HAT plots education course to secure its own longevity

After a year on life support, the History of Advertising Trust now plans to put its archive to work.

HAT cheif executive Barry Cox
HAT cheif executive Barry Cox

Little more than a year ago, the History of Advertising Trust was staring death in the face. Today, as its balance sheet grows healthier, the organisation is looking beyond agency boardrooms to Britain's classrooms to help secure its future.

An appeal to the industry raised £200,000, enabling HAT to plug the gap in its finances that threatened it with extinction and the break-up of its archive.

Nevertheless, the financial lifeline has only enabled HAT to buy some time. And, with no prospect of mounting a second crisis appeal, those running HAT are now investigating how it can transform itself into a more commercial organisation generating regular income.

"We have bought ourselves another year of stability and we're breaking even financially," Barry Cox, the HAT chief executive, says. "That's a real improvement and has extended the window in which we can think and act."

Although HAT acknowledges that last year's appeal has led to more regular donations, it admits that income from these, and from storage fees, is too unreliable to put it on a firm financial footing.

A big problem has been the lack of awareness within the industry that funds HAT. An internal report admits that the majority of people working in marcoms remain ignorant of its existence and stresses the need for HAT to engage with the current generation of adlanders.

This, though, remains difficult while HAT, which is based in the Norfolk village of Raveningham, has no presence in London.

For the moment, HAT is concentrating on major initiatives that might end its haphazard system of funding. One of these aims to capitalise on what has been a growing relationship between HAT and the education community.

The venture, AD:Mission, is an interactive website developed in partnership with teachers that allows HAT's archive collection to be integrated into classroom lessons.

Initially, the venture is being launched to schools in HAT's East Anglian home territory. The hope is that at least 12 schools will be signed up this term, paying £75 for each of three modules, as the precursor to a national roll-out.

The ultimate target is the 3,000 secondary schools across the UK that are offering the creative media diplomas currently being developed or offer media studies in some form for 14- to 19-year-olds.

Students will get access to source materials and learn from industry experts on how advertising works. The site includes an introductory video by the HAT president, Sir John Hegarty, and interviews with Bartle Bogle Hegarty staffers. It also references many of the case studies from the IPA Effectiveness Awards and is linked to the IPA Foundation Course. (See www.ad-mission.org for details.)

HAT's hope is not only that AD:Mission will help raise its profile among a wider audience, but make the teaching of advertising easier, better and more affordable.

Schools chiefs who have been shown what AD:Mission can do are enthusiastic. "I love the fact that the content, although obviously very knowledgeable, doesn't scare anyone off - it has been pitched at the right level," Pauline Sturgeon, the Norfolk County Council English strategy advisor, says.

Whether or not the initiative will evolve into a significant income stream for HAT remains to be seen. The tight budgets within which schools have to operate make predictions difficult.

However, Cox says: "I'll be very disappointed if we don't generate additional income by the end of this year, and there's a real prospect of establishing HAT as the pre-eminent supplier of support services for media teachers across the UK. But we understand the financial pressures that schools are under."

What is clear is that projects such as AD:Mission will grow in importance as HAT reinvents itself, combining its long-standing role as the industry's archive with more revenue-generating activities.

A significant slice of that additional income is likely to be needed to build a strong digital archive to match its physical one.

However, the biggest challenge is to make HAT relevant to an advertising community that knows next to nothing about it and believes - in one governor's words - that "it has something to do with Norfolk".

HAT believes one way of achieving this would be to organise social events to bring together people currently working in the business. Another would be to record industry icons from the 60s onwards talking about their work.

David Bernstein, the founder of The Creative Business and a HAT governor, suggests HAT should be about "preserving the past, documenting the present and inspiring the future".

Mission statements don't come much better.