Opinion: Perspective - In Sutherland, the IPA has a president for our time

I'm about to go off to lunch to see Rory Sutherland officially inaugurated as the IPA's 41st president. So the following is written without being able to judge him on his first official outing.

But I'm prepared to bet that his performance will include a very clever, funny and charming speech and - on the basis of his words in this week's feature (page 20) - a sensibly measured manifesto.

Sutherland is utterly right, of course, in his analysis of the industry's narrow view, its self-absorption with shades of difference between the disciplines, the reductive battling against each other for a share of the relatively traditional marketing pot.

Isn't it time, Sutherland argues, to work together more to leverage the power of the industry, to promote the case for advertising and then to look wider and find ways to apply the skills of the industry in new ways for new clients with different budgets.

All this is thoroughly sensible. Not only that, it's imperative. Budgets that are being shaved now are unlikely to return to the levels of recent years, even once recovery is well under way. Finding new sources of revenue rather than scrapping over the same old pot will be vital.

But perhaps the most valuable message of all from Sutherland's first presidential salvo is the need to find new ways to get paid for "the value of what we do and not just the cost of doing it".

It's such a fundamental issue and one that the industry has resolutely failed to crack. That failure, of course, might suggest that the problem is uncrackable. But surely there's no better time to revisit the notion of putting a price on ideas.

Clients are increasingly questioning the value they get from agencies, looking at why some things take agencies so long to achieve, wondering why there are three times as many people in meetings as there needs to be, scrutinising retainers and asking whether all of this cost is actually making a real, demonstrable difference to how much product they sell.

Clients' heightened, and frankly overdue, focus on effectiveness - fuelled by the recession - should foster a climate favourable to payment for (transformational) ideas.

The problem, of course, is that an awful lot of agencies' work would struggle to justify such a payment, either because its sale effect is at best questionable or because the fundamental idea itself simply isn't good enough.

Which naturally leads to the issue of how well the industry understands how to affect behaviour and how to track and measure that influence. Sutherland's call for more R&D on how advertising works should be a top priority; from that understanding will follow more opportunities to put a proper value on the work agencies do.

In order to push forward on all of these crucial issues, the IPA has chosen well in its new president. I'm not sure Sutherland was the first choice, but he's an excellent one, combining creativity with necessary effectiveness in his professional DNA.

Is there anyone left who hasn't heard of Susan Boyle? In less than two weeks she has become an international phenomenon. Visible Measures, which monitors online videos, reckons Boyle material has so far clocked up almost 100 million views. The majority of this material belongs to ITV and the production companies Talkback Thames and SyCo TV.

Apart from modest ad revenues on the ITV website and in ad breaks during the show's transmission, the companies involved have not made money from these phenomenal global viewing figures.

Tony Cohen, the chief of Freemantle Media, which owns Talkback Thames, recently called for micro-payments for viewing TV clips. Boyle has made his case for him, though there's the small matter of copyright infringement to address first, of course.


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