PERSPECTIVE: A warbling chorus is always drowned out by the strong soloist

There is something disquieting about being invited to lunch when

you might be on the menu, so caution best describes the reaction to this

week's news that the IPA wants to create a single trade body which would

represent the interests of agencies with government, clients and the


The proposal throws up many issues. Potentially increased membership

fees if agencies in the umbrella body are to pay fees commensurate with

those paid now by IPA member agencies. Job losses if services are

combined and overheads cut. Who should run such a body? Where should it

be located? And what about motives? Is the IPA the hungry,

empire-building spider who wants to eat her mate, or is this a sincere

effort to improve the gene pool for all agencies?

But the biggest issue of all is obvious. Does a single trade body for

all agencies serve the times? The consolidation of agency ownership into

global marketing services groups and the increasing diversity of

marketing communications which existing and potential IPA members are

providing to clients would suggest the answer is yes. The volume of

legislation and regulation being generated by the UK Government and the

EU also demands a level of understanding and proactivity that would be

well served by a single lobbying effort.

It is interesting, but perhaps unsurprising, that the IPA's proposal

does not extend to getting the advertisers' body, ISBA, on board. In the

UK the client and agency communities already meet in the Advertising

Association, which encourages joint working committees on issues of


In the US, there is no AA equivalent, which explains why in 1998 the US

client body suggested that advertising agencies join its ranks as

members. Seven months later, the invitation was revoked, the two bodies

reassumed their usual warlike poses and everyone agreed that they had

agendas that are often at odds. Consider compensation, for example. For

agencies the goal is to be paid more; for advertisers it is to pay


But the reality at the centre of the IPA's proposal for the UK is that

the stuff that is most important is what all the agency trade bodies

have in common. Each of them, from the SPCA to the DMA, can defend their

existence as separate organisations. But the critical marketing

challenges of the future will require more co-operation, not less, as

new and emerging technologies make existing business models obsolete and

government intervention more likely.

The IPA feels a single voice will be more effective and in my view it is

right. For now, its proposal hangs there, waiting to be defined. This

week may mark the start of months, possibly years, of turf war between

the trade bodies and their leaders. But history has proved that on

subjects of mutual concern, a visionary solo voice is generally stronger

than a warbling chorus.


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