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IPA director Hamish Pringle attacks government’s COI cuts

IPA director Hamish Pringle has launched a vociferous attack on the government’s COI cuts. He spoke to The Drum exclusively, laying bare his frustrations and pointing out a more sensible way forward.

Hamish Pringle, director of the IPA, was vocal in his criticism of the government when he spoke exclusively to The Drum last week. His concerns centred around the Government’s decision to slash COI budgets dramatically.

That Pringle is so vociferous may come from the fact that he is to step down from his role in the IPA next year, allowing him to talk more openly. However, it no doubt comes too from the frustration of seeing effective work coming to a stop just when the momentum was building.

In light of the Government’s announcement earlier this month that it is to axe up to 40% of COI marketing jobs, Pringle has accused the Government of making the cuts in an “unintelligent” way.

Around 290 of the 740 marketing jobs at the COI will be axed as part of a voluntary redundancy programme, which begins immediately with a 90-day consultation.

The news has been greeted with caution by the IPA, with Pringle outlining his feelings exclusively to The Drum, saying that he finds the way that the Government is approaching these job cuts as “frustrating” and “unintelligent”.

He told The Drum: “We find this whole process highly frustrating. Not because we don’t understand the need for cuts and expenditure throughout the country, but we are finding the manner in which it is being talked about in reference to our industry, frankly, quite offensive at times.

“There doesn’t seem to be any understanding and, if that’s the case, a very cavalier, scorched earth approach is being taken. Cutting everything regardless is a rather unintelligent way of going about business.

Waste of money

“If you are going to cut the COI’s budget by 40 percent, meaning that a chunk of the programmes are going to have to go, you need to apply some criteria as to which go and which stay. Everybody understands that and while they won’t like it they will understand the process.”

But why does Frances Maude, Minister of the Cabinet Office, say that the days of spending millions of pounds on expensive projects are over? In doing so he suggests that the investment to date has been a waste of money?

We know, because we run the Effectiveness Awards, how proven the results of these Government campaigns are.

“Two years ago we published a book called ‘Public Advertising Works’ which was a compendium of the learning of around 39 COI campaigns. We had Sir Gus O’Donnell [Cabinet Secretary] at the launch event saying great things about what the COI was doing. Now, suddenly, the government is claiming that the whole thing is a waste of money. That is unacceptable.”

Pringle claims that it would be a much better idea to build on the success that campaigns like Change for Life have already achieved in a relatively short period of time. “We’re talking about major behaviour changes here, and I don’t see the logic of stopping something like that. When you launch a new brand or product, why would you cut the investment just when it’s beginning to get some trial?

“If you turn the engines off on a jet plane it doesn’t crash immediately, it glides for a while and then it nose dives. That is the misleading thing about advertising, marketing and communications, it doesn’t just stop as soon as you stop advertising or promoting. And at present we have that momentum.”

However, despite his frustrations, Pringle says that he does not intend to make life any more difficult for bosses at the COI and is aiming to work closely with them in the coming months. “We have a good working relationship with the COI and we have fairly regular contact with them. We’re trying to support them through this difficult period and come up with ideas. We have recommended to Government that they can still be maintaining agency relationships.

“We’ve also made some suggestions to the Government requiring payment by results contracts for agencies working on their accounts.”

There’s strong pressure being applied by the Cabinet Office to bring this in and there have been elements of payment by results already in place for some of the COI contracts.

Behavioural change

”Clearly it is a very tricky area and behavioural change is very rarely an overnight sensation,” says Pringle. “It is very hard to actually establish fair key performance indicators within the context of social campaigns.

“We’ve already said that we are enthusiastic for payment by results if it is fair and recognises that this is not about punishing agencies, but about rewarding them for outperformance.

“Our view is that if you are on the COI framework, that in itself is an achievement. Agencies who are on the framework and are being given work deserve to make a normal profit on the business”, claims Pringle.

“A good agency should earn between 15-20 percent. That’s what it takes to reinvest in the business, in people, in training and IT... We can see that relatively few agencies actually achieve that level of profitability because of procurement and the competitive environment that we operate within.”

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