Media: A Moment with Marquis

Once lids come off things, it's the devil's job to get them back on. This is as true of political scandals as it is of jars of pickled onions, in my experience, and our media world is no exception.

The outdoor transparency issue is just the latest thing to have the roof prized open and all and sundry are having a good poke about in the - what was Bob Wootton of ISBA's word? - "murky" interior.

I have long believed - wished for - complete transparency in media business relations. Given the choice between everything being out in the open or hidden in dusty corners, most of us favour openness and honesty, don't we? The really curious thing is that in practice this doesn't really seem to matter quite so much. I've said this before in this column - business in the UK is conducted as if it were an old-fashioned cricket match. Honour, integrity, truthfulness are indeed the core values most people value here.

Venture almost anywhere else on the globe and practices that we would call downright criminal are perfectly normal and acceptable.

We should remember this context when the industry starts to look at the way the money goes round in outdoor in the UK. Is there really an appetite to blow the current system away and replace it with something more "transparent"?

I really don't know. It can't be that advertisers are apathetic. When it comes to money, the words "apathetic" and "client" don't belong in the same sentence. Perhaps it is that, dogma aside, the outdoor industry in this country works rather well. It works well because it has evolved its own structures and practices (some of them rather an unknown quantity, let us say) over the years to help deliver an improving product to satisfy a growing demand.

Not for a second should outdoor be complacent about this. But ask yourself this question: is any party to outdoor advertising losing out in any meaningful way? I don't hear howls of protest from advertisers.

I see more and more of them piling their budgets into outdoor because they like the medium and see it working for them.

So the news that an ex-outdoor agency boss is setting up an outdoor auditing business is fascinating. It is the acid test: will advertisers beat a path to his door, hoping that his new company will shine a beam of truth into the murk or will they say to themselves "do we need this new service when - warts and all - our outdoor campaigns are working as well as they appear to be?"

Watch with interest.


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