Jeremy Found, COI's head of media, has just completed a year of hard graft reviewing the UK's third-largest advertiser's media rosters.
Last week's news that COI had completed its communications planning roster review finally brought the process to an end.
It was a process that began with the £76 million TV buying moving from Starcom to Carat, then saw radio switch from OMD UK to Starcom, MediaCom hold on to press and Carat land the cinema business earlier this month.
Finally, COI has selected 14 agencies for its communications planning roster, doubling the number of agencies on the previous roster, which was compiled in 2000. The new agencies are BLM Media, Carat, Experience, MediaCom, MindShare, Rise Communications and Universal McCann, with the original seven reappointed.
So why the enlargement, and what will the extra agencies offer the government clients? Found believes the key word in all of this is "choice". Consumers are challenged on a daily basis with a dizzying array of places to access news, information and entertainment. At the same time, advertisers have a greater choice of where to spend their budgets as media undergoes increased fragmentation. Therefore, it seemed only natural to offer government clients more options.
He explains: "We found towards the end of the last roster that seven probably wasn't enough. Our feeling when we went into the new roster was that we would end up with around a dozen agencies. But as it turned out, the quality of presentations was so high that we ended up with 14. We've now got a wider range of agencies; from large to medium-sized ones through to smaller communications planning agencies, which will equip COI for the wide range of tasks we'll have coming up over the next four years. More choice gives us better access to the best thinking in the market."
COI has become renowned for its practice of pairing communications planning agencies with creative agencies in pitches. Some media agencies have felt this unfair because of a perception that their appointment is dependent on a strong creative idea from the ad agency. But it's a practice Found vigorously defends: "The benefit of pairing is that both agencies receive the brief at the same time. Therefore, both are able to make a contribution at the same time. Given the debate in the industry about bringing media and creative back together, I think this is an example of how it can be done. It can't be the model we had 15 years ago when media was in-house and reactive to the creative."
Found contends that it would be wrong to lump the 14 agencies under one heading. Instead, he says, the review has merely brought the roster up to speed with the modern media world.
"We want agencies to consider all the appropriate routes to reach the target audience, whether that is advertising, PR or sponsorship, depending on who we are trying to reach and what we are trying to achieve," he explains.
"The challenge hasn't changed, in the sense that there will still be campaigns aiming at behavioural change, client response and recruitment. But I think it's more the fact that communications have changed."
In person, Found is an understated chap and those who have worked with him use words such as "shy" and "introverted" to describe him. His boss, the COI chief executive, Alan Bishop, says he is "extraordinarily modest and self-effacing for someone with such authority of experience and sureness of judgment". These words are echoed by one media agency head, who praises Found for taking the time to visit his agency and explain why it had lost a pitch before the news broke.
Found has been in his current position for nine years. His media agency career began in 1973 with a TV buying role at Ogilvy Benson & Mather. He says that he enjoys the variety of the role, and he becomes visibly enthused when talking about working in partnership with agencies.
So how have the media agencies appointed to its rosters found the process?
The worst criticisms levelled include the suggestions that COI is not dynamic enough and is a "bit old-school".
Unsurprisingly Neil Jones, the Carat managing director and a major beneficiary of the roster review, takes the opposite view: "A lot of the people at COI are ex-media, so they know how best to work with agencies. The quality of the brief is good, they listen to what you've got to say and, more importantly, they value media."
It's a view supported by Stuart Sullivan-Martin, the group strategy director at Mediaedge:cia, who has worked on strategy for recruitment campaigns for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, among others. He says COI "genuinely appreciates communications planning in the broadest sense and is very open to targeting new audiences". He concedes, however, that some agencies "might find its methods tough".
With all the rosters now in place, Found can breathe a sigh of relief and focus on individual pitches and the day-to-day elements of his job.
He concludes: "We try not to make things too processed and I think we've created a framework to get the best from the agencies. It's all worth it in the end."
THE LOWDOWN Age: 50 Born: Barnet Lives: Hatfield, Hertfordshire Family: Wife and three daughters Hobbies: Watching Barnet Football Club Favourite film: Anything with Jack Nicholson from the late 70s and early 80s All-time favourite ad: Nothing specific, but anything football-related usually grabs my attention Personal mantra: There are always two sides to every argument