will say again and again: Except for multinational accounts, size is rarely an important variable in the selection of an ad agency.

"Size doesn't matter," said Arthur Anderson, principal at Morgan, Anderson & Co., a New York consultancy. "It's a matter of the team of people whom an agency is willing to put on an account."

"The midsize agencies are doing a very effective job head to head against the larger agencies," said Alan Krinsky, a partner in ADvice & ADvisors.

Midsize agencies' big edge is their ability to put principals on a client's day-to-day business, he said. At most midsize agencies, "the names on the door are doing the work. A number of [those names] are principals with big-agency backgrounds."

Notable victories for midsize agencies in '95 included Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis, beating out BBDO and now-defunct Ally & Gargano for the Kmart Corp. account in April. This fall, CompuServe selected Martin/Williams over Bozell and DDB Needham Worldwide, both New York. Also this fall, Merkley Newman Harty bested Ammirati & Puris/Lintas and Wells Rich Greene BDDP for BellSouth Corp.'s account. And Deutsch beat out DDB Needham and N.W. Ayer & Partners for National PromoFlor.

Integrated communications sometimes gives midsize agencies an edge, Mr. Anderson said, explaining, "They tend to integrate the services they have better, simply because they're smaller. At big agencies, the other services are often run as separate units."

But usually midsize shops win or lose on the basics: creativity and chemistry.

"We're buying a whole agency philosophy," Brad Partridge, National Car Rental VP-marketing, said of Carmichael Lynch.

National is similar to many Carmichael Lynch clients in that it has a group of "hard-core loyalist" consumers, said agency President Jack Supple. "That's what we know how to do, deal with those customers."

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