It all seemed to start so well. When Trinity Mirror held up its
hands last month and announced that circulation figures for three of its
Birmingham newspapers had been overstated for six years, you couldn’t
help but admire it for being so forthright. After all, it must be
tempting to push something like that under the carpet because it’s not
that easily rectifiable.
And when Trinity Mirror announced a fund of pounds 20 million to right
the wrongs of the previous years, everyone was even more admiring. Not
only had Trinity Mirror drawn attention to some previously creative
auditing procedures, it also put a fair whack of money in the kitty as
The bargaining began. The newspapers’ offer to clients and agencies to
discount and freeze ad rates was unsurprisingly turned away by a number
of agencies, who wanted retrospective compensation.
But then, after asking for retrospective compensation to be considered,
a number of agencies found that their demands were being dealt with by
Trinity Mirror’s lawyers. Agencies were concerned that what they had
hoped would be resolved through normal negotiation procedures would be
done via lawyers.
The arbitration panel was then introduced. Trinity Mirror approached the
Institute of Practitioners in Advertising last week to ask if it could
suggest who would be appropriate to sit on the panel. The IPA said it
would assist if it approved of introducing such a thing into the
negotiations - but it felt the compensation process was becoming
This reaction sparked indignation within Canary Wharf and the offices of
the Birmingham Post & Mail. After all, they are only trying to do the
right thing, aren’t they?
I can see both sides of the coin. Agencies want to get money they feel
they are entitled to and sort the mess out as quickly as possible.
Trinity Mirror wants to make sure the claims are fair and accountable
and fill in the cracks of the newspapers’ previous trading reputation.
Retrospective compensation, by its nature, involves a lot of ’ifs’ and
But the involvement of lawyers and arbitration panels presents an
alarming array of hoops to jump through in a process which was set out
with the best of intentions. First, lawyers are costly.
Second, lawyers’ letters flying backwards and forwards do not create the
most friendly of trading environments. Of course, it’s tempting for
agencies to over-inflate their compensation claims. But surely Trinity
Mirror and agencies are grown-up enough to be able to resolve the
problem among themselves without recourse to expensive legal wrangles.
And who wins in the end? The lawyers.
Oh, and the journalists, of course. During the traditionally lean news
periods of the Christmas weeks, such developments promise to fill a few
more column inches.
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