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.