OPINION: MILLS ON ... WHY STATUTORY REVIEWS ARE A BAD THING

Statutory reviews. Speaking for myself and my fellow journalists, we love them. First there’s the news of the review itself. Next there’s the pitch. Then comes the result - usually a banker for the front page. Then there are all the repercussions for the losing agency. Bags of headlines, bags of good copy.

Statutory reviews. Speaking for myself and my fellow journalists,

we love them. First there’s the news of the review itself. Next there’s

the pitch. Then comes the result - usually a banker for the front page.

Then there are all the repercussions for the losing agency. Bags of

headlines, bags of good copy.



Taking, er, a slightly more responsible view, you’ve got to wonder

whether they’re worth it. Take, for example, the recent Peugeot-Citroen

(PSA) review, all pounds 74 million of it. This massive piece of media

business is now on its third agency in four years, having statutorily

reviewed out of Mediapolis (now Media Planning) in 1997 and, as of

earlier this month, out of Initiative into the Carat group.



By any stretch of the imagination, PSA is a complex piece of business,

involving as it does two different brands and 26 (yes, I counted them

all) models or products and buying across all media channels. My guess

is that it will take Carat at least six months, possibly a year, to come

to terms with a piece of business like that and establish the necessary

working relationships with both client and creative agencies.



Then, after another 12 to 18 months, guess what? It’s staring at the

clock ticking away on another statutory review. In this position,

agencies would have to be inhuman not to spend a serious amount of time

anticipating and preparing for that review. This surely can’t be an

efficient way to handle business for either client or agency.



Or is it? Obviously since statutory reviews are conducted at the behest

of the client, it seems only right that we should look at them from

their point of view. Now, I bet no client ever came out of a statutory

review having agreed to pay its creative or media agency more, but

lowering fees or commission rates can’t be the only reason for statutory

reviews.



So did PSA get markedly better media buying from Initiative than it did

from Mediapolis? Will it get the same from Carat, and if so will it be

worth the pain of switching from Initiative?



The COI is another organisation subjecting its media buying arrangements

to a statutory review and from what I understand, the process is almost

as sapping and debilitating for the client as it is for the pitching

agencies.



Which is exactly as it ought to be if the client takes the statutory

review as seriously as the agencies do. But, you have to ask, to what

purpose is all this activity - aside from allowing the client’s

purchasing department to justify its existence?



The obvious answer is that it keeps agencies on their toes and provides

an opportunity to review the state of the relationship - but, assuming

they are desirable objectives, both can be achieved without the

artificiality of a statutory review. And if the relationship really

isn’t working out, then why wait for the statutory review? It’s a bit

like getting married and one partner says to the other: ’Right. We’ll

see how we’re doing in three years’ time and if I decide it’s not

working out, then I’m going to dump you.’ Hardly conducive to a good

relationship.



Now here’s the strange thing. Apparently there’s no formal review on the

main PSA creative account (clever Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper). But if

statutory reviews are such a good thing, why not? It must be because PSA

still thinks of media as a commodity. Shame on it.



dominic.mills@haynet.com.



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