Lies, damned lies, and statistics

I got a bit of a shock this month when I calculated the average increase in gross income for UK B2B agencies for our annual Marcomms Agencies League Table and found it was back up to pre-credit crunch levels (nearly 20 per cent).

Such a figure suggests times have been good, and B2B agencies have been thriving – and if agencies are growing, that must mean that clients have money to burn. So everyone’s happy, right? Well, I can’t say that’s been my impression of the last two years. If anything, it has been characterised by a moderate but unrelenting level of strife and slog, with most agency and client-side marketers feeling uncertain about the future and its implications. So to find out in hindsight that, statistically speaking, the good times have returned, but that no-body has noticed, was a surprise indeed.

The reality is the figures provided for the league tables don’t tell the whole truth. This is partly because many of those agencies that performed badly simply declined to provide figures, lifting the average. But it’s also because, much to accountants’ frustration, numbers don’t necessarily reflect sentiment, and just because companies have performed well that doesn’t mean they feel comfortable.

The bad news for brands and agencies alike is that, in terms of economic strife, we’re not out of the woods yet. There may be further grief and tough times ahead for all business functions, not least marketing. But the good news is the B2B marketers have undergone a digital revolution, often fundamentally transforming themselves in the process, and are now fitter, leaner, more focused and better able to tackle the impending challenges and obstacles. This was evidenced by the fact that social media has gone from being a peripheral tool in 2009 to a critical one in 2011.

Those brands and individuals who have innovated and evolved in recent years will find brighter times ahead. Those that haven’t will find times get even tougher.