MEDIA FORUM: Does ISBA speak for most clients on TV issues? Should the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers give it a rest where ITV is concerned? ISBA’s anti-inflation campaign seems relentless - and, according to ITV sources, misguided. D

Another bizarre twist in ITV-advertiser relations. This latest chapter begins with a top-level meeting between an ITV delegation and representatives of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, the aim being to clear up some recent misunderstandings. The meeting was judged a success by ITV - if the outcome was not entirely sweetness and light, at least they had re-established mutual respect.

Another bizarre twist in ITV-advertiser relations. This latest

chapter begins with a top-level meeting between an ITV delegation and

representatives of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, the

aim being to clear up some recent misunderstandings. The meeting was

judged a success by ITV - if the outcome was not entirely sweetness and

light, at least they had re-established mutual respect.



So senior ITV figures were dismayed to discover, a matter of hours

later, that ISBA had forgotten to mention one tiny detail - it had

decided turn up the heat in its ’knock ITV’ campaign. Letters were going

out to more than 100 advertisers, reiterating ISBA criticisms of ITV’s

recent performance, particularly its alleged inability to control

airtime inflation. Advertisers were invited to respond (a specimen

letter was even included), indicating their anger at ITV and offering

official support for the continuing ISBA campaign.



A number of strained ITV-ISBA telephone conversations followed. Why had

this not been mentioned at the meeting? The answers left much to be

desired.



Meanwhile, ITV felt obliged to take legal advice about the statements

made in the mailshot - statements that were potentially misleading and

defamatory. It also rushed out a substantial and trenchant defence

document.



Just before the Easter break, tempers had begun to cool. ITV had decided

not to sue. ISBA agreed to provide ITV with its mailing list so that

ITV’s chief executive, Richard Eyre, could put his side of the argument.

Senior ISBA-friendly clients said it was all a ’storm in a teacup’.



Perhaps. But there were alternative theories going around town.

Suggestions that many advertisers are - at the very least - embarrassed

about recent events. Mutterings from agency sources that the upper

echelons of ISBA had lost the plot. And that it was unrepresentative of

the great mass of advertisers. After all, isn’t it well known that

ISBA’s media policy is dictated by just three high-spending fmcg

advertisers who are traditionally big users of ITV - Mars, Procter &

Gamble and Unilever?



’That is a very old chestnut indeed,’ John Hooper, ISBA’s

director-general, counters. ’The reality is that all our members have

the opportunity to make an input.



Some may have marginally different views on alternative tactics but I

have not had a single member coming back to me and saying that they

believe the whole thrust of this is flawed. If that were the case,

they’d have voted with their feet a long time ago. We are the sum total

of our membership - and they often complain that we canvass their views

too often.’



But, aside from the issue of the merits or otherwise of its current

stance, isn’t ISBA in danger of discrediting its own cause? Isn’t it

being unreasonable?



The theory was always that Eyre would be granted a pretty extensive

honeymoon period. When he took up his new position last autumn, he

promised glasnost and perestroika - structural overhaul of the network

and a new openness.



In January, he delivered concrete plans that won almost universal

approval.



And he published detailed audience targets. Hostages to fortune perhaps

- but a new openness certainly.



Yet ISBA’s impatience has apparently been undiminished. It is said that

they can’t forgive ITV for convincing the market that longer ad breaks

would be a very bad idea indeed. Some honeymoon for Eyre. Even Hooper

admits there have been regrettable aspects to all of this. ’The

unfortunate thing is that everyone is extremely supportive of the work

that Richard Eyre is doing to address audiences. But none of that will

be coming along for nine months to a year. We need a little bit of help.

We need it now.



This is an ongoing business - it is nothing new. We have always made it

crystal clear what we wanted and you cannot expect us to lie down and

roll over because not everyone sees things in exactly the same terms as

we do.’



Many at ITV remain angry about the relentlessly negative noises they

hear emanating from ISBA. But Martin Bowley, chief executive of Carlton

UK Sales, maintains they have merely revealed their true colours. He

says: ’I have some sympathy for ISBA. But at the end of the day, as a

trade body, it’s not made up of the people who sign the cheques. They

are not the people in the market doing the deals.’



Should ISBA lay off for a bit? Lynda Graham, managing director of Media

Audits, has some sympathy for ITV. She points out that a lot of

inflation is caused by advertisers themselves - a lot of new categories,

like telecoms, are spending serious amounts of money these days.

Increased demand pushes prices up. But she adds: ’The ITV issue revolves

around the question of its ability to attract audiences and I think it

is fair to say that they have been remiss in that area in the past, both

in terms of programme development and in marketing those programmes.



’I believe that in terms of supply, priority should be given to

increasing audiences and I also believe that there are dangers in going

down other routes - you can reduce the value of advertising by having

endless breaks.



But ITV is perhaps being a bit precious about this subject because it is

already manipulating its inventory to put out a lot more than

seven-and-a-half minutes of advertising in peak.’



Many, though, are losing patience with ISBA. Alan Brydon, managing

director of CIA Medianetwork, says: ’I do think they’ve lost the plot a

bit. Any decent client with a decent media agency should be able to come

to a view about whether TV is a decent investment at the prices it’s

being asked to pay. If it isn’t, they should move to an agency that can

buy better. It seems to me that there are very few advertisers really

complaining about the current situation and those that are are the

precisely the ones that are most entrenched on the subject of media

choice. The truth is that where media effectiveness is concerned, the

people who are getting the best results are the ones who are prepared to

do something different rather than merely buying loads more ratings at

inflated prices.’



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