Editorial: Government will protect COI despite breakaways

It seems COI Communications' ad agencies are going to get to know the government departments for whom they produce work. This week, it emerged that COI has asked agencies to set up stalls, literally, at Borough Market for a meet-and-greet with the marketing teams of the various departments.

Agencies have been utterly surprised by the initiative; they are not used to COI being proactive.

The initiative coincided with a story that the Home Office has decided to forge more direct links with the agencies on its roster and is embarking on a more arm's-length relationship with COI. That news, when juxtaposed with that about Borough Market, indicates there's a move afoot for COI's clients to start forming relationships with their agencies. This is significant, when you consider that roster agencies are currently contractually obliged to inform COI if a government department contacts them directly.

There appears to be a lot of logic in the Home Office's decision. Unlike the Department of Transport's decision three years ago to ditch COI completely (one that has been partially reversed), the Home Office will continue to use COI rosters and maintain the associated media-buying clout. But it will also take greater control of its own communications.

The bigger government departments have top-notch marketing teams, entirely capable of devising and implementing their own strategies. If they pass these strategies on to COI's campaign managers, who then brief agencies, they risk diluting or confusing their plans. The Home Office is cutting out the middleman.

It's an inspiring formula, and one that other large government departments are likely to envy and even attempt to emulate. But don't write COI off yet; the Government enjoys having a focal point for its communications activity - it gives it more control. If the Home Office gets too uppity, or too many other departments attempt their own breakaways, expect the Cabinet Office to intervene.

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