Do we punch our weight as a lobby?

06 Feb 2018  |  Bob Wootton 
Do we punch our weight as a lobby?

Too often internal conflicts hamper any pan-industry attempts to lobby effectively, writes Bob Wootton - but there is a new opportunity to fight harder

The UK’s Advertising Association (AA) embodies the industry’s various representative bodies and/or major players and lobbies Government on matters of collective interest.

Right now, it seeks to protect access to talent for our cosmopolitan creative industry post Brexit.

Each January it mounts its annual ‘Lead’ event and this year’s was as good as any. Our great and good gather to chew over the major issues of the day - notably Brexit again, which casts its long shadow over everything and speculation about which dominates the news agenda to the exclusion of too much else.

Having been involved in industry affairs for many years, the event led to me reflect on just how good we are at lobbying in our interests.

I found myself giving us a pretty middling score but also saw an opportunity.

We’re an industry of perpetual optimists because it’s so competitive. There are also a lot of egos and self-aggrandisers, some of whom have inflated opinions of their connectedness and lobbying skills.

Many agency folk, particularly creative agency types, misconstrue having cherished (but likely loss-making) Government or charity accounts as giving them sway in Whitehall. Most notably the ambitious ones who crave gongs (though diversity has given them a much quicker route to glory of late).

The trading mentality that has dominated most major media agencies has regrettably meant that few have engaged, finding lobbying issues too philosophical and intellectual and not day-to-day enough.

Meanwhile the media tend to parlay their status and kingmakers and opinion leaders.

All ply their undoubted client handling or sales smarts but working with ex-parliamentarians and having befriended a number of senior politicians over the years has taught me a different approach is needed.

You can glimpse the bones of lobbying on the news most days: how much does industry X contribute to gross domestic product?; and how much to exports?; how many people does it employ and how much does it pay its people?; and what is its standing beyond these shores?

Having dominated the UK’s creative industries for many years, advertising lost its crown to video games about five years ago. But it still represents at least £20bn of a c£90bn industry and a major and world-renowned export.

However, lobbying success also depends alignment, and too often we’re not. For example:

- individual media sometimes decline to support industry initiatives defending the freedom of a particular sector (e.g. alcohol, gambling) to advertise as success might benefit and strengthen competitor channels disproportionately.

- back in the day, broadcasters opposed advertiser calls for quotas on commercial airtime to be relaxed, fearing - with some justification - that it would depress pricing and thus revenues.

(Nor did agencies engage beyond a few warm words, one of the earliest instances of their acting in their own and not their clients’ interests. The rest is history. There are still very outdated differences between the amount of advertising permitted on mainstream ‘terrestrial’ public service broadcasters and satellite / ‘multichannel’ ones. Advertisers lost the battle but won the war by hastening channel proliferation, bringing superabundant inventory, if not audience).

Such internal conflict hampers any pan-industry attempts to lobby effectively save on a few major overarching issues, which in our case have typically involved freedoms to advertise, but have latterly turned to maintaining optimal access to talent.

Advertisers lobby vigorously on their own behalves as major employers and manufacturers but have been on the edges of ad industry lobbying, sometimes to their disadvantage. Others have put more effort and resource - and frankly more and better people - against it.

Recent efforts by the AA better to include them through its Front Foot initiative have served to narrow this gap, but a new and greater opportunity presents itself which advertisers should seize.

It concerns all the muck that’s been surfacing about the previously-too-good-to-be-true online media.

Government is stepping up its search for solutions to societal issues like fake news, incitements to violence and terror, young peoples’ self-esteem and well-being and so on. But even under Cabinet support and new, energetic and capable Secretary of State Matt Hancock MP, it’s having a tough time getting the social media, notably GooBook, substantively to cooperate.

Advertisers too have a stake in all these alongside more prosaic concerns like brand safety, ad viewability and fraud.

Nick Manning, founder of Manning Gottlieb OMD and latterly CSO of Ebiquity reminded the Lead event that advertisers - and their spending - hold the key to capitulation and action.

This creates an open goal for ISBA - reinvigorated under Phil Smith’s energetic and focused leadership - and its advertiser members to reassert their pole positions in the value chain by reaching out directly and helpfully to Government.

Competition issues will need handling deftly, but it could seriously reinforce, not undermine, the AA’s role. Here’s hoping.

They’ve only gone and done it...

The recent announcement of the formation of JICMAIL probably elicited ennui and indifference. How wrong.

It’s been a twinkle in the eye of leading Direct Marketing Association members for several years (shout out to MC&C’s Mike Colling and the DMA’s Chris Combemale) and it’s gratifying that they’ve got industry participation and landed it.

At last, direct mail will offer advertisers and comms planners audience-centric metrics alongside other media channels. Combined with all the pre-existing performance metrics that are intrinsic to the medium, this can only assist consideration and use.

It’s also the latest evidence of a fightback coming from right across the ‘legacy’ media waterfront. A well-funded and highly effective Thinkbox; an imminent TV marketing event; welcome collaboration between Newsworks and Magnetic; cross-platform audience research for paper and digital from PAMCo and BARB on the case for TV too.

All combine to signal ever greater competitiveness for the advertiser’s pound at a time when online’s shine is looking a bit tarnished. It’s still a tough fight but at last the gloves are off.

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