Opinion: Perspective - IPA's AGM highlights its need for a media president

Suppose you are the boss of a big company such as Cadbury-Schweppes. You are also the mouthpiece for about 380 clients with an annual UK adspend of £10 billion. One day an acquaintance asks if you would like to stand up in front of a roomful of agency executives. Some of the older IPA members in the room will remember one of your predecessors, Ken Miles, bludgeoning agencies for ripping off clients on commission, production costs and so on. Some of the younger executives will be steaming because you have diverted much of your budget away from lavish live action commercials and towards promotions and an animated sponsorship campaign around Coronation Street.

Oh, and there will be a sprinkling of journalists in the room with pressing column deadlines and no ideas to fill them. How about it?

One sucker was persuaded to accept this most untempting of offers and the result was John Sunderland's address this week to the IPA AGM. The chairman of Cadbury-Schweppes and ISBA president had three main themes: developing best practice, working for a competitive media marketplace and protecting the freedom to advertise.

Trailing the forthcoming best practice guide on remuneration, Sunderland gave agencies an idea of the pressures on clients. As a global company, he said, Cadbury-Schweppes meets its customers annually to discuss terms.

Their view of the world is simple - "tell me how much you're going to reduce prices by this year". There's no point in looking for a price increase, irrespective of what might be happening to your costs. And there's the inherent contradiction in ISBA's search for best practice on remuneration or any other issue: the commercial impetus on both client and agency side always overrides the best intentions.

Another theme was ISBA's desire for a marketplace with competition between multiple media owners for budgets, so that advertisers can chose where to invest. Despite achieving concessions over the ITV merger - the Contract Rights Renewal and appointment of an adjudicator - Sunderland clearly fears for his members' ability to strike a keen deal after the ITV merger.

CRR, he reasons, is hellishly complex and only time will tell how binding it is.

Sunderland also considered self-regulation as it looks increasingly likely to be extended to broadcast advertising. Will it be quite as radical a change as some are hoping? Perhaps not, as advertisers have operated well within the statutory system for 50 years. In the current environment - where for pressure groups advertising is a dark power capable of overriding a consumer's free will with subliminal persuasion - it is as important to underline advertising's limits, as it is to stress its business-building benefits.

All in all, Sunderland's was a worthy speech, lacking nothing in practical terms but somewhat devoid of innovation.

Which is not what you might say about the IPA these days. Its power base for years reflected the structures of ad agencies up to the early 80s, when (Tim Bell aside) very few media or creative people wound up running agencies. That is no longer the case as companies other than mainstream ad agencies are now represented at the IPA. The next step would be for a media person to be elected to the presidency when Stephen Woodford of WCRS steps down. It should be possible, as there is no shortage of senior agency media players with powerful and responsible reputations. What's more, it would proclaim to the world the undisputable fact that media has arrived at the top of the tree.

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