CLOSE-UP PERSPECTIVE: It’s time agencies were frank about their real incomes

It was in Graham Hinton’s inaugural address as president of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising that he issued the advertising industry with a challenge: agencies must take on management consultants to win back a place at top table, where they would have the ear of chairmen and chief executives, rather than their marketing lackeys.

It was in Graham Hinton’s inaugural address as president of the

Institute of Practitioners in Advertising that he issued the advertising

industry with a challenge: agencies must take on management consultants

to win back a place at top table, where they would have the ear of

chairmen and chief executives, rather than their marketing lackeys.



As the talk turns to who Hinton’s successor will be when he ends his

two-year term next year, nothing much has changed. Recently, in a reply

to Campaign’s 30th anniversary article, ’The State We’re In’ (25

September), Hinton said much the same thing again.



While no-one I’ve come across in the industry disagrees with his

analysis, nor do they show much sign of acting upon it. Maybe, in

private, they are trying to carry out Hinton’s call to sell themselves

as credible, professional business partners rather than suppliers of

words and images. If so, it’s beginning to look as though clients don’t

really believe them.



It’s time for those silver-tongued salesmen in charge of our leading

agencies to realise this is one battle they cannot win with words

alone.



They must do something.



What? Well, if there was a single solution I knew about and you didn’t,

I wouldn’t be writing it down here, I’d be selling it to you for a fat

consultancy fee. And you’d be moaning about how much people like me

charge.



But there is one thing agencies could do that would help and it’s

something the IPA is aware of. It involves releasing their annual income

figures for public consumption.



Of course, we’re all familiar with the argument that billings alone no

longer give an accurate picture of agency fortunes when so little is

paid on a commission basis. Again, you’d be hard pushed to find anyone

who didn’t concur. And you’d find it equally tough to find out from them

what their own agency’s income figures are. It’s that old preference for

talk over action again.



But consider what all this means to those very clients that agencies are

trying to impress. When an industry judges itself against a measurement

system it acknowledges as outmoded, how can it command credibility?



Of course, billings leagues have their place - but it is alongside

income tables, not in isolation from them. And, for the record, Campaign

would be only too happy to present them in this way and to revise our

Top 300 agencies list to take account of the income figures.



The IPA is canvassing agencies on whether it should release the income

figures they already provide it with in confidence. Look at it as a

little test of the industry’s willingness to change, if you like, but if

the answer is anything other than an unequivocal ’yes’, I wouldn’t like

to be in the shoes of Graham Hinton’s successor.



Have your say in CampaignLive’s Forum on channel 4 at

www.campaignlive.com.



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