Claire Beale: Charities could feel the squeeze from lean GCC
A view from Claire Beale

Claire Beale: Charities could feel the squeeze from lean GCC

RIP COI. With the news this week that its outgoing chief executive, Mark Lund, has already committed himself to life back in the agency world, the era of well-funded, expertly managed and standard-bearing government advertising looks to be over.

COI is far from alone in being a beacon of quality sacrificed to the imperative of austerity. And something leaner, fitter and probably adequate will emerge: it will be called the Government Communications Centre. Though the rationale for the GCC seems rather more focused on saving money than on delivering value for money, the new brutal efficiencies are unsurprising. What's more surprising is the creation of a Common Good Communication Council, through which the ad industry will be expected to volunteer its services for free (see page 6).

Adland already donates a truly impressive amount of time and money to helping charitable causes. Often there's a tacit quid pro quo (greater creative freedom that might lead to some awards), but that's not why the industry does it. Many charities rely on this sort of free commercial help for their very survival.

Though there will be plenty of times when the ambitions of charities and government align to universal benefit, there is also a real danger that the Common Good Communication Council could syphon off the vital volunteer services that agencies currently devote to the charity sector. So some of the brutal efficiencies resulting from the abolition of COI will be felt hardest among the most vulnerable. Which is becoming something of a theme.

I must admit to being a little bemused now by the constant ad industry soul-searching over how to get the agency model "right". As if there is a "right". And, by implication, a "wrong". Still, when John Townshend told me about why he hopes his new agency Now will be different, I nodded enthusiastically. Agencies do need to be more focused on creating action, on generating immediate and measurable results, on bringing all disciplines together in a senior team built around efficiently delivering outcomes (not just outputs). Not many people would argue with this, but for established agencies it's incredibly difficult (possibly impossible) to effect the structural changes really necessary to deliver it. Which is why it's a good time to start a new communications business.

But, really, I'm not sure any of this matters much for the prospects of Now. Yes, the new agency has clearly thought long and hard about what clients need and how best they can deliver it. But undoubtedly the most persuasive and compelling thing about Now is the quality of its founders: people you'd just trust to get it right, whatever the hyperbole of the agency's mission statement.