Media Lifeline: COI media spend

After many years of rising budgets, the UK's largest advertiser is being reined in.

1999: Before its 1997 election victory, Labour had been scathing of the manner in which, it claimed, COI spend had been spiralling out of control under the Tories. But no-one is all that surprised when spend almost doubles to £105 million during the first two years of Tony Blair's administration - and there's added concern that the money is being spent on propaganda for pet social engineering projects such as the New Deal.

2004: In 2001, the Government stripped out production costs to try to disguise growth in COI spend. But it's a faint hope - and the 2003-4 accounts show that COI, led by the chief executive, Alan Bishop, now has an ad budget of £167.6 million.

2008: The Government, though dismissing a drip feed of criticism from the Opposition, shows occasional tendencies to be more frugal: COI spend actually dips for a couple of years. But when it starts to climb steeply once more, ministers wheel out a battalion of spin doctors to argue that, if you factor in inflation, previous Tory administrations actually spent more. But COI is now comfortably the UK's largest advertiser.

2009: It is a fact that becomes abundantly clear as COI decides to hold a pitch to centralise its media planning and buying account (previously split across several agencies) into one outfit. As the account is now worth £250 million, it's easily the largest UK-only media pitch the market has ever seen. M4C, a special unit put together by WPP's Group M, prevails over a joint venture offering from Starcom and i-level.

2010: The General Election focuses on cuts and the coalition Government tells COI to rein in spend. In June, agencies are told expenditure could fall by at least 50 per cent and, in July, COI, led by Mark Lund, announces that it is to axe 40 per cent of its staff.

Fast forward ...

2014: And yet it is somehow not surprising when, the downturn now a memory and the economy entering a new boom phase, government adspend accelerates once more - and surges past £500 million. Responding to angry questions in the House, and calls for an independent inquiry, the Prime Minister David Cameron defends the role of COI in underwriting prosperity in the UK's creative and media industries.

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