Opinion: Perspective - Why ISBA members must keep faith in advertising

I didn't go to the ISBA conference this week. Instead, I'm sitting here writing this, in fact. And receiving regular updates from my man on the ground there, Mr Tylee.

But already I know two things about the conference. First, if it's to continue to justify its membership fees, ISBA desperately needs to use the conference to prove it still has a vital role to play in its members' businesses. With so many ad sectors under regulatory pressure and forming their own specialist lobbying units, the society has lost some grip on the most pressing issues facing its members. And ISBA has been relatively recessive on the Advertising Association's industry-wide battle to defend advertising, and has sunk from the headlines compared with a few years ago.

Thanks goodness for the recession, then, which should allow ISBA an opportunity to refine a clear and urgent role for its services as its members struggle to cope with the advertising and marketing issues forced by economic crisis.

So I also know that recession will figure firmly on the ISBA conference agenda. Mind you, early reports suggest far too many of the speakers seem determined to discuss all things digital, presumably because they think that will illustrate how progressive they are.

Anyway, the new ISBA president, Mark Hunter, who's also the president of Coors Brewers, used his speech to rally advertisers to come to the aid of the slumping economy by keeping the advertising faith. But Hunter didn't pull his punches in making a connection between the power of marketing to drive recovery and the need to ensure the industry remains free from further regulation. Not quite as overt as a quid pro quo, but pretty close.

And the IPA's outgoing president, Moray Mac- Lennan, also left the audience in no doubt of the competitive edge that can be gained by maintaining advertising momentum even when budgets come under intense pressure.

The real hope is that ISBA still has enough pulling power to ensure that there were plenty of marketing directors and even chief executives in the audience to take these messages on board.

News of ITV's £2.6 billion loss won't have come as much of a surprise to most of you. The media has delighted in regular updates on ITV's woes for months now, and the slump is, anyway, symptomatic of the challenges facing free-to-air broadcasters, not just in the current economic climate but also long-term.

For the record, profits were down 41 per cent to £167 million. And the broadcaster's executive chairman, Michael Grade, described the current media marketplace as "the most challenging I have experienced in over 30 years in UK broadcasting". Not surprisingly amid the gloom, Grade also attempted to remind us all that ITV is "continuing to deliver our advertisers mass audiences night after night and holding our share of audiences and of TV advertising".

At the ISBA conference on the same day ITV's results were announced, Ofcom's chief executive, Ed Richards, told delegates that Ofcom would continue to free ITV up from unnecessary financial burdens and that he was confident of TV's long-term future.

As Ofcom prepares to pronounce on the future of Contract Rights Renewal after the close of the consultation period last week, the timing of ITV's dire results is rather good. Can Ofcom afford to be seen to twist the knife further into the wounded broadcaster?

And last week's overblown threat that ITV could be forced to seek (a surely unworkable) merger with Channel 4 and Five was presumably designed to highlight the urgent need for a slackening of the CRR shackles.

After all, what would advertisers rather: a strong independent deliverer of mass audiences that has to compete for ad revenue or a single terrestrial broadcaster controlling a majority share of the television advertising market?