It has now been seven months since I was seduced by the delights of Lambeth North and joined the COI. As you will imagine, it’s been a bit busy.

It has now been seven months since I was seduced by the delights of

Lambeth North and joined the COI. As you will imagine, it’s been a bit


Coming directly from a job in media, I realised that I hadn’t been a

significant client for a few years. Consequently, I was fascinated to

see what changes had been wrought in the intervening period.

How had agencies, media owners and other marketing suppliers improved

their acts to face increasing competition?

What initiatives had they come up with to improve customer service? How

had they reorganised to become more accountable, impress their clients

and show their commitment?

Ever the marketer, I have taken the view that spending time with my

clients is much more important than visiting agencies, so I invariably

get agency reports second hand. Here are some ’highlights’ from the

period since January.

First there was the agency creative director who sat through a COI pitch

with his feet up on the table, picking his nose.

Then there was the agency whose creative chief decided he didn’t like

the endline on an ad just 24 hours before playout and tried to stop it

going out.

How about the agency chief who thought I wanted to meet him to praise

him for great work when actually I wanted to tell him the client wanted

to fire them? And how could I forget the agency CEO who arrived 30

minutes late for our lunch appointment and just caught me as I was

leaving the restaurant?

It goes on - there was the senior media owner who did not even

acknowledge the letter I sent him offering COI help at an industry

conference he was organising, and the direct marketing and research

companies still addressing mailers to my predecessor who left nearly 12

months ago. The list is discouragingly long.

On the other side, of course, we have the agencies who bust a gut under

the tightest of deadlines to produce world-beating work. The agencies of

all types who work with my team through weekends and nights to hit

deadlines, the media buying agencies and media owners who adopt a ’can

do’ attitude and don’t drip and moan when our client asks for the

umpteenth plan revision.

So how has the world of client service changed to suit the ever more

competitive environment? The answer is, it hasn’t really. The good are

seriously good and, surprise surprise, win more business.

And the bad? Well, we’ve got plenty more on our roster to choose


But if they can treat a client spending over pounds 100 million in the

ways in which I’ve just described, I shudder to think how the rest of

their clients’ fare. ’But we produce great creative,’ they’ll say as if

that makes up for everything else. It doesn’t, actually, and I’m amazed

that there are still people out there who think it does.

Carol Fisher is chief executive of the Central Office of Information.