It’s hard - but not impossible - to imagine John Hooper crouched
tautly on all fours, baying at the moon, a feral beast gripped by a
Yet critics writing in the press last week would have it that the
director-general of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers’
latest suggestion - ads on the BBC - is simply another example of
advertisers’ sheer lunacy, their ’unattractive naivety’ as Ray Snoddy
put it in Marketing.
It’s ISBA’s own fault, of course. For years the society gnawed at
sensitive issues with a ferocity undermined by quixotic doctrine. The
heat with which it doggedly pursued such issues as minutage was
interpreted as, at best, a naive struggle for reparation, at worst a
convenient way to justify the very existence of the society, its
executives and its membership fees.
So it’s hardly surprising that ISBA’s new, subtler, more considered
approach will take some time to sink in. Yet there is something of a new
attitude breezing through ISBA’s crusty corporate headquarters in
For some, Hooper will always be the rabid ranter, pompous and smug, whom
they’re itching to deck. Take his CV, as printed in the conference notes
for Barcelona, which crows: ’In 1997 John was appointed a Commander of
the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’, just in case you didn’t
know what a CBE was. Oh, and he got it for services to advertising, if
you were wondering.
But if Hooper alienates some in his quest to represent the interests of
advertisers, then so be it, he says. If he wasn’t making waves (and
enemies), then he wouldn’t be doing his job properly.
Yet critics may now be forced to halt because - to run the risk of
counting chicks before eggs have even been laid - ISBA seems to have
begun taking a more considered approach to the issues on its agenda.
For Hooper this process began when he took over ISBA in 1994, though to
some observers it seems a recent development. ’What’s saddening for me
is that too many people think ISBA is the strident, stroppy ISBA of five
years ago,’ he says. ’Our new style is about consensus, about moving
people by sensible argument. It’s not shouting and banging. We work
quietly, we talk to people.’ Many will be surprised, even sceptical, to
hear this, yet if whispers about ISBA’s proposals on the funding of the
BBC, to be submitted to the Davies Committee on Friday, are anything to
go by, things are changing.
Instead of leaping in, teeth gnashing, ISBA is submitting a tier of
reasoned proposals suggesting ways in which the BBC can take money from
the commercial sector, everything from advertising on Ceefax to ads on
Radios 1 and 2, through to spot advertising on the BBC, all packaged as
advice rather than demands.
’I’m quite prepared to say that, in the past, ISBA has been encouraged
by some of its members to take a very strong ads-on-the-BBC position,’
Hooper admits. ’Now the Government wants to look at how it can improve
the funding of the BBC. In that context, who else but ISBA is going to
say that one option on this smorgasbord of funding alternatives is
We know the licence fee is safe until 2006, but we’re talking about the
environment of the future and a progressively commercial BBC that should
have the right to be more commercial. But there are lots of ways you can
be commercial.’ Hence the raft of options ISBA is submitting.
Even so, this measured approach is still underpinned by a real
’We are speaking on behalf of advertisers who spend pounds 2 billion on
television and I think that kind of clout gives us the right to speak,’
Hooper contends. ’We may not win that argument now, but we will win it
eventually. We’re playing a long game.’
Although he won’t be drawn on the detail of ISBA’s BBC submission,
Hooper is smug about its solidity. And he believes ISBA already has a
neat record of media achievements.
’I think one of the reasons ITV has done what it’s done and spent the
money to try to turn things around is because of ISBA pressure. I’m
prepared, frankly, to take a bit of credit for that.’ Similarly with the
move of News at Ten. ’News at Ten is Richard Eyre’s win but I think we
played a very major part in making that happen. I think that’s a real
credit to ISBA.’
Hooper’s history as a founder of the sales promotion company, Clarke
Hooper, which is now part of the AMV Group, has certainly meant a more
rigorous, results-driven approach to running ISBA. He talks about his
programme for winning new members as ’ISBA’s new-business effort’
(pounds 100,000 of new subscriptions last year), and takes obvious pride
in the fact that the society’s revenue is up more than 40 per cent in
four years to pounds 1.4 million, with a target of pounds 2 million by
2001. ’We’re on a roll,’ he proclaims.
Perhaps it’s not surprising then that the society has gradually come to
realise the importance of marketing and PR for the ISBA brand. So can we
expect a greater focus on packaging ISBA and its policies, and less
baying at the moon? As Hooper admits: ’We don’t think we will achieve
credibility, certainly with the Government, if we’re seen to be stroppy,
over-claiming and just pushing our luck.’ You read it here first.