NEWS ANALYSIS: AGENCY TRADE BODIES - Hooper cites merger conditions

When Interfocus boss Matthew Hooper first talked about taking on

the chair of the SPCA, his reluctance was evident: he has been witness

to the time and effort put in by Marketing Drive head Clive Mishon who

stood down from the chair this month. And the agency trade body is in

the process of substantial flux that could see it ceasing to exist in

its independent guise by this time next year.

Yet Hooper has taken on the role, and while he has yet to define a

formal agenda, high on the priority list is the issue that has taken up

much of the SPCA's energies for the past year - a merger with the


Members are said to have been consulted widely over the move and it's

certainly been a consuming passion for Mishon, whose aim has been to

commandeer a louder voice - and more power - for agencies across the


Hooper agrees with Mishon that a stronger voice for agencies is


'Both the IPA and the SPCA recognise that there is a value to pooling

resources - regardless of what disciplines agencies are working in,

there are more common denominators than there are differences, so it

makes sense to work together.'

But while Mishon seems to be in favour of a full merger - 'our vision is

geared towards a single, strong body acting for the needs of agency

practitioners' - Hooper seems to be adopting a more cautious stance.

'We're still courting - the relationship may mean leaving it at pooling

resources, or further down the line, something more. But that will be

done only when, and if, it's appropriate.'

The IPA is certainly in favour of a merger. President Rupert Howell says

categorically that it will happen. 'It's the smart way forward and the

move certainly has the unanimous support from the IPA council,' he says.

'The IPA is already a broad church in terms of our representation. I

believe that 99 per cent of the issues faced by all agencies are the

same - payment by results, pitching guidelines, human resources and

training. The differences can be accommodated,' he states.

Negotiations are well underway. Money is seen as a big sticking point,

given that the IPA subscription costs are seen as higher than the


Hooper admits that cost is certainly an issue. 'But we have to

concentrate on value rather than price, and do that in a way that

doesn't isolate members.' As Hooper took over at the AGM at the

beginning of November, there was an increase in SPCA fees, which, he

explained, will enable the trade body to progress and cover other issues

that need funding.

Also, plans are underway for the IPA to offer its services to SPCA

members 'for a nominal subscription' and for a test time, enabling SPCA

agencies to see what they would get for the higher cost of IPA

membership. The test period, timed to begin at the end of this year or

the beginning of the next, will also ensure that SPCA members don't

'flood the IPA's resources', says Howell.

Yet what may scupper merger plans for good is not likely to be money or

resources, but the merged association's name. Both Hooper and Mishon,

who retains a role on the SPCA committee, are adamant that any union is

viewed as just that, rather than a take over. 'The merger will not

happen if it is about the SPCA moving into the IPA. We will be a new

organisation, not an existing one with more members, and we want to be

seen as truly representative of marketing agencies, without the

traditional bias that comes from the disciplines that those agencies

work within,' states Mishon.

For Mishon, and Hooper, the name is certainly high on the agenda. As

Mishon reiterates: 'If it's to be genuinely different, the name will

have to represent that.'

Yet the IPA has been around since 1917. It is well known, and Howell

claims the brand has equity because of it. 'I don't foresee a name

change, because I don't think that there needs to be one. In the eyes of

the consumer, what all of us do is advertising, which makes any change

irrelevant,' he states. 'But that's not to say never - if it's

beneficial or appropriate, then yes, we would consider it.'

Apart from that, the only other impediment to union is concerns from the

SPCA's regional members, normally smaller agencies, that their needs are

going to be sidelined in favour of the bigger players. Mishon's take is

that there will always be an issue in terms of size. 'The SPCA doesn't

show any bias to the bigger or the smaller agency, but there is an

inevitable trade off between larger firms because they are better


In contrast, Howell dismisses the marginalisation worries of smaller

agencies. 'The IPA already has 220 members, of which the majority are

small and out of town. It's part of the IPA's remit to enable these

agencies to have access to services that the bigger groups would have

in-house anyway.'

So if the merger goes ahead, what is the time scale? While Hooper and

Mishon are sticking to a softly-softly approach, Howell is bullish. He

steps down as IPA president in just under six months' time, but

guarantees that the merger will remain a priority with whoever succeeds

him. 'It will happen,' he insists. 'The test period will certainly

happen in my tenure, and I predict that the final, signed, sealed and

delivered merger won't be too far down the line, maybe this time next


In the meantime, Hooper has other issues he has to address, if only to

justify the increase in SPCA fees - the first increase for three


'There's a desperate need to find talent and raise the awareness of

marketing communications. It is vital we pitch ourselves to talented

individuals and start to look at things like starting salaries and

training - that holds true both for those who are coming into it, as

well as for those already in it.'

Also on his agenda is raising awareness among clients and 'underlining

the value that agencies bring to their business. We need to do more work

to communicate this by ensuring that agencies are more in harmony in

their approach.' Greater lobbying power is also on the list of


All these are lofty, 'big-picture' aims, as Hooper readily admits. He's

aware that the SPCA is a voluntary association and warns of falling into

the sort of mentality 'where it's OK for other people to contribute, but

I'm not doing it.' It's why he accepted the chair's role, and ultimately

why he hopes others will want to get involved.


Promotional Merchandise Trade Association (PROMTA)

Members: 900

Annual subscription: pounds 245 plus VAT

Chairman: David Long

Set up in 1958, it represents distributors and suppliers in giftware and

promotional industries

Benefits: include free legal advice, sourcing service, and an annual

trade show which restricts exhibition space to members only

British Promotional Merchandise Association (BPMA)

Members: 800

Annual subscription: pounds 255

Chairman: Liz Karn

Trade body for manufacturers and suppliers of promotional


Benefits: include sourcing service, free 24-hour legal advice and credit

checks on potential clients, a bi-monthly magazine, annual BPMA yearbook

as well as listing on the BPMA website

Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA)

Members: 220

Annual subscription: on a sliding scale of roughly 0.4 per cent of an

agency's gross revenue

Director general: Nick Phillips President: Rupert Howell

Agency body set up to represent advertising agencies' collective

interests and as a servicing body to negotiate on behalf of its members

with media bodies, government departments and unions. Now claims broader

remit representing the interests of all marketing agencies

Benefits: free legal advice, lobbying, training schemes

Institute of Sales Promotion (ISP)

Members: 2,000-plus

Annual subscription: pounds 1,475 plus VAT (full corporate)

Secretary general: Susan Short Chairman: Randle Stonier

Claims to be the only organisation that represents the whole of the SP

industry. Members include promoters, suppliers and agencies

Benefits: legal service, educational programmes, including the ISP

diploma, seminars, and research and information services

Sales Promotion Consultants Association (SPCA)

Members: 60-plus

Annual subscription: starts at pounds 2,500 based on turnover and

currently under review

Secretary general: Jan Johnston Chairman: Matthew Hooper

Represents marcoms agencies with cross-disciplines including DM, SP,

advertising and market research, PR and market consulting

Benefits: include the portfolio service - a client agency selection

facility, members directory - posted to 20,000 plus clients, the SPCA

Awards, an agency salary survey, the results of which are available only

to members, training and research, plus graduate clearing programme.


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