A view from Claire Beale, claire.beale@haymarket.com

Editor's Perspective: New CSR climate spells change for advertising

I'm sure the irony won't have escaped anyone. CSR used to stand for Corporate Social Responsibility, for doing good, taking care.

Now, after George Osborne's presentation yesterday, it means pain and hard choices.And though we all knew it was coming, and all knew it was going to be bad, it seems highly likely that the squeezes announced this week will have a knock-on effect on marketers and their budgets.

Now, I don't think it serves anyone's purpose to be too black about the prospects of an advertising recovery; too much gloomy talk is going to do nothing for advertisers' confidence. But let's be realistic, things ain't going to get much better any time soon for agencies already crippled by falling revenues.

Positive action is called for (again). Monday's IPA Bellwether Report found companies are less optimistic about the financial prospects of their industries. If that's the case, then they need all the help they can get to improve those prospects. They might not necessarily need to buy more media and run more ads, but they will certainly need even more and better advice and strategies to unlock fresh spending from their customers.

I know the IPA and the Advertising Association ceaselessly promote the role advertising and ad agencies can play in driving business performance and the economy, but that message needs to be louder, relentless. And agencies themselves need to focus more carefully than ever on the real return they can deliver. I'm beyond a passionate advocate of advertising, but too often I still see expensive ads, breathlessly presented by an excited agency, and am left wondering what's most important in the whole process: making money for the client or giving the ECD's ego something to gnaw on.

Then there's timing. In an environment where companies are having to move quickly and flexibly to chase consumers, agencies simply need to be swifter on their feet. I know brilliant ideas don't happen on command, but OK ones often do, and it's never been cheaper to try out strategies and change them if they don't work. You know all of this, of course, and maybe you're already (often) working by these rules. But many agencies are still locked into cumbersome systems that don't allow for speed and flexibility and they're certainly not very good at marketing themselves as fast-turnaround suppliers of revenue-generating ideas.

Two final points. First, it's vital we don't forget the value, too, of the deliciously slow-cooked, lovingly crafted, timeless work that the ad industry also produces. Second, and it's a point I made here last week, great people and great works deserves a fair price. If clients can't pay a fair price, then agencies need to say "no" or offer a more basic service. Underselling themselves is not the answer, even in the new CSR climate.

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