Opinion: How media can add weight in the consultancy struggle - Media buyers could fund a study into the influence of advertising needed to put the industry on an equal footing with management consultants

The long-running, angst-ridden debate about the influence of management consultants and ad agencies has overlooked one vital element that might help to weight the scales a little more in favour of the ad industry - the media owners.

The long-running, angst-ridden debate about the influence of

management consultants and ad agencies has overlooked one vital element

that might help to weight the scales a little more in favour of the ad

industry - the media owners.

Equally dependent on advertising for their success, indeed survival, the

media owners have as great an interest as agencies in ensuring that

client attention and budgets are not diverted from advertising

investment into other, more disparate, channels.

Ignore the ferocious negotiation that can take place between buyer and

seller. The two parties obviously have a symbolic relationship and a

similar incentive to demonstrate the various ways in which advertising

is effective.

The better they can achieve this, the more successful they will be.

The problem, as others have pointed out, is that clients often view

agencies as mere peddlers of ads in contrast to the ’objective’ advice

offered by the consultants, although this objectivity is questionable,

since consultants are more adept at locking their clients into

purchasing anything from IT solutions to their own people.

So what can the media do to help? It can provide funding and expertise,

in tandem with agencies, to produce the type of macro-level,

industry-wide research into advertising’s effects that is needed to put

the industry on the same footing as the consultants. I speak as a

supporter of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising Effectiveness

Awards which do a good job, but they are not big, rigorous or

independent enough to compete in the tough business environment at

finance director or boardroom level.

As we saw from the research unveiled at the Marketing Forum, there is

enough doubt within companies about the effectiveness of their own

marketing departments, never mind ad agencies.

To be credible and effective, a combined industry study would have to

fulfil a number of criteria. It would have to be comprehensive, both in

terms of the product sectors and media coverage, sophisticated (up to

the standard produced by case studies in the Harvard Business Review)

and possess of integrity and independence provided by outside validation

from, for example, one of the big six accountancy firms.

It would also have to run over a period of time.

None of this would come cheap. A multi-million pound budget may sound

daunting but it is a tiny percentage of the total annual display revenue

and, spread around media owners and IPA members, should be a manageable

sum, given the benefits it would bring.

One stumbling block might be the need to put real data into the research

to be truly objective, in other words, spotlight failure as well as


This would require the willing participation of brand owners, who would

have to be big enough to risk the exposure of failure. But it was

encouraging to hear John Hooper saying at the forum that advertisers

funding media research could be a ’big ISBA debate for the future’.

A further encouraging development is Marketing Metrics, an initiative

from the Marketing Society and the London Business School. This is a

two-stage project, first looking at how different companies measure

marketing effectiveness in an attempt to find a common language and

secondly using these findings to produce standard measures that finance

departments might sign up to, all designed to persuade companies to see

marketing as an investment rather than a cost.

My scheme may appear to be an overly grand suggestion but I believe it

would be one useful way of promoting agencies into the advice-giving

organisations that clients clearly require.

Francis Goodwin is managing director of Maiden Roadside.


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