Knights of the round table pitch for marketing

MARKETING people spend plenty of time marketing other people and things, but hitherto have not put much effort into themselves. That changed last week, when some of the leading lights of British industry gathered with much ceremony to launch the Marketing Council, a body that aims to effectively "market" marketing.

The new council certainly has heavyweight support. Headed by the British Airways chairman, Sir Colin Marshall, and backed by a retinue of other knights including Sir Michael Perry of Unilever, Sir Alistair Grant of Argyll, and Sir John Egan of BAA; two government departments - Trade and Industry and Education and Employment - and various marketing organisations, it is intended to raise the standards of UK marketing and customer service.

Its chief executive is John Stubbs, a Unilever marketer who will be in charge of the day- to-day running. He says its main function is "to tackle a national agenda to promote marketing as a key to wealth-creation and competition". Its main target audience will be chief executives, because, says Mr Stubbs, "they can make the biggest difference to raising standards within an organisation".

Apart from its government funding, the Marketing Council has convinced a number of leading companies to provide "seed money", which Mr Stubbs says runs into tens of thousands of pounds. It is now asking each of the UK's top 5,000 companies for a pounds 4,000 subscription and is formulating plans for donations from smaller companies.

While its intentions may be laudable and big British companies are prepared to back it financially, cynics may say that the last thing the marketing industry needs is another industry body. Although it is primarily aimed at chief executives, some wonder what it can do for the humble marketing director wbo has seen his budget slashed and his staff made redundant through recession. One leading marketer asks: "Aren't there enough of these sort of bodies already stuffed full of talking heads banging the drum for Britain while it's us that are on the front line every day?"

Another says: "While I appreciate its good intentions, I think it is just going to be bureaucratic and unwieldy."

Mr Stubbs dismisses both allegations. He says that it will be an extremely lean organisation that will bring the existing marketing organisations together to tackle the issues to hand. And he adds: "We did some research among marketing directors, and there was a close convergence between what they thought needed doing and what the Marketing Council is doing. A high number said that they wanted to contribute and help."

One of the council's aims is to promote the importance of marketing to the Government, Europe and the City. It will also talk to those sectors of British industry that have not invested in marketing in the past, to convince them of its importance and help them define good practice.

It will also look at training and education. Mr Stubbs says that it is treating this with almost evangelical zeal, because currently there is no single approach to defining what industry actually needs from people taking marketing courses.

But will all this have any impact on the public? Mr Stubbs believes it will. He says: "A central principle of marketing is based on the notion that you can target and maintain customer satisfaction, but that requires being able to measure customer satisfaction. Companics may say that they already do that, but very few systematically find out if customers are noticing improving levels of service or if they are changing their views about a company."