With pitches running at the rate of one a week, most have been too busy striving to save or gain business, as clients sought greater value from their media budgets.
One way of getting more value has been through consolidation, a business imperative that accounted for most of the year's mega-pitches.
A highlight of ZenithOptimedia's busy year was winning a half-share in Procter & Gamble's £162m consolidated media planning business, while the pooled £45m buying budget of GUS added to its coffers, and Electrolux pushed its £20m pan-European business into the agency.
ZenithOptimedia's successes may partly be accounted for by an underlying repositioning that has seen it put a premium on return on investment and measurability.
One client that has benefited from this focus on ROI has been British Airways. In a bid to reverse passenger losses to budget airlines in a difficult year for the travel industry, BA briefed ZenithOptimedia to help promote its lower fares and improved online booking service.
The integrated campaign used a media first, cashpoints, as well as banners around Eurostar's base at Waterloo Station. BA increased passenger numbers by 6% and revenue by 5%.
Another noteworthy example of media integration came with MediaCom's campaign to reposition Snickers to men aged 16 to 24.
This activity embraced traditional media and internet chatrooms with a specially created street sports and music event, 'Snickers Game On', which was attended by 35,000 people and broadcast on Channel 4. The media execution drove the creative development and has also influenced Snickers' European strategy for 2004.
Naked again showed the way when it came to creativity in media communications. The moustached runners in The Number's 118 118 directories campaign stood out thanks to Naked's translation of the creative across numerous media formats and PR stunts, achieving an 82% awareness level for the fledgling brand.
Naked created two offshoots this year: Naked Inside, a joint venture with Clemmow Hornby Inge, led by ex-Initiative planning director Tim Allnutt; and Naked Ambition, headed by former Mediaedge:cia managing director Matt James.
The agency's reputation in advancing media neutrality in its strategic communications saw its template copied in two start-up agencies: Manning Gottlieb OMD's The Source, headed by former Mirror Group advertising director Neil Hurman; and Tonic, founded by two BBJ directors, Tim Elton and Geoff Seeley.
Manning Gottlieb also launched a small client agency, called Made to Measure, with former Mediahead managing director Peter Thomson as head 'tailor'.
Made to Measure enters a market that has proved encouraging for smaller agencies. "In terms of business performance, the past year has been testing for some of the largest and most successful media agencies of recent years," says Andy Pearch, managing director of Billetts Media Consulting. "But the smaller agencies had some notable successes - Walker Media picked up KFC, and BLM continued to win business."
Kathryn Jacob, managing director of Scottish Media Group, agrees that while the trend toward globalisation appears to favour the bigger agencies, the performance of smaller rivals and continued success of the strategic planning sector will ensure the scale players won't have it all their own way. "We anticipate further restructuring as they respond to these challenges," she adds.
Jacob also welcomes the development of agency brand propositions. "Their slogans, such as 'ROI', 'Fuelling Brand Power' and 'Closer to Clients', have been brought to life," she says. "The days of media agencies as faceless buying entities are disappearing, and they now offer up a whole new area for working in a new way."
That can only be a good thing, as procurement made its presence felt as much in media in 2003 as in other sectors.
Indeed, Paul Phillips, director of advertising and media services at the AAR, believes that 2003 could go down as the coming of age for procurement departments and their role in pitches - which could have worrying undertones.
"While media agencies are generally more comfortable in dealing with procurement than their creative cousins, it is important to retain sight of the creative contribution media can make to clients' marketing and communications objectives," he says. "To lose sight of this would reduce our business to little more than a spreadsheet of costs."
Big wins in 2003 came for two agencies that overhauled their businesses significantly in the past year. Starcom MediaVest shared the £162m Procter & Gamble account with ZenithOptimedia, while Initiative won not only General Motors' £197m account, but also £74m worth of business from Orange and Freeserve.
Rebrandings in the industry saw MediaVest add the Starcom brand to its name as it restructured under new chief executive Iain Jacob, who moved over from Starcom Motive, while Initiative globally rebranded and dropped Media from its name.
BBJ joined in by renaming to become Aegis' second international network, Vizeum. And at PHD, Tess Alps took over as chairman from Jonathan Durden, creating a new management set-up.
MindShare took over Abbey National's £33m business from Carat, which also lost its hold on Cadbury Trebor Bassett's £21m UK business to Starcom Motive. OMD and BBJ shared easyJet's £30m European business.