It was in Graham Hinton’s inaugural address as president of the
Institute of Practitioners in Advertising that he issued the advertising
industry with a challenge: agencies must take on management consultants
to win back a place at top table, where they would have the ear of
chairmen and chief executives, rather than their marketing lackeys.
As the talk turns to who Hinton’s successor will be when he ends his
two-year term next year, nothing much has changed. Recently, in a reply
to Campaign’s 30th anniversary article, ’The State We’re In’ (25
September), Hinton said much the same thing again.
While no-one I’ve come across in the industry disagrees with his
analysis, nor do they show much sign of acting upon it. Maybe, in
private, they are trying to carry out Hinton’s call to sell themselves
as credible, professional business partners rather than suppliers of
words and images. If so, it’s beginning to look as though clients don’t
really believe them.
It’s time for those silver-tongued salesmen in charge of our leading
agencies to realise this is one battle they cannot win with words
They must do something.
What? Well, if there was a single solution I knew about and you didn’t,
I wouldn’t be writing it down here, I’d be selling it to you for a fat
consultancy fee. And you’d be moaning about how much people like me
But there is one thing agencies could do that would help and it’s
something the IPA is aware of. It involves releasing their annual income
figures for public consumption.
Of course, we’re all familiar with the argument that billings alone no
longer give an accurate picture of agency fortunes when so little is
paid on a commission basis. Again, you’d be hard pushed to find anyone
who didn’t concur. And you’d find it equally tough to find out from them
what their own agency’s income figures are. It’s that old preference for
talk over action again.
But consider what all this means to those very clients that agencies are
trying to impress. When an industry judges itself against a measurement
system it acknowledges as outmoded, how can it command credibility?
Of course, billings leagues have their place - but it is alongside
income tables, not in isolation from them. And, for the record, Campaign
would be only too happy to present them in this way and to revise our
Top 300 agencies list to take account of the income figures.
The IPA is canvassing agencies on whether it should release the income
figures they already provide it with in confidence. Look at it as a
little test of the industry’s willingness to change, if you like, but if
the answer is anything other than an unequivocal ’yes’, I wouldn’t like
to be in the shoes of Graham Hinton’s successor.
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