Claire Beale: It's time to decide who should lead the agenda
A view from Claire Beale

Claire Beale: It's time to decide who should lead the agenda

Quite possibly the last thing the advertising industry needs is another conference - another forum for cheap talk that's inevitably pricey to listen to.

Perhaps that's why Lead, this week's industry-wide event organised by the Advertising Association, was carefully positioned as a "summit" for UK advertising. Not exactly a conference, then, but experience would suggest it was likely to be an honourable, yet uninspiring, endeavour nonetheless. So I went along with a heavy sense of duty and light on expectation.

The summit wasn't, quite, a dazzling showcase for the brilliance that shines through the advertising industry. And it wasn't, quite, an inspiring ideas exchange. And anyone looking for evidence that this is a dynamic, cutting-edge, creatively world-beating industry won't have easily found it at Lead. But it was undoubtedly an important event: a heavyweight gathering of the rounded advertising industry, a rare tripartite of agencies, media owners and clients. And that really doesn't happen enough these days.

Of course there weren't enough clients there; there never are when it matters. The AA cannot really do its job of championing and defending the whole industry without marketers becoming much more involved. It's beyond time for clients to ditch their apathy to provocative industry engagement and recognise that without a powerful, self-regulated and fully equipped advertising industry at their disposal, their brands and their businesses will wither. And there weren't enough creatives there, so the real magic of the industry wasn't represented; a scan of the audience gave little clue that this was a business predicated on creative excellence.

Anyway, despite these niggles, Lead was by far the most convincing industry front I've seen in a long time, with a clear enough agenda to cut through the noise of conflicting voices and interests to unite the industry behind the vital principles of co-operation and confidence. But it also underlined how fragmented the industry usually is, with far too many trade bodies - from the IPA to the Marketing Agencies Association, the Direct Marketing Association, Thinkbox, the Newspaper Marketing Agency, ISBA and so on and so on - each of which must justify its membership fees by raising its individual voice on issues that would undoubtedly be better addressed by a single unifying body.

The result, inevitably, is a cacophony of confusing messages too difficult to decipher and too easy to ignore.

We already have a single unifying body, of course, in the form of the AA. It is slowly justifying its role as a point of clarity and coherence for the industry. And Lead will undoubtedly help. Yet the AA is still far from being much more than the sum of its parts. It's time for the industry to ditch the silos and the egos and speak louder and more confidently together.