Close-Up: Live Issue - Is the IPA focusing on the right issues?

'Promoting the value of advertising in the boardroom' is central to its new agenda.

At this moment in time, it seems as if the advertising industry has never been more besieged.

Adland's power, and its ability to communicate its clients' messages, is being eroded from all sides, as the Government, industry bodies and pressure groups call for restrictions on a wide range of advertising.

However, despite a sense of frustration from some quarters that the industry often does "a good impression of a sitting duck", there are ways of fighting back.

So said M&C Saatchi's European president, Moray MacLennan, last week. MacLennan, who is the IPA president for the next two years, made the comment as part of his inaugural lecture.

But it was with some surprise that rather than focus much of his agenda at the heart of these problems, he left it as a mere side note in a rallying call that centred primarily on "promoting the value of advertising in the boardroom" and its effectiveness to financial directors.

Richard Tolley, Dairy Crest's marketing director, says: "It was surprising, but it was the right thing to do. It's what a lot of us have been waiting for." Tolley adds that MacLennan's pledge to back the Advertising Association as the single voice addressing the practice's loss of freedom is "an intelligent move".

Bruce Haines, the group chief executive of Leo Burnett and a former IPA president, says: "For time immemorial we've tried to demonstrate the value of what we do, but there's always been a feeling from financial directors and analysts that all the activity is still a cost.

"However, there is definitely a more open-minded feeling now that ads can have an effect beyond the production of creative work and that more and more businesses are increasingly aware of such intangible assets."

This idea is reinforced by Lorna Tilbian, the executive director at Numis Securities, who believes all businesses are now dependent on organic growth and that advertising is the best way to achieve this: "We're now seeing more and more case studies that prove this on a massive scale; the more you spend on advertising, the faster your company grows. Boards and financial directors are realising this - and so is the advertising industry."

However, not everyone agrees, and there are a number of warnings from the client side. David Grint, Bupa's brand and planning director, says: "Despite what the IPA thinks, financial directors and boards are still more concerned with tangible assets than intangible ones. The over-riding feeling is that the industry is focused on creativity with no real effectiveness behind it. I think the IPA is being a bit unrealistic in this agenda."

While he strongly agrees with MacLennan's agenda for the IPA, Grint believes the consumer has been somewhat undervalued in it: "We really need to build our relationship with the consumer and get them on our side. These are the people in the best position to push the Government to make changes. And to do this we need to push the creative product, because that's what the consumers look for and respond to. The only change I'd make is to respectfully nudge the agenda further in that direction."

Neither MacLennan nor the IPA will be drawn on the mechanics of the strategy for pushing the agenda yet, but with the broad backing of both clients and their advertising peers, and strong determination, it seems the next two years could be a good time for the industry.

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AGENCY HEAD - Robert Senior, founding partner, Fallon

"If you look at the agenda from an industry-wide standpoint, Moray's approach and delivery are perfectly on brand. It's strategic and focused and avoids bureaucratic babble, something that the civil service consistently fails to do.

"He's right not to get caught up in the details of the platform change; that won't matter in two years. It's basically a sideshow.

"It would be optimistic to think that this strategy will change things within his two-year tenure. Laying out the agenda in such black-and-white terms is a great move - but it's up to us to force the change."

FORMER IPA PRESIDENT - Bruce Haines, group chief executive, Leo Burnett

"Past IPA presidents have done a great job in building a strong base for Moray to work from, which means he can concentrate fully on the issues that are important.

"There is a zeitgeist around intangible assets and organic growth in the City at the moment, and our product leads to both of these. The time is right to really push this issue, and for the first time we are pushing on an open door.

"A lot of strategies are in place, and the IPA is already having meetings and presentations with City analysts - they are now open to hearing from us. Moray's agenda puts us at the heart of this."

ANALYST - Lorna Tilbian, executive director, Numis Securities

"Every board in the country has a focus on how to build its business, and organic growth is the best way to do this. There's no substitute for it - and advertising is a massive part of why a company grows.

"Boards know this, and if the industry can measure and demonstrate its effectiveness in terms they understand, then all the better. They are definitely open to learning about this.

"They are the most acutely aware people in the world at how competitive the business world is. Every board knows that you can insure yourself against your competition by outspending them on advertising."

CLIENT - David Grint, brand and planning director, Bupa

"It's a bold statement to say that the IPA wants to talk to chief executives and financial directors because the interest isn't there - it's well known that there are still hardly any marketers on boards.

"There is still a prevailing thought that the industry is too focused on creativity for creativity's sake - financial directors are more concerned about shifting product.

"If the industry wants to be taken as seriously as the management consultants and accountants, it has to prove its effectiveness.

"I think it would be more sensible for the IPA to team up with a nationwide marketing society and use this partnership as a basis of talking to boards and the City."