LIVE ISSUE/ADVERTISING’S IMAGE: Does adland need a PR shop to bolster its image? The industry is changing. Is an IPA initiative missing the point? By Harriet Green

Blimey. ’Worried IPA to call in spin doctors’ blasted Campaign’s front-page headline last week. The ad industry must be in dreadful trouble if it needs help from the PR wonks. OK, so the outside world occasionally maligns adfolk as self-obsessed luvvies - but this, surely, is going too far.

Blimey. ’Worried IPA to call in spin doctors’ blasted Campaign’s

front-page headline last week. The ad industry must be in dreadful

trouble if it needs help from the PR wonks. OK, so the outside world

occasionally maligns adfolk as self-obsessed luvvies - but this, surely,

is going too far.



The development was orchestrated by Graham Hinton, president of the

Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and chairman of Bates Dorland,

and Andrew Cracknell, chairman of Ammirati Puris Lintas.



Hinton’s starting point is that the advertising industry is no longer

valued for strategy as much as for images. As he said in his inaugural

speech as IPA president last April: ’As an industry we have become more

and more identified with an interest in, and a passion for, the words

and pictures - and less and less identified with the thinking behind

them.



We are thought of as an industry that sells ads rather than gives

advice.’



But Hinton doesn’t like the word, ’worried’, which crept into the

report.



’This is not a defensive, knee-jerk reaction,’ he insists. ’We are

trying to get on the front foot. It’s ironic that the communications

business hasn’t gone out to communicate its own story.’



Cracknell, the man charged with hiring the PR company, summarises the

brief: ’To help rebuild trust in advertising as a cost-effective and

uniquely valuable tool. To help marketers defend advertising budgets

within their companies. To develop a mutuality of purpose between

clients and agencies.



To widen the understanding of the broader aspects of what advertising is

and what it can do.’



So adland needs its own Peter Mandelson to tackle the ever-increasing

threat from competitors - from management consultants to design agencies

- and build up respect for ad agencies. At major companies, so the

theory goes, chairmen and finance directors have fallen out of love with

advertising.



They must be convinced once again of its efficacy.



That’s the long term. But what about day to day? Neither Cracknell nor

Hinton can give a defin-itive answer. The thrust is to generate positive

editorial coverage about advertising in serious media such as the

Financial Times and the Money Programme.



Another plan is to find a spokesperson of whom the industry can be

proud.



Peter Marsh, former head of Allen Brady & Marsh, was recently dragged

out of retirement to speak on Radio 4’s Moral Maze - he insulted his

questioners, held forth pompously and dented the industry’s

reputation.



Cracknell also has a private gripe about industry members who

self-servingly attack each other in the media. As he bellowed in Private

View (Campaign, 16 January): ’You don’t see Martin Lambie-Nairn in the

Financial Times dumping on Newell & Sorrell, or a partner from McKinsey

rubbishing the work of Bain & Co ... it’s not helpful for the ad

industry to torpedo itself by scoring petty internecine points in

public.’



But in a free country - and an industry celebrated for its colourful

figures - it may prove difficult to eliminate this particular

problem.



What’s the IPA to do? Put out a notice to all UK media: ’Do not use this

man. He’s mad and highly dangerous’? Hinton accepts this is a

problem.



’We can’t control that, and won’t set out to do so. But we can make sure

the other side of the story is regularly communicated to the audience,’

he says.



Rupert Howell, the managing partner of HHCL & Partners - no stranger to

the power of spin himself - believes the IPA is on the right track.

’It’s an eminently sensible thing to do. Part of the function of a trade

body is to promote the interests of the industry to its various target

audiences. Most trade bodies employ outside specialists to do it.



Whenever there is a collective industry view (as on the Equity dispute),

then instead of a press release issued by the secretariat, there should

be a proper professional PR device.’ Howell even foresees spin doctors

influencing City analysts to highlight the value of advertising in their

reports.



’The industry needs to be more assertive and more aggressive,’ he

concludes.



Martin Jones, managing director of the Advertising Agency Register, is

less sure. He’s worried the move to hire a PR looks defensive and

self-obsessed: ’There is a belief in the advertising business that

clients know or care a lot about the advertising business. Yes, clients

understand what it brings to their business - but the notion that they

are fascinated about the industry is part of the problem. The best

businesses are the most confident ones. The constant fear about

integrated agencies or management consultants stealing business is

unhealthy.’



But isn’t everyone missing the point? Everyone knows the ad industry is

changing - that agencies can no longer rely on above-the-line

advertising as their core skill. Yet the IPA, the industry’s trade body,

continues to feature the word ’advertising’ in its title. If it wants to

be more relevant to its members, shouldn’t it change from the inside

first?



Sir Tim Bell - chairman of Bell Pottinger (formerly Lowe Bell) and

chairman of Chime, which recently bought HHCL - says: ’Advertising that

people like earns the industry a good name and advertising that people

don’t like earns it a bad name.’ Even Bell, the king of PR, does not

sound ecstatic about the recruitment of spinners from outside: ’The best

answer is for there to be more good advertising.’



Topics