It's either a brave initiative or a blatant bit of empire-building
that the passing of time will expose. Whatever it is, the decision of
the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to
declare independence from COI Communications and handle its own
advertising arrangements is causing a stir both inside and outside
For the agencies that handle DTLR work through COI, the situation is
particularly uncomfortable. Should Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, D'Arcy and
Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R respond to the DTLR's newly published
tender? And if they do, will they risk the displeasure of COI and put
their chances of gaining more government work at risk? COI would almost
certainly eschew such an idea. But, human nature being what it is,
agencies might be forgiven for believing themselves to be caught between
a rock and a hard place.
Furthermore, it's quite unfair that agencies which have already invested
time and money to sustain their places on the COI roster three months
ago should have to go through the rigmarole again just to satisy the
For COI, the decision is a real slap in the face and a return to the
kind of uncertainty that the Government's advertising department thought
was behind it. Slowly but surely, COI has been transforming itself from
a bureaucratic backwater to a dynamic government arm. Regular surveys
among the departments using it record consistently high satisfaction
Many agencies used to question the calibre of COI staff - few now do
On the contrary, senior executives of roster shops declare themselves
constantly impressed by the spark and passion of COI people, 70 per cent
of whom have been recruited from the commercial world.
For its part, the DTLR insists its go-it-alone move is no reflection on
COI's ability and that its timing has more to do with getting any new
agencies in place by the start of its new financial year in March
Nevertheless, COI's big fear must be that more of its clients will
follow the DTLR out of the door. Of course, the Cabinet Office, which
has juristiction over such matters, could intervene. But since it was
the Cabinet Office which allowed government departments to opt out from
COI in the first place, this seems unlikely.
In the end this could be an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Not an
enfeebled COI. And certainly not the DTLR, which could well see its
saving in commission paid to COI swallowed up by not being able to take
advantage of COI's bulk media buying arrangements.
Of course, the DTLR is perfectly within its rights. But so are taxpayers
in asking it to justify its action.