Editorial: Lack of training has cost agencies top-table seat

There are several answers to the often-asked question of why so few agencies are invited to sit at clients' top tables. A commission system that caused them to devalue what they did and give too much away for free is one. Another is the lack of professional development among agency staff.

Back in the 60s, it was very different. In those far-off full-service days, the agency was always a client's first port of call. And for good reason - the agency provided everything from a marketing analysis to a media plan and creative work right through to packaging and point-of-sale.

Then came the 80s, when agencies dropped many such services in favour of pure above-the-line work because that was where the big bucks were. Today, clients take input from an array of communications specialists, leaving the agency way down the pecking order, simply knocking out the ads.

Why has this happened? Largely because the specialists have exposed clients to the blue-sky thinking agency people could not provide. For years, agencies have too often failed to make the case for advertising within a broad business context. This is hardly surprising when, as the feature on page 26 points out, few staff experience the stimuli and ideas from other industries.

Moreover, agencies as a whole have been reluctant to bankroll their staff's professional development, fearing that their newly acquired qualifications will be a passport to better-paid jobs elsewhere.

The good news is the training gaps are gradually being filled. Last year, the IPA launched its Foundation Certificate, aimed at giving advertising newcomers a basic knowledge of how the industry works. Last month, it launched an Excellence Diploma to ensure senior managers of the future are better equipped. The bad news is there are still too many agency bosses who have made their way to the top with very little or no formal training.

The importance of such an investment is not lost on clients who live in a brutally competitive world and often have complex business problems to solve. Their success may depend on a pool of well-trained careerists who may want relatively short-term assignments before seeking a new challenge.

Having made the investment, clients know there are equally talented replacements in the pipeline. It will be a long time before adland has that luxury.

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