Editorial: AA's new leader needs a fresh focus on finances

During her two-and-a-half-year stint as the Advertising Association's chief executive, Baroness Peta Buscombe fizzed and sparkled like a rocket on Bonfire night.

Alarmed that the industry wasn't being proactive enough in defence of its eroding freedoms, the Tory peer was convinced not only of the need to win more influential friends in Westminster, but to make a convincing case to the public.Perhaps her most important success was to get the Government to think of advertising in a broader context. How, she asked, could ministers successfully champion Britain's advertising expertise on the global stage while threatening ever more Draconian restrictions at home?

Given the AA's situation when she came on board, it's now clear that she was the right leader at the right time. The momentum building up against the industry over its alleged role in fuelling obesity and alcohol abuse was threatening to overwhelm it. Adland was an easy target for ministers tempted to take knee-jerk actions to resolve deeply rooted social problems.

If the AA's long-standing policy of achieving consensus before acting took a back seat with Buscombe at the wheel, it might be argued that the end has justified the means. The Government's approach to advertising now has a more joined-up look.

Buscombe's policy of embracing politicians isn't universally popular across the industry. Indeed, it's possible to find trade body senior executives who ask privately how a government that seems intent on curbing personal freedoms will ever be greatly concerned about the freedom of commercial speech. Against such a backdrop, it might be argued the AA is changing leadership at an apposite time. It has become much better at working with the civil servants drafting the relevant legislation. And Tim Lefroy, Buscombe's successor, will be eager to keep her initiatives going.

However, that can only be done if the AA can sustain its funding through a recession with no imminent end. Lefroy's focus will need to be different from that of his predecessor.

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