CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/A SINGLE COMMUNICATIONS TRADE BODY - DMA's members divided on decision to reject IPA. The DMA decision to reject 'big tent' plans frustrates some

The chief executive and chairman of the UK's largest direct marketing agency is a frustrated man. "I'm not happy that they've failed to make an agreement, and even more disappointed that they didn't consult us during the process, WAVV Rapp Collins' chief executive, Chris Gordon, sighs.

The source of Gordon's disappointment is the Direct Marketing Association's apparent rejection of the IPA's "big tent plans, which would see the creation of an umbrella trade body to represent the entire communications industry.

Following meetings with the IPA, the DMA has rejected proposals to share offices and merge its agency section to help create the single trade body the IPA has envisioned. Instead, it says it will continue to work alongside the IPA as and when it deems necessary. James Kelly, the DMA's managing director, said he saw no point in joining forces with the IPA at present, and said that his organisation would continue to represent agencies alongside its other members, which include suppliers, printers and clients.

It's certainly a spanner in the IPA's works, as the DMA's agency membership now tops 200, a considerable chunk of the industry and a valuable source of potential revenue. The "big tent plans will continue with the backing of the Public Relations Consultants Association and the Marketing Communications Consultants Association; however, there's no denying that the DMA's reluctance is a significant setback.

Dave Poole, the chairman of DP&A and the chairman of the DMA's agencies council board, claims it boils down to issues of logistics and practicality. "It doesn't make sense for the DMA to up sticks and move from its current offices, as the lease has just been renewed, he argues.

However, the decision to draw back from the IPA initiative could serve to expose some of the long-term frustrations of the DMA's membership.

Gordon's gripe comes from the broad remit of the DMA, which he claims prevents it from tackling agency-focused issues in anything other than a notional way. He adds that the time is right for the body to liaise with the more agency-focused IPA to provide the best possible representation for its direct agency members.

"The DMA has a huge remit, and a great reputation for campaigning on behalf of the industry, but from an agency point of view, the IPA has a much clearer idea of the way in which we work, and what concerns us, he says. WAVV is a member of both the IPA and the DMA, but Gordon says the move to collaborate would improve the agency support to smaller DMA member agencies.

The DMA has spent the best part of a year restructuring to allow for differences of agenda among its varied membership, but many still feel a tie-up would be beneficial. Creatives, in particular, feel distant from the organisation's culture, which many claim favours big clients such as Royal Mail and companies which work across a whole range of DM-related industries such as printing, reproduction and database management. The Leonardo creative director, Gary Sharpen, says: "I don't really feel like the DMA connects with me on a creative level. It's not on my radar in the way that the D&AD is."

However, Simon Kershaw, the creative director of Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel and the chairman of the DMA creative council, says its awards are highly respected, and is unimpressed with the IPA's level of commitment to its above-the-line creative members. "I'm not sure that the IPA could do a better job for us, he says. "Sure, the DMA has taken a while to recognise the importance of agencies, but that is changing." Another well-placed source hinted at more agency-related proposals from the DMA. Initiatives in the pipeline could include the body helping agencies with business development.

The DMA's rejection of the umbrella initiative has opened up the possibility of a turf war, with sources hinting at IPA retaliation through a recruitment drive aimed at direct agencies. But despite the irritation of DMA members, Gordon insists that most will remain loyal. "We would never walk away from the DMA, he stresses. "It's a crucial part of our industry, and does essential work on our behalf."

Partners Andrews Aldridge's managing partner, Phil Andrews, feels the same. "Our membership is valuable, he says. "And I can't see us ever leaving the DMA."

The IPA chairman, Bruce Haines, is keen to assert the body's intentions for the "big tent are still very much hypothetical, and stresses, "this is not an attempt by the IPA to take over the running of another trade organisation". He acknowledges the difficulty of shoe-horning the DMA's tripartite structure into the workings of other organisations more focused on the agency side, and wants to continue working with Kelly in a more informal way.

Haines also dismisses claims that the IPA, aware of the fall in activity for its above-the-line members, will attempt to boost its membership by attracting those agencies working in the more buoyant below-the-line sector. "This move is about improving the member services for every organisation in the 'big tent', through collaboration and shared back office facilities - it's not about trying to dominate the market, he says.

And to dispel any thoughts that the IPA would benefit financially, Haines says there are no plans to make DMA members pay full membership fees just to become eligible. "The whole object of the exercise is to cut costs. Agencies which belong to other associations will not have to pay more than they do already, he stresses.

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