Editorial: Accept procurers, but uphold quality

Having watched its members cowering under the cosh of client procurers for so long, it's only natural that the IPA should seek to make what has become a manifestly unfair contest less one-sided. And it's equally unsurprising that it should re-examine the idea of a ratecard. That is to say, a set of standard charges that would not only form the basis of fee negotiations between agencies and clients but level the playing field.

At first glance, the idea looks so appealing you wonder why the IPA hasn't published one before. The fact that it has considered the idea in the past but always pulled back tells its own story. Far from evening up the odds, ratecards will merely add to the number of aces the client holds.

As media companies know well enough, ratecard figures don't reflect reality.

As far as clients are concerned, such figures are only the starting point.

Whoever heard of a client negotiating above ratecard?

The IPA has been pondering whether it could overcome the inflexibility of a ratecard. But with so many caveats needing inclusion, the result would be a dog's breakfast that nobody would take seriously. The brutal reality is that advertising is a massively over-supplied market. For every agency determined to hold the line on fees - charging a fair price for quality - there are a dozen others who will take business for next to nothing either because they're desperate or because they're a start-up that needs a profile.

Also, as ISBA points out, procurement specialists are here to stay and agencies must adapt. The rise of procurement is just a reflection of a switch in corporate emphasis, precipitated by a harsh economic climate.

In coming to terms with this, the industry will have to resolve its schizophrenic attitude towards procurement specialists. One moment it declares a wish to embrace them, the next it can barely contain its anger at what it sees as them encouraging clients to gang up on it.

The debate should be how to make advertisers understand that it isn't greed that drives agencies to seek 20 per cent margins. Rather it's about demanding remuneration that reflects the levels of service agencies offer and the investments they have made in people and tools.

After that, there's just the little matter of persuading the procurer across the table that the delicate flower of a creative down the corridor can be the source of a breakthrough idea for which the agency should be properly rewarded, irrespective of whether its taken five minutes or five months to evolve.

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