It was delightful to luxuriate in the ocean of nostalgia and
half-forgotten creative brilliance accompanying Campaign’s 30th bumper
birthday issue last week. But our enjoyment must not obscure the
difficulties and challenges today’s advertising industry faces.
I am very optimistic about the industry overall - and why not? We know
that advertising is one of the creative industries in which this country
is a world leader, a position we’ve maintained for a number of
The quality of our advertising is, at its best, staggeringly good.
Advertising spend continues to rise, as do the numbers employed in the
Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s member agencies.
But growth in revenue over the past 12 months is behind that of other
marketing services companies and, at less than 10 per cent, is below
media cost inflation. This suggests clients demonstrate more confidence
in the budgets they’re prepared to commit to buying media space than
they do in the budgets they are prepared to commit to the agencies who
fill that space. In other words, agencies are still not being recognised
and rewarded for what they do. Why?
First, as an industry we have become more and more identified with an
interest in, and an obsession with, the words and the pictures and less
and less identified with the thinking behind them. We are thought of as
an industry that sells ads rather than gives advice.
Second, without reducing the importance and value of great advertising
or the role it has to play - particularly for mature brands in mature
markets - we have failed to demonstrate that we are practitioners in
communications in its broadest sense, including direct marketing,
promotions, PR and all the new media, even though many agencies have,
and are, absorbing these disciplines. The client community has long
accepted, driven by the increasing competitiveness of the markets in
which it operates, that a consistent strategy across all communications
is the most effective way of reaching the consumer.
Third, when it comes to external presentation and selling the industry
as a serious, professional, results-orientated industry, we don’t make
the most of our case. We allow the media to sensationalise and
trivialise what we do.
As a result, we have effectively created a vacuum and into this vacuum
have stepped others who are increasingly filling the role that used to
belong to the advertising agencies.
The vacuum has been filled by consultants who provide advice on how to
achieve cost efficiency. Moreover, the agency-client relationship has
been pushed down to a less senior level within the client organisation,
with the agency often being denied access to the chairman or chief
executive, where the key decisions are now being taken. More worrying
still is the fact that clients seem prepared to pay other consultants
large sums of money for consumer insights while agencies give them away
as part of their package.
The consequence of this generosity by advertising agencies is extremely
serious. The advertising business is only as good as the people who work
within it and the inability to get paid for what we do means our ability
to recruit the brightest, most innovative and imaginative people from
university, art colleges, or wherever, is being diminished, along with
the wherewithal to invest appropriately and regularly in the training of
This, in turn, impacts on the quality of service we can deliver and the
increasing propensity of the client community to go elsewhere for
strategic advice. And yet the desire still resides within the client
community to work closely with their advertising agency. Research
undertaken for the IPA last year identified the ideal relationship that
clients want with their agency.
They want a relationship that is close, that has a sense of longevity
about it, where mutual trust is the byword and where people say what
It is a team where the two companies form a partnership and it is
perceived as the most important relationship within all the marketing
The agency’s role is seen as very straightforward: to provide creative
solutions to problems of communication, strong strategic thinking and
highly creative executions of those strategies.
While accepting there are very real cultural differences between the
business tribe and the advertising tribe, as they say in Oklahoma, the
farmers and the cowboys must be friends. It is time to reinforce the
image of advertising people as serious business advisers. We must show
how effective we are. The industry should be prepared to embrace a fair
criterion for payments by results.
The key measure of effectiveness is sales; however, there are a vast
number of different ways in which advertising impacts on business
With this in mind, the IPA has relaunched the 1998 Advertising
Effectiveness Awards with a view to further developing our new
Above all, we must hammer home this message: advertising adds brand
equity, shareholder value, strategic thinking and consumer happiness,
all of which contributes to a return on investment. We must be as
imaginative and creative in selling our industry as we are in selling
any product. We have a unique understanding of the consumer and of the
broader business context. In a data-rich world, one that is becoming
increasingly over-supplied with facts, we bring imagination and
I want a future where no-one quotes Lord Leverhulme any more. Where
business people believe that advertising is a powerful and
cost-effective tool for building brands. Where clients believe that only
advertising agencies can bring tougher strategic marketing thinking and
consumer understanding together with the creativity and imagination
needed to produce communications ideas that can change consumer
behaviour. I want a future where advertising is seen as an investment,
not a cost. Where the contribution of advertising agencies is more
Graham Hinton is the president of the Institute of Practitioners in
Advertising and the chairman of Bates Dorland
The Campaign letters page will return next week.