The Primacy of the Client

Last week saw the UK Advertising Association’s Renew 2022 event, held jointly with the IPA (agencies) and ISBA (advertisers). In amongst excellent initiatives on growing and maintaining talent, and improving inclusiveness ISBA’s President, Peter Duffy,’s CEO updated delegates on Project Origin.

This is the cross-media measurement initiative launched by ISBA’s DG, Phil Smith at the asi event in Prague in 2019.

Duffy made the point that many have made before him back to 2019 (including this blog) that Origin isn’t seeking to replace any of the existing JIC services: “Origin does not seek to replace other projects or solutions; instead it’s trying to complement them”. His speech is comprehensively covered here, on Mediatel.

One of the more interesting aspects is who funds Origin. I’ve argued, both from the stage at the original asi launch, and subsequently that a levy is the best bet; indeed that is apparently still under consideration.

It was interesting that Duffy listed current ‘funding partners’ of Origin.

26 advertisers; 5 agency holding groups (why no Havas?); one indie agency (The Kite Factory – not the usual suspects); 8 platforms / media owners (Facebook, Google, Amazon but no broadcasters).

How come?

When I started, in the full-service agency era the most important person in any of our lives was the client.

It was clients who paid our wages; agencies rose and fell on the back of work they did for their clients.

And what did clients buy? Creativity.

The best bought great work; but defining ‘creativity’ was always hard and many clients struggled with a definition of ‘good’ let alone ‘great’.

Media on the other hand was binary. Cheap was good,, cheaper was better. And defining ‘cheap’ needed a currency measure.

Along came media agencies, in the UK in the early 1970’s. They flourished because they focussed on buying better. They cut advertisers’ costs two ways – lower commissions and lower media prices.

Over time they worked out, as media supply increased at a far faster rate than demand that they could make money from vendors.

Clients weren’t engaged, the agencies made hay. The relationship between agency and vendor was what mattered. Clients were side-lined – more to the point they let themselves be side-lined.

Then along came Jon Mandel, transparency and all that stuff.

Suddenly clients were paying attention, in spades. The agency gravy train hit the buffers, and here we are.

This is I know massively simplistic, but there is one important piece in the middle of it all. Agency and vendor was the relationship that mattered. Clients came and went, changing agencies on the back of trading promises made and rarely kept.

Agencies had come to realise they couldn’t make decent money from clients, so they looked elsewhere to allow them to live in the manner to which they had become accustomed.

With hindsight they could have changed focus from buying to planning; from volume to high-end consulting, but it’s hard for a management leopard to change its spots. Agencies were largely managed by traders; so trading is what they did. If one trading avenue closed, another would open soon enough.

But recently clients have been moving centre-stage. Origin is a worthy attempt to deliver something all planners need as a first step in a process that will ultimately help them assess the value of their multi-channel communications.

Agencies have been left not as initiators, or drivers but as contributors.

Broadcasters still seem to be living in a world of cost-driven deals, where the cake was for ever growing and their only worry was their share.

It is so obvious that the game has changed. Broadcasters are now up against Facebook, Google and the rest, companies multiple times their size. Money has for ages been flowing the way of the platforms and away from the broadcasters.

They can continue fighting over an ever-smaller cake and become irrelevant to the guys who ultimately pay them – the advertisers.

Or they can change the game. After all, if you can’t win at volume of audience you can either moan on about audience definitions (and still lose) or focus on what you can deliver – an attentive audience (comparatively) seeing the message on a large screen (comparatively) surrounded by trusted editorial content (comparatively).

Broadcasters should realise advertisers are doing what they, and furthermore the industry as a whole needs to do. That happens to include an ambitious research programme based around planning needs, not buying numbers.

The buying numbers bit is well catered for by the JICs. That’s the bit where the broadcasters have historically felt most comfortable, but the game has moved on.

Calling foul on the technicality of definitions – which is what it is, albeit a very large and important technicality will lose the broadcasters advertiser supporters, influence and money.

Anyone will tell you; if you’re losing then better to change the game than complain about the rules.

And if you’re being beaten up, better to get onside.

Broadcasters should join Origin. Sharpish

  1. Dear Brian,
    I read your blog with great interest and enjoy many of your well informed view points. However, on this occasion I fear you are wide of the mark. Rather than rant in a response why don’t you contact me and we would happily explain in person why the broadcasters/ITV while supportive of the initiative are less support of the approach. Then maybe you could write a piece with a greater understanding of all points of view.

  2. Hi Simon
    Thanks for your comment, and for the kind words. I guess you can’t always please everyone!
    I don’t set out to write the blog as if I was a proper journalist, seeking out different points of view and trying to balance them. I’m not a journalist – and I don’t pretend to be one.
    It’s a blog, so all I’m doing is reflecting my view – some will agree, many no don’t won’t! It seems to generate a fair bit of comment, fortunately for my mental well-being most of it positive!
    As it happens I have talked to a fair number of people about Origin. I sort-of feel an affinity with it given I was there on stage debating with Phil when he announced it. I have been watching the broadcasters’ PoV evolve although I admit I haven’t spoken to anyone at any of the channels.
    If I’ve said anything inaccurate, as opposed to expressing a view you may not like or agree with then I’m always happy to correct the mistake.

  3. You know you are doing something right if someone feels “addressed” 😉

    I wanted to suggest a minor edit to the following truthful and hilarious sentence:

    “After all, if you can’t win at volume of audience you can either moan on about audience definitions (and still lose) or focus on what you can deliver — an attentive audience (comparatively) seeing the message on a large screen (comparatively) surrounded by trusted editorial content (comparatively).”

    I suggest replacing that last “comparatively” with “allegedly”. Just kidding… I was thinking of Fox News.

    Great post!

  4. Thanks Maarten, praise indeed! Fortunately for us we don’t (yet) have Fox News. We have GBNews but it has virtually no viewers.
    And equally few advertisers.
    So I suppose ‘comparatively ‘ covers it..!

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