OPINION: Hamish Pringle - Where are the old agency faces?

OPINION: Hamish Pringle - Where are the old agency faces?

THE agency business is currently on its own version of the Atkins Diet. Under pressure from client procurement people, we're stripping out what we'd consider to be our "carbohydrates" and not thinking about the longterm effects of such a diet on the health of the business.

At last week's Marketing Forum, I spoke about the fact that only 18% of members of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising agencies are aged over 40. One reason it's only 18% is because the pressure on margins and the focus on time sheet costs is so relentless - the more mature individuals with experience and expertise are unaffordable in a "just-get-it-done" project management culture.

A minority of people in client purchasing departments have a genuine sympathy with the creative process. However, a majority remain steeped in "widget culture" and see no difference between procuring nuts and bolts and purchasing the Jamie Oliver campaign for Sainsbury's.

This piece of "intellectual property" has added £1.12bn in incremental revenue and achieved an ROI of £27.25 to every advertising pound spent. All parties need to find new and fair ways to reward agencies for creating these intangible profit machines.

Why can't adland be more like Hollywood in this respect? At the same event, Philip Kotler, one of the world's most respected marketing academics, made two main points. First, he expressed doubt about the effectiveness of advertising. Like many in the audience, I was perplexed by this and felt he was either a little out of touch or had been watching too much US TV.

Kotler later told me he was unaware of the IPA Effectiveness Awards and had never read any of the 12 Advertising Works books. Given the unconvincing quality of the Effies, which are the US' best effort at the proof of advertising effectiveness, perhaps it is unsurprising that his view of advertising is jaundiced.

Secondly, he accused most people in the industry of being "one P marketers". That is to say, people who are concerned with the promotion of a brand alone and who have little to do with product, pricing and place, let alone the new priority of "people".

I had rather more sympathy with this point. As Ian Davis, worldwide managing director of McKinsey, pointed out at a recent Marketing Group of Great Britain event, marketing people approach their chief executive officer oblivious to the wider business context and are then surprised they lack credibility and find their ideas don't fit in.

Despite this, few clients are able to write a good agency brief.

It is in this context that the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and the Communications Agencies Federation have produced guidelines on The Client Brief and will be reissuing "Finding an Agency" and co-producing similar best practice guidance on "The Communication Strategy", "Agency Remuneration", "Judging Creative Work" and "Evaluation".

So let's come off the Atkins Diet and get onto something healthier. Let's get the balance right between the protein of procurement and the carbohydrate of creativity. Let agencies and clients negotiate a good deal for mutual benefit, but then let's put the contract in a filing cabinet and get on with producing those brilliant ideas which add value to brands and which might get marketing on the CEO's radar.

Hamish Pringle

Director General IPA