Opinion: Perspective - Charity clients require clear rules of engagement

I'd like to draw your attention to the Letters page (opposite). More specifically, to the final paragraph of the last letter on the letters page.

It has been penned by the British Heart Foundation and closes a letter replete with criticism of Campaign's coverage of its review last week.

The missive aims to clarify that every agency the charity works with understands that it's only on a project-by-project basis.

Based on conversations I have had with the agencies that competed for the business ten months ago, I don't think this was as clear-cut as the BHF believes. Nevertheless, back to that final paragraph: "Every charity pound we spend has been hard won and we make no apologies for using competitive 'shoot-outs' to get the best creative minds working for us."

This is one way of looking at it, but I'd argue that the most powerful creative work rarely emerges in a pitch. It comes from long-standing relationships, where agency and client are familiar with each other's strengths and weaknesses.

It seems that the BHF believes that the more ideas it is given - by agencies contending for its business - the better it is able to perform its marketing function. It also appears that the organisation believes that because it is a charity, it has a kind of force-for-good right to extract these ideas - and the work involved in reaching them - from agencies on a regular basis.

Lines do become blurred when agencies work for charities. Charities know that agencies like handling their accounts and will, therefore, often work on them on a pro bono or subsidised basis. This is for a mixture of reasons. Traditionally, it was because the work can attract awards (although I'd argue that juries have tightened up on this and trips to the podium for charity clients have become fewer in number).

The other reason is that staff enjoy putting their skills to work for worthy causes. It eases the consciences of those troubled by their success in selling yellow fats and and petrol-guzzling MPVs.

When such arrangements have succeeded, it's because the rules of engagement are clear. The agency will put a junior team on the business and have a more-than-customary sway over the final look of the ad.

Equally successful are the relationships where the charity behaves exactly like any other client company.

It pays a competitive rate and rewards a successful campaign with loyalty to the agency that produced it.

The BHF, let us be clear, does pay its agencies full whack. And the fact that Lowe is willing to repitch for the business indicates it feels it can have a healthy working relationship with the charity. That the BHF will pitch out every brief is now utterly clear and any agency undertaking this pitch does so in that knowledge. However, I still question the assertion that the BHF gets the biggest bang for its buck by pitching out every project.

Nobody expected GCap's results to be good, but most will be shocked by the extent of the profits decline revealed in Wednesday's results (pre-tax profits down from £37.3 million to £22.2 million).

Good news was thin on the ground, though the merged company revealed better-than-expected cost savings (£27 million penned for next year).

It's possible that the organisation's chief executive, Ralph Bernard, has been so busy justifying the cost-savings logic of last year's GWR/Capital merger to the City, that he has neglected the product.

There are some embers of hope, however. Its generalist brands are being more tightly defined, while emphasis is shifting to its niche stations, such as Xfm and Planet Rock, so it can better compete on a local level. The reduced number of advertising breaks also indicates that the company is willing to take risks in order to combat difficult trading conditions.

- Claire Beale is on maternity leave.