CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY - Is the FSA destined to become a household name? BMP will have a tough task in raising awareness of the FSA, writes Camilla Palmer

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

organisation.



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

role.



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

autumn.



BMP's board account director, Angela Johnson, said that the agency would

work alongside Claydon Heeley Jones Mason on both above- and

below-the-line campaigns.



'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

deserve.'



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

consumers.



'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

not.



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.'



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