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
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
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
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.