PERSPECTIVE: Who has the balls to take on Fisher after Yes Minister at COI?

There we were, a little more than three years ago in our weekly news meeting, being miserable hacks and speculating glibly on the length of tenure of Carol Fisher as the chief executive of COI Communications. I think we may have given her two years, longer than her predecessor, Tony Douglas, who lasted 18 months before returning to an agency job. In the end, as this week's front page reports, Fisher lasted for more than three.

The opinion was not rooted in personal antipathy but in the nature of COI as a long-term home for any serious or ambitious marketer. Part client, part agency, doomed to spend half its time justifying its own existence, governed by the short-term nature of politics, answering to the whims and agendas of a revolving door of ministers and policy makers - it is one of the most demanding and thankless of the big UK communications jobs. The compensation of running a organisation with real power as an instrument of social change, well, it is scant reward when set against the inherent difficulties of the job.

Those difficulties were graphically illustrated in the official reaction to COI winning Campaign's Advertiser of the Year 2001. We recognised that under the leadership of Fisher and her deputy, Peter Buchanan, COI has become a more hungry, better-structured, more accountable and less defensive organisation than at any time in its history.

D'Arcy winning a print gold for its Department of Health Social Work Recruitment work in Cannes this week adds weight to COI's strong creative reel too.

By definition it can't please everybody and there are probably ways it could improve still further, but by the end of 2001 most felt COI had reached the stage where it was satisfying as many people as it was possible to do.

Three days after publication we received a note from Brian Butler, the director of communications at the Home Office. Clearly dismayed at the publicity going to Fisher and her department, he wrote to heap praise on government officials outside COI while simultaneously praising his own department's contribution and implicitly playing down the achievements of COI. Fisher too felt obliged (was instructed?) to write in a similar vein. Pure Yes Minister.

And so to Fisher's next move. She wants a big agency or media job and her varied CV could certainly lead her down either route. As a bit of a rough diamond in a industry of smoothies, she is dogged by the usual paradox of being tough, honest, uncompromising, opinionated, energetic - and a woman. With recent anti-ITV and anti-agency tirades to her name it is not clear what future awaits her, but I'm prepared to make two bets here. One, that no mainstream ad agency will have the balls to hire her. Two, that her next job will be worth a front page story too.


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