Pringle still revels in the IPA hot seat

LONDON - After nearly three decades of being involved with the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, the last six as its director general, Hamish Pringle talks to Julia Martin about the challenges ahead

Hamish Pringle has been involved in the IPA, in one form or another, for nearly 30 years. And right now, with the release of the latest Bellwether Report, he seems happier than ever to be sitting in the chief's chair at the advertising industry's trade body.

The report, which he helped instigate as a consultant in 2000, heralds an upturn in fortune for the industry, trumpeting the most positive results in seven years with projections for this surge of success to continue over the next 10 years.

Even Pringle, a man not given to unnecessary displays of over-enthusiasm, allows himself a note of cautious optimism, though he admits such a glowing healthcheck makes him nervous about what could be around the corner.

But he proffers: "A theory as to why things may carry on - and may even get better - is that new technology is enabling lots of small businesses to become successful advertisers who weren't previously able to do so as effectively using local press or directories."

Search is just one example of how small businesses can now advertise in a completely measurable manner, which, he proposes, may give them confidence to do more.

"Maybe it's not too fanciful to think that because of increased accountability, people are prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the bit that's less accountable," he suggests.

 

Cautiously upbeat

Some observers claim the results paint a misleadingly rosy picture, arguing that the inclusion of digital artificially inflates the figures.

But Pringle remains warily upbeat, adding: "Maybe I'm wrong to be nervous; maybe we're moving into a new level of advertising communications."

He believes Bellwether is vital in cementing the advertising business's value in the minds of those who drive and analyse the UK economy.

"I'd long believed the ad business was an indicator of the economy at large and, as we're trying to get our image higher in the City and political circles, if we could prove that was the case, it would embed our part of the creative industries in the governmental and business psyche," he says, explaining why he pushed for its introduction in the first place.

Some question the IPA's increasing conversations with companies such as Accenture and PwC, but Pringle is unequivocal about the logic behind the relationship between "East End money and West End media".

New accounting rules now require firms on the stock exchange to report on their intangible assets and produce a "narrative report" of the associated risks and opportunities, which he argues "presents marketing (and agencies) with a big opportunity to deliver at the top table".

"Brand consultancy Brand Finance has demonstrated convincingly that, on a global basis, 12% of all shareholder value rests in intangible assets called brands. Financial analysts have to analyse that asset value - the numbers are too big to ignore," he explains. "We're trying to exploit that. We're trying to establish a link in the City's mind that there's something in marketing and advertising that's helping to build these assets."

With a new Prime Minister in Number 10, backed by new blood - James Purnell - at the DCMS, Pringle is again cautiously optimistic about a bright new era for media.

Brown has proved his interest through his backing of the Cox Review, a report into creative industries in late 2005. And Purnell is, Pringle claims, "keen on the industry", having tried - and failed - to get into advertising after university.

But he tempers: "We have been stressing to Purnell that it's great that the DCMS and the Work Foundation have recognised that the creative industries are as important as financial services to the UK, but if you continue to beat up advertising as being the work of Satan and the cause of all social ills, you're going to disincentivise talented people from joining it." 

 

Challenges ahead

So the industry's future may be bright, but there are still many challenges, not least a small but significant lobby "who are on a mission to try and stop the commercialisation of life as they see it".

And then there is the ever-complex relationship between agencies and clients, and the eternally thorny issue of remuneration.

The IPA has been working with Isba and procurement body CIPS, through its Magic and Logic initiative, to "come up with alternative methods of remuneration to motivate agencies to produce real value added for clients".

"Our worry is that the prevailing culture - time sheets and resource package fees - is not motivating agencies to do the right thing. The problem is, it's so deeply embedded in the business that a strategy that says 'stop doing it' is not practical. We're trying to get agencies in negotiations with procurement to go for more complex contracts," he says.

So while Pringle may have already clocked up nearly three decades with the IPA, it is clear that his work there is far from done

CV

2001 Director general, IPA

1999 Director and owner, Brand Beliefs

1997 Vice-chairman, director of marketing, Saatchi & Saatchi

1992 Rose to chairman and chief executive, K Advertising (KHBB)

1990 Board director, Leagas Delaney

1986 Managing director, Madell Wilmot Pringle

1982 Shareholder/client services director/board director, Abbott Mead Vickers

1980 New business director (Publicis), board director, McCormick Intermarco-Farner

1976 Rose to associate director, Boase Massimi Pollitt

1975 Account manager, McCormick Richards

1973 Account executive, Ogilvy & Mather

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