PERSPECTIVE: Why there will be no winners when DTLR starts going it alone

The Government's advertising department has always been one of

those political footballs that is doomed to spend half its time

justifying its own existence, and never more so than this week when one

of its nightmares has been made a reality.



As reported in this week's issue, the Department for Transport, Local

Government and the Regions is attempting to bypass COI Communications by

building its own agency roster. For the many agencies that have just

clawed their expensive way on to new creative and media planning rosters

after a protracted pitch, this constitutes a ridiculous volte-face that

they could well do without.



Actually, five years ago, when COI was celebrating its 50th birthday, it

would have made more sense. For that was when the Cabinet Office allowed

government departments to run their own campaigns and buy their own

advertising instead of being forced to go through COI.



Reacting to that threat, and under the leadership of Carol Fisher and

Peter Buchanan, COI is now a hungrier, leaner, better-structured, more

accountable and less defensive organisation than at any time in its

history.



(It has a pretty good reel too but that is not what we are here to

debate.) By definition it can't please everybody, and there are probably

ways it could improve still further, but most feel it's reached the

stage where it satisfies as many people as possible.



So what could the DTLR do better or differently with its own roster?



Perhaps it could cut costs by avoiding paying the obligatory commission

on its campaigns to COI. However, whether it would obtain the same value

for money as COI is debatable, particularly in media planning and buying

where it spends about £18 million to COI's £190 million. It

could use its own, presumably under-employed, publicity staff, though

whether they are of higher calibre than their COI equivalents is

unknown. It could certainly gain greater control of its communications,

though whether that is necessary after that protracted pitch is also

debatable.



Last, but by no means least, a dedicated roster would raise the profile

and power quotient of DTLR's experienced communications chief, Charles

Skinner. Skinner, the figure behind the move, is in the interesting

position of having no boss at the moment. His boss, Alun Evans, was

moved from his post after refusing to disseminate "dirty tricks" smears

on Bob Kiley, the London transport commissioner, on the orders of the

Teflon-coated PR, Jo Moore. So while we may not understand the benefits

to the taxpayer of this move, we can all answer the question: "Why's

Skinner doing it?" It's because, in short, he can. However, by the same

token, the same Cabinet Office that allowed government departments to

run their own campaigns could step in and rule that this breakaway is

not only ill-timed, but illogical too. I hope it does.



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