Editorial: ISBA and AA should have wise heads at the helms

Wanted: a pair of consummate diplomats who can keep order among a couple of disparate groups whose members do not always see eye-to-eye and have them pull together in a common cause.

Age is immaterial. In fact, a few grey hairs might be an advantage. You can expect many more of them if you get the job. Applications to ISBA and the Advertising Association.

This ad will never appear, but it probably sums up the sort of person best suited to replace Malcolm Earnshaw as ISBA's director-general, and Andrew Brown, his AA counterpart, who is also stepping down. To an outsider, the perception of ad industry trade bodies as sleepy backwaters led by industry has-beens is hard to dispel. Perhaps because these jobs are not for extroverts who love leading the charge. In fact, those who head ISBA, the AA and the IPA need agile minds, cool heads and the ability to get consensus among parties whose agendas may not be the same.

Interestingly, there are a lot of similarities in the backgrounds of Earnshaw and Brown. Neither was much known beyond the confines of their respective companies before they moved to their current positions. Brown had worked at JWT for 28 years, mostly in account management; Earnshaw was a Mars marketer of long standing. Their experiences have bred a talent for filleting complex issues and making the results digestible to their members.

The hunt for their replacements will not be easy. Both bodies desperately need someone with a passion for the digital future. But they also need seasoned executives. Adland does not cherish its grey hairs and an alarming amount of experience is going to waste. Yet the trade bodies' need to tap into exactly this kind of experience has never been greater.

Threats to advertising freedoms call for vigilance. The industry has to make its case in the face of pressure groups that have learned how to harness the power of PR. Issues such as the promotion of junk food to children call for sure-footed responses. Act precipitately and the consequences could play havoc with millions of pounds-worth of adspend. Act too slowly and the opposition rolls over you. These are tough calls and they need grown-ups to make them.

Topics