Every blow makes you wince, even if you’re a journalist like me who
loves a good story (which can, of course, mean a bad story). The recent
fate of CIA Medianetwork - around pounds 200 million lost this year if
you include its buying arm - can have held little cheer for even its
most bloody-minded of rivals. There but for the grace of God, a strong
figurehead, a firmer grip of TV deals ... and all the rest of it.
A quick glance over CIA’s UK client list now makes for less than
extensive reading. Goodbye top ten. Hello rock bottom? Fortunes are
definitely at a low ebb but why is the company on a losing streak?
Topping most people’s list is the TV trading disaster back in 1996, when
CIA had to hand back pounds 1.8 million to Laser Sales after failing to
meet its agreed deals. Disaster it was, although one that some other
media agencies have avoided through good fortune rather than
Yet there’s no doubt that this will have played its part in nudging
clients out of Paris Garden, CIA’s headquarters. Then there have been
the innumerable group mergers and the rapidly revolving door to the
I can’t recall a year when the company has had a smooth 12 months to
simply get on with the business of planning and buying media for
The result has been interminable turmoil. And all the time there’s been
a sense that the rest of the world is rather more important to CIA’s
chiefs than its flagship UK office.
For a company that has in so many ways been ahead of the UK media game
(one of the first to get a stock market listing, one of the first to
develop an international network, one of the first to talk about a
full-service media solution) it is sad to see CIA now trailing the
But this is not a business built on tea and sympathy. Accusations of
draining resources from the UK to fuel overseas expansion, failing to
support the vision with the investment, not investing in the right sort
of people and, it must be admitted, an unhealthy dose of bad luck, have
all served to open CIA clients’ doors enough for competitors to get
their credentials in.
Still, I have a lot of sympathy for the CIA team who inherited the time
bomb that just went off. But there are chiefs there, too, who should
have seen this coming and taken preventative measures. Yet instead of
rolling, heads have been buried. And any agency that thinks it can rest
on its reputation in these aggressive, competitive times, deserves all
Finally, though, mistakes are being admitted and action taken; a degree
of dignity is being clawed back. It’s a start.
Now we need some heart and soul, some sense that this is an agency with
integrity whose prime concern is its clients’ business, not the bottom
line. But it will be a long haul, because in a market where perception
is still more important than reality, CIA is perceived as a
And that’s a disgraceful situation for an agency with such potential to
find itself in.