Editorial: Transparency that suits all parties is the target

As the letters on this page and the feature on page 28 underline, the issue of transparency refuses to go away. On the face of it, transparency seems easily achievable. Just how hard can it be to establish an open, honest relationship between agency and client?

Sadly, the answer is a complex one. Mainly because it is so hard to say what exactly constitutes transparency. An agency's definition of what it is may differ significantly from a client's interpretation of it. Yet, for everyone's sake, it has to be pinned down.

But there's a wider problem. And it is to do with the often complex arrangements between agency networks and global clients. Networks may be charging top dollar to implement a campaign in certain key markets to compensate for markets where it operates at a loss. An agency boss might see this as fair and equitable; a client procurement specialist might see it differently.

Who is right?

It depends what side you're on. Small wonder the debate is causing such angst within the IPA. The trade body's executive wants to see agencies develop the most open, honest relationships with clients that can possibly be achieved. Many creative and media agencies aren't so sure. Not necessarily because they are trying to cover up dubious activities but because they are far from convinced clients will fully understand the way systems work. And, if they don't understand it, the suspicion that they are being duped will grow.

So what's to be done? With agencies constantly under the cosh from clients who demand more for less, is it any wonder they will be tempted by volume-related discounts from media owners? And, if they do, have clients any right to complain that they are being short-changed?

As Chris Ingram points out on page 28, advertisers may demand transparency from agencies, but they find it hard to cope with the consequences of such openness from their agencies. The onus now falls on the IPA and ISBA to come up with a definition of transparency that satisfies all parties.

Without it, agency aspirations to be professional advisors to clients rather than mere suppliers will never be fulfilled.