Editorial: The internet challenge is also a huge opportunity

This business, so the cliche goes, is all about relationships. Unfortunately, some of those relationships are not good ones: pitch horror stories are a regular feature of any new-business directors get-together and advertisers are equally vocal when it comes to their concerns that agencies can be expensive, dilettante and ineffective.

But it was common goals and long, fruitful relationships, rather than differences, that formed the subject of a speech by John Clare, the group chief executive of Dixons Stores Group and the president of ISBA, at a recent IPA lunch.

Advertisers and agencies need to work together, Clare said, to fight over-zealous regulation from government and the distortion of power in favour of media owners - ITV's lobbying of Ofcom to release it from Contracts Rights Renewal and an over-funded BBC were particular areas of concern. But, he added, agencies also need to work hard to help dig their clients out of an internet-shaped hole.

"We are looking to you to advise on how the new media, particularly the internet, is being used by customers, and creative ways to deliver our messages in that environment. It is a new world. The old solutions don't apply," he said.

Cynics might note such sentiments follow a disastrous Christmas period for high-street retailers in general and Dixons' subsequent decision to become an online-only brand. That aside, it is not just electrical retailers that have identified the effect of the internet as a board-level issue for their business. That advertisers in so many different sectors are looking for advice on how to connect with consumers in the new environment presents the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity agencies have had in years to earn respect at marketing director and board level.

What Clare and his peers want is some insight into how their customers behave online, how they can use that behaviour to their commercial advantage and how they can start two-way dialogues on the internet. Agencies, he said, need to become the providers of these "business-transforming ideas". And if they succeed, it could be the start of a whole new kind of advertiser/agency relationship.

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