Scandal of some great agencies ignored by Govt
A view from Jeremy Lee

Scandal of some great agencies ignored by Govt

For the Cabinet Office to conjure up a new agency - "Abbot Mead Vickers DDB" - in the list of shops to make it on to the Government's creative roster marked just another cock-up in the whole sorry and muddle-strewn process.

While it would be churlish not to offer hearty congratulations to those ten agencies that made the cut, the list of those that failed to meet the requirements of the new tender process is rather more interesting.

Where is Dare with its impressive and successful award-winning body of anti-smoking work? And what of Leo Burnett, which has, over 30 years, changed attitudes to drink-driving, saving almost 2,000 lives and creating a value to society of £3 billion?

And can creative centres of excellence such as Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Mother, which has just celebrated ten years of its Frank campaign, really not be up to the job in hand?

Sadly, these seem to have either been dropped or omitted from the list with worrying ease by the dead hand of a civil-service process that either didn’t care what it was doing or didn’t understand (the latter looks most likely).

Given that the "Quality" section in the tender document that dealt with the creative process could have been completed by even the most unpromising back-termed advertising undergraduate (sample question: "Describe your approach to concept creation?"), the fact that case studies or experience counted for nought showed that price was always going to be the real battleground. It would be surprising if many agencies failed to score anything other than top marks in this section (here’s another: "How do you engage business suppliers?").

The fact that experience counted for nought showed that price was always going to be the real battleground

And so to price, which ostensibly made up a significant minority of the scoring process (40 per cent), but where the pen-pushers were most engaged. Quite right too, the public might think. These are austere times and there is no place for state munificence or waste (botched railway contracts and defence procurements notwithstanding). But the mathematics of which agencies made it into the top ten and which did not, based on the tiniest spread of price points, looks worryingly arbitrary.

Paradoxically, agencies have never worked on government advertising as a money-spinner – traditionally, COI briefs were seen as interesting, and fundamentally important, accounts where an agency used its creative and strategic skills to solve really challenging societal problems.

Let’s hope the new roster will allow this to continue to happen. But it seems a tragedy – both for the agencies involved and the taxpayer – that those shops that contributed so much to effecting crucial social change will now no longer be allowed to do so because of a deeply flawed process.