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Paul Bainsfair 

Time to stand and stare…

Time to stand and stare…

IPA director general Paul Bainsfair takes a moment to think on the challenges and opportunities for agencies in the year ahead, from tackling climate change to agency models and pricing strategies

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs.
And stare as long as sheep or cows...”


Last year Zoomed past, quite literally. I know I wasn’t alone in spending many an hour in back-to-back conference calls, addressing the fallout of the pandemic on the agency business.

As with any crisis management it is hard to take stock in the moment. In fact, to even take a moment. To be able to think longer and wider. The job at hand, while efficient and productive, is mainly adrenaline-filled fire fighting.

The Christmas break, especially a quiet one, was therefore a welcome pause in the mania to do this. And, to channel the words of welsh poet W.H. Davies, to take some time to stand and stare.

Which is exactly where I found myself on a Boxing Day walk. Staring at the wonder of nature, breathing in the fresh air of the countryside, and experiencing a sudden and renewed pang of the responsibility we have as individuals, and as companies, to protect our green and pleasant land.

Back home, as I shook off my wellies and with a refreshed outlook, I was heartened that these thoughts could translate into real actions. As well as taking personal responsibility towards addressing the climate crisis, from planting new trees to a new-found predilection for two wheels over four, on a larger scale, I am particularly pleased that this year will see the development of our IPA Media Futures Group Climate Charter.

The Charter is part of the wider Advertising Association 5-point Ad Net Zero plan to accelerate zero carbon transition for the media agency industry. For this, our working party is applying themselves, as we speak, to cementing the finer details of our carbon calculator for media plans and a showcase of sustainable media owners.

Working together, we will be able to reduce our agencies’ carbon footprint. This isn’t just a moral imperative but an increasingly imperative business requirement. Clients are looking to agencies, and looking to working with them collectively and responsibly for the greater good.

It is this spirit of client/agency partnership that will be more vital than ever across the board this year.

In a couple of weeks’ time (21 January), we see the publication of the Q4 2020 IPA Bellwether Report. The implications of Brexit are only just beginning to become apparent and the fallout from the pandemic is still being felt acutely. We are therefore suspecting that clients’ marketing spend intentions in general, and particularly on big ticket main media, will once again be subdued.

Although, we can only hope that the figures will surpass the nadir of –50.7% in Q2 2020 (and –51.1% for main media, also in Q2 2020) in terms of the net balance of clients revising their budgets down.

To help our agencies thrive through this, the IPA will continue to promote the evidence-based message that those brands that continue to advertise through tough times come through them healthier and stronger. And that main media can deliver true long-term brand building.

But this won’t be enough. We need agencies to also take stock of their role in terms of the value they deliver to their clients and how they deliver this. For which I urge our agency leaders to pick up a copy of our recent IPA-commissioned publication The Future of Brand and Agency Relationships Report.

Following extensive interviews with consumers, clients and agencies, this seminal publication, carried out on our behalf by Foresight Factory and spearheaded by our President Nigel Vaz, has pinpointed a pendulum of the five most prominent models of brand and agency relationships over the next 5-10 years.

Each of these models has its strengths and weaknesses, ways of working, remuneration and measurement and varying degrees of growth potential. I encourage agencies to therefore take a moment to think about where they sit – or where they want to sit going forward - on this spectrum.

By understanding their offering and communicating this comprehensively to their clients, agencies will be able to manage expectations across the board to deliver win-wins.

Coupled with this, it is incumbent upon agencies to also address their pricing strategies, for which we hope our recent Pricing for Success report will help them to move on from time-based pricing models and more towards a mutually beneficial value-based exchange.

As I began, I experienced the luxury of being able to stand and stare. It took time and physical space to allow me that headspace. But it left me reinvigorated.

The Christmas break is now behind us but before we return to Zoombie land, I urge you to take a last moment to stand and stare; clear your head and come back afresh to clarify and address what your agency offering is – from your approach to the climate crisis to your relationship with your clients and the great value you deliver, and everything in between.

As Davies himself concludes:

“A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.”

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