Why adland needs stand firm and fight for what its worth

New IPA president David Pattison tells Ian Burrell how the advertising industry needs to dispel old stereotypes
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The Independent Online

The advertising industry will not get its due respect from other sectors of the media until it starts to value itself. That's the view of David Pattison who just made his own bit of adland history by becoming the first media agency head to be appointed president of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.

"There is not a quick fix; we are not going to get round this in five minutes," he says of the public mistrust of his profession. "We have to attack it on many fronts and prove that what we provide is worth something."

So how does Pattison, chief executive of the PHD network, suggest adland dispels a public image that still owes something to 1980s stereotypes of shallow, red-braced egomaniacs with little moral fibre but enormous capacity for getting the most out of their expense accounts?

He says: "The best way to make them value our industry is to value ourselves a bit more."

For a start, adland needs to start blowing its own trumpet and leading the debate around sensitive issues such as marketing alcohol and selling to children. "Unless we start telling people what we do, how can we expect other people to do it?" he says.

The ad industry needs to start talking the language of business rather than the jargon of the marketer, says Pattison, who will be president of the IPA for two years. "We don't talk the same language as the CEOs of our client companies. Research by the Marketing Society showed that CEOs valued advertising but didn't trust their own marketing departments, let alone the advertising people that worked for them."

Instead of speaking about "qualitative research" or such nebulous concepts as "feel" and "touch", ad people should be embracing the terminology of the boardroom, he says. "Clients see advertising as a cost, not an investment," he says. "It should not be the last thing in the budget and the first thing to come out."

When the ad industry starts to get more respect in business it will find it easier to negotiate a fair price for its efforts. Pattison says: "People are so keen to win a piece of business that they drop their trousers at the slightest whiff of a win. We are supposed to be a premium industry charging premium prices for a premium product." He is clearly exasperated by the willingness of some ad executives to deprive the industry of millions of pounds of business by slashing fees to undercut the competition.

Pattison started his career in 1974 in the media department of the advertising agency Masius, Wynne-Williams and D'arcy McManus (now DMB+B). In 1990, with Jonathan Durden and Nick Horswell, he set up Pattison Horswell Durden (PHD), a media independent company with no billing or income. In six years the business grew to £100m in turnover and in 1996 PHD was bought by Abbott Mead Vickers. Omnicom, the the global media holding company which owns AMV, appointed Pattison chief executive of the PHD network in 2001, asking him to set up an international network of companies based on the PHD model.

Pattison recently returned to London from two years developing PHD's operation in New York. He now thinks the IPA should work more closely with the US advertising body the AAAA. "We have a lot of the same issues - obesity, alcohol advertising - and we have got shared learning that we should do something with."

Pattison is well placed to compare the advertising cultures of New York and London. "In New York you have to make a decision not to buy something because it's in your face all the time. In London you make up your mind to buy something."

He says a major rethink is needed on the present custom of agencies being expected to pitch for free. "We give away fantastic ideas at a new business pitch," he says. "We have to start having the confidence to say 'there's some value in those ideas'. It would be nice to think we would be paid for them."

Although he does not think there are many clients that invite fresh pitches while having no intention of switching agency, he says: "There must be the odd client that decides to have a look out there with no intention of moving." Pattison suggests the IPA could have a future role as a "clearing house" in the pitching process in order to ensure a fairer playing field and reduce the risk of bad practice.

"We are getting close to the point where we have to do something about it," he says.