MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: CIA pays the price of years of turmoil and overseas gain

Every blow makes you wince, even if you’re a journalist like me who loves a good story (which can, of course, mean a bad story). The recent fate of CIA Medianetwork - around pounds 200 million lost this year if you include its buying arm - can have held little cheer for even its most bloody-minded of rivals. There but for the grace of God, a strong figurehead, a firmer grip of TV deals ... and all the rest of it.

Every blow makes you wince, even if you’re a journalist like me who

loves a good story (which can, of course, mean a bad story). The recent

fate of CIA Medianetwork - around pounds 200 million lost this year if

you include its buying arm - can have held little cheer for even its

most bloody-minded of rivals. There but for the grace of God, a strong

figurehead, a firmer grip of TV deals ... and all the rest of it.



A quick glance over CIA’s UK client list now makes for less than

extensive reading. Goodbye top ten. Hello rock bottom? Fortunes are

definitely at a low ebb but why is the company on a losing streak?

Topping most people’s list is the TV trading disaster back in 1996, when

CIA had to hand back pounds 1.8 million to Laser Sales after failing to

meet its agreed deals. Disaster it was, although one that some other

media agencies have avoided through good fortune rather than

probity.



Yet there’s no doubt that this will have played its part in nudging

clients out of Paris Garden, CIA’s headquarters. Then there have been

the innumerable group mergers and the rapidly revolving door to the

management suite.



I can’t recall a year when the company has had a smooth 12 months to

simply get on with the business of planning and buying media for

clients.



The result has been interminable turmoil. And all the time there’s been

a sense that the rest of the world is rather more important to CIA’s

chiefs than its flagship UK office.



For a company that has in so many ways been ahead of the UK media game

(one of the first to get a stock market listing, one of the first to

develop an international network, one of the first to talk about a

full-service media solution) it is sad to see CIA now trailing the

pack.



But this is not a business built on tea and sympathy. Accusations of

draining resources from the UK to fuel overseas expansion, failing to

support the vision with the investment, not investing in the right sort

of people and, it must be admitted, an unhealthy dose of bad luck, have

all served to open CIA clients’ doors enough for competitors to get

their credentials in.



Still, I have a lot of sympathy for the CIA team who inherited the time

bomb that just went off. But there are chiefs there, too, who should

have seen this coming and taken preventative measures. Yet instead of

rolling, heads have been buried. And any agency that thinks it can rest

on its reputation in these aggressive, competitive times, deserves all

it loses.



Finally, though, mistakes are being admitted and action taken; a degree

of dignity is being clawed back. It’s a start.



Now we need some heart and soul, some sense that this is an agency with

integrity whose prime concern is its clients’ business, not the bottom

line. But it will be a long haul, because in a market where perception

is still more important than reality, CIA is perceived as a

wash-out.



And that’s a disgraceful situation for an agency with such potential to

find itself in.



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