PERSPECTIVE: In tough times, trust between clients and agencies is strained

At one time, a few decades ago, it was almost inconceivable that

one could build up an argument to state that consumers no longer trusted

advertising and clients no longer trusted agencies.



But a glance at the 95 theses in The Cluetrain Manifesto, printed from

p20 of this week's issue, certainly subverts the first theory. See, for

example, manifesto number 74: "We are immune to advertising. Just forget

it."



As for the second part of the argument, think back to the 70s and early

80s. Then, if clients thought their agencies were having it too good -

and they might have done when they looked at the average central London

agency car park containing 30 BMWs, six Porsches, eight Range Rovers,

three large Mercedes and a Maserati - such worries were subsumed under a

tide of creative work guaranteed to be seen by the mass of the

population through the near duopoly of ITV and the national press.



In any case, before the arrival of cost controllers and auditors,

clients lacked the knowledge or the inclination to seek true

transparency. They also trusted the creative instincts of the people

they hired. And if, shock horror, a campaign failed, the 70s marketing

director would be in place long enough to see another one through to

fruition.



Today, that same marketing director, bedevilled by recessionary fears,

is likely to be in place for no longer than 18 months. He will use reams

of research to develop a brief, then test and test because he knows that

in his short tenure he only has one chance to get it right. Though he

has many more disciplines than advertising at his disposal, the need to

master them all and the lack of time to do it in frustrate him. He may

have scant real powers over agency appointments anyway; it's done for

him through international alignment. On the other hand, he has this

tricky thing called media fragmentation to understand. Who is best

placed to advise him on masthead programming and what is it? Do banner

ads work?



And into this climate falls a story that will send a chill down the

spine of every agency manager and every client. It's emerged that Ogilvy

& Mather Worldwide's been overbilling a client, and that client happens

to be the US Government through its Office of National Drug Control

Policy. Result?



News stories over the past ten months or so in the US press. The agency

itself initiated the investigation last November, and it has also moved

swiftly to bring its accounting system in compliance with US Government

regulations.



Even if this whole saga is more down to politicking by certain US

senators, coupled with naivety and time sheet sloppiness on the part of

an agency that approached its first ever government account without the

necessary rigour, it will be read by other clients of other agencies and

do little for an industry battling with loss of trust from its

paymasters as one of its many headaches.



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