EDITORIAL: DTLR ad initiative is a slap in COI's face

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

official circles.



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

DTLR.



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

levels.



Many agencies used to question the calibre of COI staff - few now do

so.



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

2002.



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.



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