Incoming ISBA boss Hughes has to embrace the digital challenge

Mike Hughes would have probably wished for a better-organised unveiling as ISBA's director-general-in-waiting. A shamefaced ISBA communications manager had to confess he had no picture of his holidaying new chief. "Not the best of starts, I know," he agreed. "But we'll improve."

Hughes, 55, the former UK marketing director of Coca-Cola, who will succeed Malcolm Earnshaw in the top role next spring, would probably agree (were he contactable). No doubt Hughes will want to add some fizz to more than just ISBA's PR operation.

"ISBA remains a throwback to the days when advertising was either above- or below- the-line," an industry source says. "It doesn't have much grasp of the internet or digital. It doesn't present a modern image. Hughes will have to get to grips with this."

This perceived shortcoming may not have been lost on the ISBA selection panel. Indeed, there is an interesting parallel between the appointment of Hughes with that of the former Tory House of Lords media spokesperson Baroness Peta Buscombe, who has become the new head of the Advertising Association.

Buscombe is well versed in the new-media platforms. Hughes also has useful experience in the sector, having served briefly as the European managing director of Adstream, which specialises in the storage and digital delivery of TV and radio ads, and as a non-executive chairman of Infinite Thinking, a group of niche new-media companies.

"Mike is a down-to-earth, sleeves-rolled-up kind of person," Cilla Snowball, the Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO chairman, says.

Snowball, who worked with Hughes when he was chief executive of HP Bulmer, adds: "He has a terrific ability to simplify complex issues."

"There's a discussion going on about what digital means for brands," Mike Moran, a former ISBA council member, says. "ISBA should be taking part in this discussion, but it has not yet done so."

Onlookers believe that coincidental regime changes at ISBA and the AA may turn out to be a mixed blessing. "The advantage is that, because they are starting at more or less the same time, they can help each other," one says. "The disadvantage is that one can't rely on the other's experience, so it may take them longer to find their feet."

Above all, many people are looking to Hughes to use the leadership in a more proactive way against the growing threat to advertising that is posed by media-manipulative single-issue pressure groups.

"We used to think that once tobacco ads had been banned, the pressure would stop," David Kershaw, the former chairman of the AA, says. "But that has not been the case."

Hamish Pringle, the IPA director-general, says: "So far, we've been statesman-like in the way we've responded to issues such as obesity. But we as agencies can only do so much. In the end, it's the clients' money. If Hughes feels that we ought to be making more noise, then we're right behind him."

- Comment, page 44.

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