Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign / editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign / editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

Arif Durrani: Facebook's UK advisory board creates a stir

Facebook created something of a stir last week when it unveiled its first UK advisory board, comprising senior brand and agency marketers.

The collective includes leaders from Aegis, MediaCom, Mindshare, Omnicom, Starcom and ZenithOptimedia, as well as Coca-Cola, EE, PepsiCo, Tesco and Unilever. The lack of creative input is no accident – this initiative targets the money men.

It represents the social network’s first attempt to address the specific marketing needs of a single territory and follows the creation of its global client council two years ago – the makeup of which is notably far more diverse.
It is undoubtedly a smart move for Facebook as it looks to finesse its commercial offering and, ultimately, increase the amount of adspend being directed its way.
Facebook’s decision to launch such a board in the UK first should come as no surprise either. Ever since those early years, when the social network’s presence in London consisted of little more than the affable Blake Chandlee holding court and buying drinks up and down Soho, the UK has represented a home from home for Facebook.
It is the largest commercial operation in Europe, enjoying very high penetration of the population (50%) and revenues in the region of £250 million last year. It is also still generally believed to be Facebook’s second-largest commercial operation after the US.

'The board is undoubtedly a smart move for Facebook as it looks to finesse its commercial offering'

Our connected island provides a competitive e-commerce culture too, with a higher percentage of GDP attributed to the internet than any other G20 country, and, spurred on by the arrival of 4G, an increasing appetite for all things mobile.

Rest assured, when the new Facebook board meets every quarter, talk of mobile opportunities will never be far from the mix. But, as with any exclusive party, it is the people not invited who define it as much as those in attendance.
I understand Havas Media has now been added to the list, and one can only imagine the conversations at IPG Mediabrands, which is not among the first wave to be seated, while its uber-client Tesco is.
Grumblings from those not invited are already audible, and there are valid questions being raised about whether it could compromise agencies’ roles as independent advisors to their clients. Most prefer to remain anonymous, but Walker Media’s chairman, Phil Georgiadis, has put his head above the parapet and voiced concerns about where it might all lead.
"It’s not like Facebook can’t afford to buy good advice. So why are agencies so keen to offer it for free?" he asks.

Georgiadis stresses how he is in no way anti-Facebook, and fully understands why the company has sought to establish such an exclusive board at this stage in its development. However, he wonders what, for agencies, marks Facebook out from other media owners?

He has a point. Engaging with such a powerful and progressive company is a necessity for agencies. But why should media agencies engage collectively for Facebook, when they are fierce competitors in all other areas of business?

If ITV (a British company with a market cap of $7.5 billion) were to initiative such a regular meeting behind closed doors, broadcast regulator Ofcom would no doubt receive complaints. So why should US company Facebook (market cap $65 billion) be viewed any differently? For seasoned Georgiadis - whose views largely have the support of fellow independent agency leader Guy Sellers at Total Media and at least two commercial broadcast leaders, it is a step-change too far.

Of course, such rumblings can too easily be dismissed as sour grapes, but surely we can all agree it's important to at least have the debate.

"I have just watched the BBC programme on Rupert Murdoch," says Georgiadis." It wasn't all plain sailing for him... but would he have invited agencies and advertisers to sit around, politely suggesting what he should do to gain more revenue?"