A view from Claire Beale, claire.beale@haymarket.com

Editor's Perspective: Intelligent thinking can secure the future of COI

Over the past nine weeks, COI's Peter Buchanan and Wendy Proctor have been working with Nabs on its brilliant Fast Forward course designed to fast-track the skills of the industry's brightest young talents (bloody well done to Team Blanchard; John Bartle, you remain a God; agencies, make sure you sign up for next year).

Through it all, the amazing professionalism of COI and its concern for nurturing best practice within the ad industry shone through. It's no surprise to anyone who's seen it in action that COI is one of the fairest, most thoughtful and shrewdest clients in the business and that's why it manages to get the very best out of the agencies it works with.

Last week's IPA Effectiveness Awards results - with COI scooping a clutch of golds - bear testament to the power of a good client with a mutually respectful relationship with its agencies to deliver quantifiable results. But now COI is battling for its future, with the suggestion this week that it may even be swept aside in favour of a US-style Ad Council (a ridiculous, deadly even, idea).

So could the latest proposals for a COI payment-by-results system stay the executioner's hand, answering some of the Government's cost concerns while protecting the effectiveness of government advertising and ensuring that the agencies that work on COI accounts remain tenable businesses?

It's probably the best solution yet, though the idea's fraught with challenges. Such as how do you apply PBR to campaigns whose effects may take years (and certainly well beyond the contract with the agency) to determine? What if the allocated budgets are not significant enough to make a dent in the problem, no matter how thoughtful and creative the communications approach? What about all those campaigns that have to be rushed through because an issue (like swine flu) suddenly emerges and there's no time to set up the test and control metrics? I could go on and on.

Crucially, will PBR be used as a stick to punish poor results or a bonus to reward excellence, on top of a basic fee that allows the agency to make a decent margin? It's worth bearing in mind that even at the COI's previous spending levels, few London agencies managed to make the recommended 15 per cent-plus margins that reflect a healthy company able to reward its staff and shareholders and reinvest in better systems and talent.

I like the IPA's suggestion of exploiting the rights to COI campaigns by selling the campaign concept to other countries facing similar social issues then sharing the royalties between the government department, COI and the agency responsible. It's the sort of idea that shows how, with a little more intelligent thinking and a lot less hot-headed anti-advertising posturing by some inside government, we might end up with a wonderfully sensible blueprint that gets the best out of everybody.

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