Answering the Question

Politicians of every persuasion have been popping up all over UK screens for weeks. These appearances have highlighted one reason why they are universally unpopular: they never seem to answer the question they’ve been asked, preferring to answer the question they want to answer.

This rather glum thought comes to mind reading some of the press coverage around the ANA report.

 Last week’s Cog Blog post pointed to GroupM’s Rob Norman’s comments on the ANA. Rob pointed out that the report had failed to comment on the positive investments made by his company into technical innovation.

This is a perfectly fair point to make, but it’s a bit like saying the ANA report also failed to include a recipe for sponge cake.

 It was not what it was purporting to do.

 Rob’s one-man GroupM charm offensive continues this week (you have to admit he’s very good at it) with his ‘new rules of engagement’ for advertisers.

 Before getting on to what he had to say, it’s perhaps worth spending a moment on how the press on both sides of the Atlantic have been covering this story.

 Here in full are the ‘Campaign’ headline and sub-head that went with Rob’s piece.

The headline: “Group M’s Rob Norman offers new rules of engagement after ANA transparency skirmish”

 Skirmish? ‘An episode of irregular or unpremeditated fighting, especially between small or outlying parts of armies or fleets’. (The New Oxford Dictionary of English).

 I’m not sure WPP, GroupM or certainly Rob would say they’re either ‘small or outlying’. I’m also not sure about ‘unpremeditated’.

 The sub-head: “After criticising the ANA’s recent transparency report, Group M’s Rob Norman outlines new guidelines for media agencies and their clients”.

Rob has been careful not to criticise the ANA report. Indeed he said as much on his Facebook page: “I never actually did criticize the report, simply suggested that the issue was a broader one”.

 The press has been full of this rather aggressive inflammatory language, even the Cog Blog post appeared under a ‘battle’ headline when it was published in the USA.

 This slant is not helpful – the agencies and their clients need to collaborate and find a way through this mess. Clients need to be reassured that the agencies have cleaned up their financial act; agencies need to come up with a way of justifying the value they undoubtedly can bring to their clients’ businesses.

 Meantime back at Rob’s guidelines, much of what he says makes sense when it comes to the appointment of a new agency or the reviewing of an existing relationship. Open-ness and transparency are all important, as he says.

 Also important (and acknowledged as such) is the role of third party evaluators, or assessors. Which is a bit weird as Xaxis, a GroupM company used to have a ban on external auditors baked into their contracts. Maybe they’ve changed. Or maybe they will.

 Rob’s comments may be perfectly sensible and no doubt they’re meant for a world post ANA (a world I bet the holding companies can’t wait to get to), but despite the press headlines they don’t seek to answer the major issues raised by the ANA. Certainly he’s making a constructive proposal but he’s answering a question that hasn’t been asked.

 In any event, something to consider alongside the GroupM view of life are the implications of all these shenanigans on the media agency model. ID Comms’ Tom Denford’s piece on just that is a good start.

 One of the major and to date unanswered ANA criticisms (that plans are unduly influenced by pre-arranged buys, thus putting an agency’s margin needs ahead of its clients’ business needs) is at the heart of Tom’s suggestions that all sides need to be aware of exactly what model each agency is offering. We shouldn’t mix the ‘trusted advisor’ model with the ‘we don’t care where it comes from as long as it’s cheap’ version (Tom puts this rather better than me).

 It would be nice to think that the major agencies are actively discussing how they’re going to change things whilst in Cannes.

 But then again it would also be nice if a politician answered a question for once.

 

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