A President’s Parting Shot: Peter Blackburn, chairman and chief executive of Nestle UK, reflects on the key issues of his two years as ISBA’s president

People don’t realise that ISBA now has 100 years of persistent effort on behalf of advertisers to its credit. We’ve entered the new millennium stronger than ever, and I’m convinced that the organisation has a pivotal role to play in ensuring that the UK retains its rightful place as a world leader in the communications industries.

People don’t realise that ISBA now has 100 years of persistent

effort on behalf of advertisers to its credit. We’ve entered the new

millennium stronger than ever, and I’m convinced that the organisation

has a pivotal role to play in ensuring that the UK retains its rightful

place as a world leader in the communications industries.

When I took up the ISBA presidency in July 1998, there were a number of

issues that mattered to us but that were equally important to the

marketing community as a whole. My two years as president have convinced

me that not only are these issues relevant but that, if we are to

influence the debates upon them, advertisers must work together,

channelling their collective views through a single voice. Individually,

ISBA’s members, whatever their size and status within the industry, can

be isolated. But working together, speaking as one, we have enough voice

to be heard. We can influence the debate and promote our shared


I’ve been particularly delighted that ISBA’s membership has grown in

strength during my presidency. In the past two years alone we’ve been

boosted by a further 41 member companies. In TV advertising, for

example, ISBA now speaks with the collective voice of around pounds 2.3

billion of spend per year, around two-thirds of the total spent each

year, and represents all the top 25 UK TV spenders. ISBA is stronger and

more representative than ever before.

What are these issues that are important to the whole marketing


When I became president I set out a five-point agenda. Let’s check on

how each of those issues has progressed.

First, I said we must powerfully reaffirm the key role that is played by

marketing communications in the development of the British economy and

the furtherance of British competitiveness.

The economy depends heavily on the commercial success of the major

companies that advertise, with the investment, jobs and tax revenues

that all rely on the economic performance of these companies. Marketing

communications stimulate consumer confidence and spending activity, a

crucial ingredient in longer-term growth.

In this context, it’s been very pleasing to see that - parallel with the

significant developments in the media scene - ISBA and the agencies’

body the IPA have put aside minor differences to work more closely

towards common goals. The more closely individual advertisers and their

agencies work in partnership, the more likely they are to maximise the

effectiveness of the advertisers’ marketing communications.

I believe the same can be said of the two bodies representing

advertisers and agencies.

Working together, ISBA and the IPA are more likely to influence the

public and political atmosphere in which advertising has to operate.

Because it will encourage advertisers to invest in the industry and in

the skills and resources of their agencies, a stimulating and supporting

environment must be the key shared objective of the two bodies - its

importance over-riding the inevitable differences in tone or emphasis

within specific debates.

So it’s been pleasing to see the joint work of the IPA and ISBA in

initiatives such as the report on paying for advertising, the world’s

first report on payment by results and the model contract for

advertising agency agreements. I believe these joint initiatives have

been very important in distilling agreement on what constitutes best

practice standards across the industry, so helping to lessen the

potential for damaging frictions between advertisers and agencies.

My second issue was the defence of the freedom to advertise. ISBA has

remained absolutely resolute in seeking to protect responsible freedom

of commercial speech, and will continue to do so. We’ve worked through

such bodies as the Advertising Association and the World Federation of

Advertisers, which are becoming increasingly influential in taking up

such issues with the European Commission and European Parliament.

All around us we see those who would constrain advertising to children

and limit the freedom of those who advertise food, toys, alcoholic

drinks, cars and financial services, and many more products and

services. This is one area where European influence is increasing and

where we will need to be vigilant.

During my period as president, the issue of children and advertising has

been close to my heart, but it is not a personal matter. We must be very

careful not to regard each advertising restriction as separate. The

threat posed by the debate on advertising and children is one that

affects every advertiser and every agency, whether they are involved

with marketing to children or not. It’s one example of the need to

protect our right to responsible freedom of commercial speech. Lose this

and nothing will be inviolate.

Thanks to our united efforts, it now looks less likely that Sweden will

use its European Union presidency, beginning next year, to press for

Europe-wide restrictions. Nevertheless, it would be decidedly premature

to assume that the issue has gone away. Our key challenge now must be to

continue to work together to activate and support our Continental

colleagues in fighting this issue in every EU member state where it is

raised. In what might be a long-running campaign, I hope to continue my

personal involvement, putting our case robustly and using every

opportunity to influence opinion-formers both in the UK and on the


My third issue was the effectiveness of our self-regulatory


We’ve continued to promote the effectiveness of these and seek to

reinforce and build on our success in the UK. We should assist the

further development of these disciplines across the EU. I’m sure

everyone in the industry will agree that self-regulation is far better

than legislation, but there are many who will seek to challenge it. It’s

essential that self-regulation is seen to work by those outside the


The fourth key issue is the high cost of advertising, particularly


We must continue to strive, through constructive and sensible debate, to

modify the competitive balance between the supply and demand in the UK

market for TV airtime, which has been one of the key causes of high

media cost inflation. Of course we accept that advertisers aren’t

completely blameless in this, but our key objective must be to keep

pressing for improvements in audience size and quality. I believe we’ve

entered a period of constructive and sensible dialogue with our media

partners on this issue, avoiding unnecessary conflict.

ISBA’s media action groups have shown some real achievements. This

approach must continue as we enter the crucial debate over the

forthcoming Communications White Paper.

The fifth issue I identified is the explosion of the new-media


In the next few years, advertisers will be major participators in the

funding and self-regulation of new media, and we must ensure that our

members are in a position to play a part in and profit from its


Advertising will play an important role in funding a pluralistic media

and, therefore, in the maintenance of the UK as a world leader in

creative industries. New technology and opportunities are developing


ISBA is heavily involved in these and must continue to keep up to date

with such developments.

ISBA has grown stronger. The organisation is better staffed, better

resourced and more able to react rapidly than it has been, perhaps, at

any point in its history. I would like to thank all the staff at ISBA

and would particularly like to commend and thank our director-general,

John Hooper, for his leadership. He has shown great persistence on a

wide number of fronts, but especially on the protection of freedom of

commercial speech in Europe. I’m pleased that he has agreed to continue

to assist ISBA on European issues after his retirement in November after

six years at the helm.

I have been particularly pleased to see the growth of the organisation’s

membership services team over the past two years.

ISBA now offers members the tangible benefits of confidential guidance

on a wide range of advertiser-related issues, from contract negotiations

to agency recruitment, staff training and best practice standards.

Well-used by members, I believe, this resource has had a direct impact

on driving up standards across the industry and has been a key factor in

the continued growth of the ISBA membership and the organisation’s


I am delighted with the choice of Dick Spelman, the chief executive of

Halifax retail financial services, as my successor. His election

reflects the efforts we’ve made to involve many more industries in the

activities of ISBA, which in the past has been associated more with FMCG


The industry is more united now than when I took up the ISBA


I believe that to achieve the greatest goals for the common good, we can

and must continue to work together.


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