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
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.