MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON: ISBA’S APPROACH TO MEDIA; Does ISBA’s media approach mean further industry upset?

Alasdair Reid looks at the increasing unease about the society’s media stance

Alasdair Reid looks at the increasing unease about the society’s media


You don’t often hear people criticising the Incorporated Society of

British Advertisers - after all, its members just happen to fund the

advertising industry. So agencies and media owners are not exactly going

to voice strong opinions about the organisation or its membership. Not

publicly, at any rate.

Behind the scenes, though, there has been an increasing amount of

grumbling from media owners, especially ITV companies. Last week, that

background murmur became slightly more audible as media owners digested

the news that ISBA is putting more muscle behind its media stance, with

the appointment of Bob Wootton as director of media services.

And with important issues such as the Broadcasting Bill, the

concentration of radio sales and the EC’s Broadcasting Directive all

boiling this year, advertisers’ voices, through ISBA, are going to be

heard more. Only last week the Society made calls for Media Sales and

Marketing’s share of the radio advertising cake to be referred to the

Office of Fair Trading.

So what is the industry reaction to the idea that ISBA is now putting

fresh weight behind the real media issues?

Some media owners say they are preparing for the worst. ‘We’re going to

see ISBA taking up controversial and badly-thought-out positions,’ one

senior TV sales executive says. ‘I expect to see a lot more mischief in

the trade press. It’s not just about Wootton. I think he’ll be the focus

for a lot that’s currently wrong with ISBA. Its input on media is

becoming steadily devalued.’

Strong stuff. Some of the fears being voiced by the TV companies

undoubtedly stem from the fact that they are now faced by a poacher-

turned-gamekeeper in the form of Wootton, a former media director.

Another concern expressed by media owners is that ISBA shouts loudly

about some media issues without thinking through the implications. For

example, it has called for increased TV advertising minutage but ITV has

argued that extra minutage will undermine the effectiveness of TV

advertising. ‘Its attitude is very naive,’ one ITV executive says.

Media owners also maintain that ISBA reflects only the views of the big

fmcg advertisers. Those sources argue that the fmcg companies don’t

represent the interests of advertisers as a whole, nor do they think

about the long-term health of the industry.

But hang on. What’s all this about ISBA getting too involved in media?

Not so long ago, media owners used to bemoan the fact that advertisers

didn’t take media issues seriously enough. Surely they can’t complain


Adrian Birchall, the chairman of the Media Centre and of the Institute

of Practitioners in Advertising’s Future of Broadcasting committee,

doesn’t think anyone should be worried by ISBA’s renewed commitment to


‘We should welcome the appointment of Bob Wootton because he knows the

business inside out,’ he maintains. ‘But the truth is that ISBA has

always been very interested in media issues and as far as we are

concerned it is never hard to find common ground. On the minutage issue

it took a sincerely-argued line and we offered counsel on the effects

that clutter would have on the quality of advertising messages. That is

all part of the give-and-take. It is a fundamental part of this


Birchall argues that TV is too important for advertisers not to have

strong views about it: ‘There’s nothing wrong with a strong statement of

views. Tough battles can be good for the business. And let’s face it -

historically, the ITV companies have been very good at lobbying and

fighting their corner. I think that all we’re seeing here is Wootton

being welcomed by a couple of shots across his bows.’