It’s the morning after a meeting of Foote Cone Belding European
agency heads and the network’s international president, Harry Reid, is
considering whether to spend pounds 20,000 on the Ballester Report. ’The
boys in France think it’s pretty damn good but England, Germany and
Spain seem less enthusiastic. Yesterday’s lack of reaction made me
think, if we’re getting local surveys, do we need this?’
Reid is not the only European chief asking this question at the moment
as agencies find it’s make-your-mind-up time on Eur-ope’s only
continent-wide client satisfaction survey. Two other networks admit they
are having second thoughts this year, a significant change from last
time around when 13 out of the top 15 networks signed on the dotted
Ogilvy & Mather, for example, will not be signing: ’We’re not going to
subscribe because we felt the last report was unreliable,’ explains Mike
Walsh, O&M’s chief executive for Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
The Ballester Report is little known outside the elite club of senior
managers running Eur-ope’s advertising agencies. But it can pack a
powerful punch. As the only survey of its kind, it tells agencies with
anonymity what clients and prospective clients really think of them,
from the creativity and effectiveness of their campaigns to the quality
of their staff.
Those who love it really love it. Rod Wright, president of BDDP Europe,
is not alone when he says: ’We have subscribed and will subscribe again,
because there are no other useful benchmarks of our achievement in terms
of awareness of the network. It gives us some basic management
But there are a few minuses too. There is a perception among some that
the report - being compiled from Paris - is heavily biased towards
French clients and is occasionally conducted in a kind of ’Franglais’
which can confuse findings. Other criticisms include its methodology and
Ballester launched its first pan-European report in 1990 after 20 years
of producing successful client satisfaction surveys for the French
market, and later for Italy and Spain.
It now publishes its international research every two years, providing
subscribers with a 200-page report into findings which include general
information on the sector, as well as exclusive information on
individual networks. Agency performance is ranked against that of
competitors on subjects ranging from ’understanding of clients’
problems’ to how likely an agency is to be put on a client’s shortlist
during a review.
The 1996/7 report polled 353 client companies, compiled from lists of
clients and prospective clients submitted by subscribers. One third of
respondents were European co-ordinators while the rest were local
managers for brands spending dollars 5 million or more on advertising in
at least three national markets.
All research was conducted on the telephone, with the interviews
pre-arranged and carried out in the speaker’s native tongue over 40
minutes. Client identities were kept strictly confidential.
Despite Ballester’s pedigree and procedures, agencies have some very
specific complaints, principally about French bias which, they say, is
manifest in two ways. First, in what is perceived as the
over-representation of French clients surveyed and second, in the
occasionally poor translation of questions from the original French,
which can be confusing.
One agency has commented on a question that asked clients if they had
’reviewed their budget in the past two years’. In the original French,
’review’ meant ’pitch and ’budget’ meant ’account’, thus completely
changing the meaning after translation.
The survey’s methodology has also come in for a hard time, particularly
its exclusive use of telephone interviews. The lack of qualitative
research included in findings is also criticised, as is the
’superficiality’ of some questions demanding one word answers.
Georges Attard, Ballester’s man in charge of the international survey,
is both bullish and accommodating when it comes to answering the
He laughs off claims that the survey is biased and points out that this
year, the nationalities of clients taking part was divided according to
total adspend in Europe, with 30 per cent from Germany, 20 per cent from
the UK and just 15 per cent from France.
He also counters criticism of the telephone interview technique with the
observation: ’It isn’t simplistic. What’s important is a first
impression.’ As for including client comments, he just says: ’We have
never been asked for them.’
On issues such as translation and the quality of questions, he invites
agencies to get more involved to make sure they get exactly what they
want. ’We work on the questions with the networks but not everyone gets
involved. We wish they would. We want to help them get more value from
It is still unclear how many networks will climb on board for the next
survey and - as usual - the names of final subscribers will not be
revealed even when they do.
In the meantime, Attard is making even bigger plans, including the
launch of a British survey. Ironically, such a venture could have a
positive knock-on effect for Ballester’s international offering. With
the headquarters of so many European networks in London, a little
profile-raising beyond France could help clinch deals with those
Anglo-Saxon decision-makers who are still wavering.