HEADLINER: ISBA campaigner tones down ferocious style to win friends - John Hooper wants his BBC proposals to be taken very seriously

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 lunar madness.

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

lunar madness.

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.

Leader, p21.


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