CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE - COI embarks on mission to put clients' needs first

Increasing the client focus should be positive change at COI, Rachel Gardner says.

"Change ... for the better" read the headline for COI Communications' ad for client account directors in the appointments section of Campaign last week.

The Government's procurement service is revamping its structure and casting its net to attract people "with a successful track record of delivering high-profile, successful campaigns across all marketing disciplines from advertising through direct marketing and PR to publications and new media".

COI aims to make the business more effective while ensuring it "always puts clients' needs first". Not that it has been wanting in these areas.

Successful client and agency relationships have long been an objective, which the chief executive, Alan Bishop, now appears to embrace, although he declined to comment for this piece.

He promised a change of gear and style, agreeing to overhaul COI's procedures to improve client service shortly after replacing Carol Fisher last summer.

He has not disappointed, but it has been far from plain sailing for the ex-Saatchi & Saatchi chairman.

Although he inherited a government and marketing machine in rude health, there have since been rumblings of client discontent. Most notable was the breakaway of the Department of Transport. Soon after, the Department of Health was rumoured to be considering a similar move.

Both may now be safe in the fold - for the time being anyway - but the DoT split emphasised the need for improved client communications. The new client account directors, to be appointed before the end of the financial year, will hopefully achieve exactly that.

They will form a more senior tier of specialised management, replacing client services group heads. Government clients will also be able to access specialist research, direct marketing and sponsorship knowledge more directly due to the separating out of individual disciplines within COI's marketing communications department, which handles ad campaigns.

This amendment sees the division adopt a structure more along advertising agency lines and is expected to sharpen the focus on campaign objectives and briefs, which can only benefit the agencies thrown into the melting pot.

In an environment where advertisers are no longer looking for one-stop solutions and clients are becoming increasingly sophisticated, the Government's procurement service needs to reflect this change. One size no longer fits all. COI appears to have taken stock of this and is now looking to develop its expertise.

Effectiveness, on the other hand, has always been part of its remit.

But it will not have gone unnoticed that the Conservative Party pledged at its annual party conference in Blackpool to slash the Government's £160 million-a-year advertising budget as part of its "war on waste".

An internal reorganisation on the scale being proposed probably won't affect the purse strings and advertising agencies may see little change in their dealings with COI. But, if nothing else, introducing a more client-friendly structure should succeed in bringing "change ... for the better".

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