EDITORIAL: Adland experience is often overlooked

The good news is the appointment of Marilyn Baxter, the former agency chief turned research company boss, as a non-executive director of COI Communications. The bad news is that her selection as a senior adviser to the government body only highlights the fact too few top agency people's voices are heard in client boardrooms.

On the face of it, the failure of companies to pick out and take on seasoned advertising professionals seems incomprehensible. Not least because agencies are increasingly offering operational and revenue-generating advice to clients over and above their normal services. Using the expertise of senior executives from agencies with whom they have long relationships seems logical.

And what rich seams of talent must remain untapped among that elite group of industry lifers who may have spent up to 30 years marketing a wide range of products across a myriad of different markets. In doing so, many have developed a capacity for the kind of lateral thinking few clients can match. As a result, they have the ability to deliver creative and innovative ideas that may never occur to a company board. As one senior agency manager points out: "How many times have we provided an off-the-wall answer that a client has never thought of?"

Yet while adland still manages to hide most of its light under a bushel, high-profile marketers such as Royal Mail's Allan Leighton and the ex-airline boss Barbara Cassani are in great demand for non-executive roles.

The reason is that they are just two of a large number of business people whose reputations extend well beyond their chosen field. Who within UK advertising can match them? Perhaps only Sir Martin Sorrell, the Saatchi brothers and that consummate self-publicist Trevor Beattie.

If the ad industry really wants to be seen as a mature and grown-up business and correct a situation in which advertising is still misunderstood in many boardrooms, it must begin knocking on client doors more loudly. Of course, not every client company needs a non-executive director with marketing experience.

Nor are they likely to gain much from someone who believes that an ad is the answer to every problem.

Yet as organisations increasingly recognise the value of what has been their most intangible asset, their brand, so they'll need advice from those with long experience of nurturing them. Non-executive directorships aren't soft options. They're time-consuming and necessitate lots of homework.

But what better way for the industry to show clients evidence of the added value it claims to bring?


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