CAMPAIGN INTERNATIONAL: Is the Ballester Report still a must-see for global agencies? Opinion is divided over the merits of the unique client survey. By Michele Martin

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?’

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

line.



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

targets.’



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

its price.



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

charges.



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

the survey.’



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.



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