Alasdair Reid looks at the increasing unease about the society’s media
You don’t often hear people criticising the Incorporated Society of
British Advertisers - after all, its members just happen to fund the
advertising industry. So agencies and media owners are not exactly going
to voice strong opinions about the organisation or its membership. Not
publicly, at any rate.
Behind the scenes, though, there has been an increasing amount of
grumbling from media owners, especially ITV companies. Last week, that
background murmur became slightly more audible as media owners digested
the news that ISBA is putting more muscle behind its media stance, with
the appointment of Bob Wootton as director of media services.
And with important issues such as the Broadcasting Bill, the
concentration of radio sales and the EC’s Broadcasting Directive all
boiling this year, advertisers’ voices, through ISBA, are going to be
heard more. Only last week the Society made calls for Media Sales and
Marketing’s share of the radio advertising cake to be referred to the
Office of Fair Trading.
So what is the industry reaction to the idea that ISBA is now putting
fresh weight behind the real media issues?
Some media owners say they are preparing for the worst. ‘We’re going to
see ISBA taking up controversial and badly-thought-out positions,’ one
senior TV sales executive says. ‘I expect to see a lot more mischief in
the trade press. It’s not just about Wootton. I think he’ll be the focus
for a lot that’s currently wrong with ISBA. Its input on media is
becoming steadily devalued.’
Strong stuff. Some of the fears being voiced by the TV companies
undoubtedly stem from the fact that they are now faced by a poacher-
turned-gamekeeper in the form of Wootton, a former media director.
Another concern expressed by media owners is that ISBA shouts loudly
about some media issues without thinking through the implications. For
example, it has called for increased TV advertising minutage but ITV has
argued that extra minutage will undermine the effectiveness of TV
advertising. ‘Its attitude is very naive,’ one ITV executive says.
Media owners also maintain that ISBA reflects only the views of the big
fmcg advertisers. Those sources argue that the fmcg companies don’t
represent the interests of advertisers as a whole, nor do they think
about the long-term health of the industry.
But hang on. What’s all this about ISBA getting too involved in media?
Not so long ago, media owners used to bemoan the fact that advertisers
didn’t take media issues seriously enough. Surely they can’t complain
Adrian Birchall, the chairman of the Media Centre and of the Institute
of Practitioners in Advertising’s Future of Broadcasting committee,
doesn’t think anyone should be worried by ISBA’s renewed commitment to
‘We should welcome the appointment of Bob Wootton because he knows the
business inside out,’ he maintains. ‘But the truth is that ISBA has
always been very interested in media issues and as far as we are
concerned it is never hard to find common ground. On the minutage issue
it took a sincerely-argued line and we offered counsel on the effects
that clutter would have on the quality of advertising messages. That is
all part of the give-and-take. It is a fundamental part of this
Birchall argues that TV is too important for advertisers not to have
strong views about it: ‘There’s nothing wrong with a strong statement of
views. Tough battles can be good for the business. And let’s face it -
historically, the ITV companies have been very good at lobbying and
fighting their corner. I think that all we’re seeing here is Wootton
being welcomed by a couple of shots across his bows.’