The man behind last week's appointment of BMP DDB to handle the
Food Standards Agency's account is living up to his organisation's image
- he's as good as invisible.
As the head of publicity at the FSA, James Brandon has spent the past
few weeks whittling down COI Communications' list of roster agencies to
settle on BMP as the agency to build a much-needed profile for his
But in today's climate, where foot-and-mouth has taken over the ravaging
of British farming to give BSE a breather, it seems BMP's appointment
has come rather late in the day.
The FSA, an organisation part-funded by the Government but otherwise
independent, was set up in April 2000 in a bid to restore public
confidence in the UK's troubled food industry.
Reporting directly to the Department of Health, its remit was to set the
agenda on food-related issues, to lobby on behalf of consumers fed up
with food scares, supermarket price wars and poor labelling on food
packaging, and to keep the public informed on governmental policy. Yet
the public remains worryingly unfamiliar with the organisation and its
The FSA says its relationship with BMP will be an ongoing strategic
partnership, and although it won't confirm how much the account will be
worth to the agency, it is thought to want to spend about pounds 3
million each year.
BMP already has a track record in food, holding the Meat and Livestock
Commission and the National Dairy Council accounts.
'We were impressed by their response to the brief, their creative ideas
and their unreliance on conventional above-the-line advertising,' an FSA
spokesman said, adding that the agency's first work will break in the
BMP's board account director, Angela Johnson, said that the agency would
work alongside Claydon Heeley Jones Mason on both above- and
'We are thrilled the FSA has entrusted us to help deal with these
issues,' Johnson says. 'The safety of the food we eat is of paramount
concern to everybody and we'll ensure the issues get the attention they
It seems that BMP's work will focus very directly on those issues. The
FSA is not asking the agency to develop a generic 'here we are and this
is what we do' creative strategy. The first work will be a food hygiene
drive aimed at both caterers and the public, and the FSA says it will
continue to concentrate on tactical work that highlights particular
issues, such as food hygiene and labelling.
But is this too little too late? Clive Beddall, the editor of the food
trade magazine The Grocer, thinks the FSA has missed out on crucial
opportunities to grasp the issues and convey them clearly to
'Everyone within the industry thought the FSA would have a far higher
profile,' Beddall says. 'It has good people and a ministerial
independence from government which gives it a credibility it has failed
to capitalise on.'
Beddall cites the Government's unsubstantiated 'meat is safe' mantra as
the first sign that the FSA is failing to assert itself or provide
detailed evidence backing up government policy. He claims the message
failed to develop along with the changing tide of consumer opinion.
Indeed, one would have been hard-pressed to pick out the FSA's chairman,
Sir John Krebs, during the ongoing foot-and-mouth crisis. The
agriculture minister, Nick Brown, was everywhere while Krebs was
With such a timid public face, it could be argued that the FSA is not
ready to tackle the issues, but that a brand campaign introducing it to
the public is a necessary first step.
Sources close to the pitch, however, insist that the FSA is ready for
action. 'They have a kick-ass agenda and have really set themselves up
as the consumer's champion, ' said one.
However, most with knowledge of the task accept that there is a lot of
ground to make up.
'The brief is tough,' a member of one pitch team admitted. 'Raising the
profile of the agency to the public is one thing, but helping raise the
image of a troubled food industry is another huge task.'
The FSA has not helped its case by ruffling the feathers of its
necessary allies among food retailers and manufacturers.
Krebs recently angered some with his remarks on the inefficiencies of
organic farming, and went against the grain when he lobbied for better
labelling for foods made from GM ingredients.
And it has certainly made no friends among advertisers, as one of its
bugbears is to clamp down on advertising products to children.
The FSA responds that it is far from complacent. 'This is about a
long-term, strategic relationship with BMP,' a spokesman says. 'We're
not going to turn around consumer confidence overnight. We are well
aware of the work we need to do.'