CLOSE-UP PERSPECTIVE: A serious PR focus suits the buoyant advertising mood

The advertising industry does not enjoy a high reputation. Opinion polls regularly place admen below estate agents in the trustworthiness stakes, and only slightly above journalists. WH Auden warned ’do not be on friendly terms, with guys from advertising firms’; George Orwell denounced the business as ’the rattling of a stick in the swill-bucket of capitalism’, while Fred Allen, the famous US radio comedian of the pre-TV era, compared his sponsors and their agencies to ’a bit of executive fungus that forms on a desk that has been exposed to a conference’. So it was no surprise to see the industry pilloried in a recent BBC2 programme about advertising to children called Getting Older Younger.

The advertising industry does not enjoy a high reputation. Opinion

polls regularly place admen below estate agents in the trustworthiness

stakes, and only slightly above journalists. WH Auden warned ’do not be

on friendly terms, with guys from advertising firms’; George Orwell

denounced the business as ’the rattling of a stick in the swill-bucket

of capitalism’, while Fred Allen, the famous US radio comedian of the

pre-TV era, compared his sponsors and their agencies to ’a bit of

executive fungus that forms on a desk that has been exposed to a

conference’. So it was no surprise to see the industry pilloried in a

recent BBC2 programme about advertising to children called Getting Older

Younger.



Two contributions to the programme - from Saatchi & Saatchi marketing

director, Stephen Colegrave, and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO’s Peter Mead -

have been singled out, but I’d make two points in their defence. First,

that each appeared in good faith. Second, that the market research

industry came off a lot worse. In Mead’s further defence, his agency’s

consistent refusal to undertake toy advertising sets it apart from the

mainstream.



How was he to know that his comments about the need for responsibility

in all communications activity were to be edited out?



The end result, thanks to new heights in the sneering voiceover, was

that the industry appeared to shoot itself in the foot. Cue a stinging

letter to Institute of Practitioners in Advertising council members and

agency chiefs from Rupert Howell and (let’s hope) an inquiry as to

whether the IPA knew about the programme in advance.



The episode is regrettable, because much has been done to generate

positive PR for the industry, initially under Graham Hinton’s IPA

presidency and culminating in the appointment of the PR agency, Brown

Lloyd James. The Advertising Association is running its own PR offensive

too.



Cynics will suggest that advertising must be in trouble if it needs to

call in the PRs, but that’s clearly not the case. Adspend is rising, the

Government is pro-advertising and spending like there’s no tomorrow and

there’s ample proof that brands are as valued by the chief executive as

the marketing director. The sale of a stake in Orange for pounds 20

million is one example.



In the end the IPA faces a stark choice. Does it address the hopeless

task of dispelling the popular media image of advertising practitioners

as cocaine-sniffing, Ferrari-driving, Ozwald Boateng-clad, overpaid

wankers?



Or does it opt for the more serious PR goal of working its socks off to

further improve the understanding of how advertising works at the level

of government, pressure groups and in the boardroom? We should all be

glad that it has opted for the latter.





caroline.marshall@haynet.com Have your say at www.campaignlive.com on

channel 4.



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