Big agencies: Change. Now.

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There is a not-so hidden message for the big global ad agencies in this issue: Change in 2006 or face obsolescence.

The largest global agencies with their 100-plus outposts around the world will protest that Advertising Age's chosen Global Agency Network of the Year, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, with its seemingly meager six offices, isn't a truly global player. But it has become exactly that; international marketers including Unilever and British Airways handed accounts to the agency in 2005.

BBH's closest competitor in this year's competition? Independent Wieden & Kennedy, which also has just six offices, yet won global assignments last year for Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola.

What marketers have discovered since the separation of media agencies from their creative siblings is that size is no longer the most relevant criterion on which to select a creative partner. More than that, size can actually be a hindrance, particularly when it leads to larger overheads, more bureaucracy and reduced responsiveness or creativity.

Smart beats big in today's marketing world. And smarter, smaller, nimbler shops are going to continue to eat their bigger brethren's lunch if the leviathans don't learn some new tricks.

Of course, some marketers still will need a multi-market distribution facility, but do such famous names as Leo Burnett, Y&R and JWT really want to be reduced to being the pack horses rather than the creative thoroughbreds? Even if they accept such a fate, they will have to compete with their more modern and technologically savvy media-agency siblings to maintain control of the function.

So is there a future for the Madison Ave. giants? Yes, if, like Ad Age's U.S. agency of the year, BBDO, they can demonstrate their ability to change.

BBDO showed it had the courage to change-even to the extent of offending a key client by axing creatives without first asking the marketer to rubber stamp the move. But, most importantly, it tried to espouse the flexible, collaborative, idea-driven nature of a smaller shop. That way lies the future for all the major players-if they change soon enough to have a future.

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