Will SPCA initiatives end merger debate?

A merger between the SPCA and the IPA has been on the cards for over a year. But now a solution may have finally been found.

It was a question of value which brought the merger talks between the Sales Promotion Consultants Association (SPCA) and the larger Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) to a halt (MW April 12).

If the merger had gone ahead, SPCA members would have been faced with a substantial membership fee increase, from &£7,000 to &£33,000 for an average size agency. The 53 SPCA members would also have had to compete with more than 200 agencies already belonging to the IPA for their interests to be heard.

SPCA chairman Matthew Hooper says he could not justify a merger with the larger body because of the huge hike in fees. Instead he has come up with a strategy to secure the future of the SPCA.

A commercial arm for members has been launched with the aim of tackling issues affecting agencies across all disciplines, including advertising, design and direct marketing. Hooper hopes the venture will provide greater value for SPCA members.

“The idea has been to create a commercial services arm that is a wholly owned limited company of the SPCA. The arm is run as a commercial operation, with profits being ploughed back into SPCA initiatives,” he says.

A first set of initiatives is aimed at the training and development of personnel, but others will follow.

One project tackles an issue which has long been the subject of debate within the industry – recruitment of graduates. Recruitment is an industry-wide problem and certainly not discipline specific. The aim is to create a specialist unit designed to increase the number of graduates who enter the industry and to prepare them for agency life.

Until now agencies have been left to their own devices when it comes to recruiting graduates. Hooper hopes the specialist unit will not only increase the number of graduates entering the industry but also ensure they are of good calibre.

He says: “If you go out into the market there really isn’t a great awareness of marketing agencies and marketing service agencies. Some people might know advertising agencies and there are some who have household recognition like Saatchi & Saatchi.

“Beyond that there is very little knowledge about what agencies do. The idea is to create a clearing house to concentrate on promoting our membership to various colleges and to educate them as to what life is like in an agency.”

The next phase of the venture will focus on another major problem for many agencies – freelance recruitment. As more people decide to change their lifestyle and go freelance, recruitment is becoming more time consuming for senior management, as well as taking a huge chunk out of agency budgets.

By June, Hooper hopes to be tackling this issue by setting up a unit to screen potential freelancers.

Working along the same lines as the graduate arm, there will be a “policing of who is good and who is bad,” with the possibility of training those who need to update their skills.

A third initiative focusing on bulk procurement of necessities such as stationery and software will possibly be set up by the end of the year.

The idea of working collectively reflects Hooper’s vision of an industry-wide association, which is not discipline specific, but simply looks at what agencies require.

But if the SPCA opens it doors to the hopeful flood of agencies clamouring to use the new services, what will it mean for the future of the association itself? Is this the end of the SPCA as we know it? The commercial arm may mean a new-look trade association, that breaks down the parochial barriers of the industry.

Hooper does not rule out rebranding the SPCA to reflect its new outlook but only if it is what members want.

“I would like membership to be open to all agencies of any size and discipline. I don’t want to get into this parochial debate as to who is better. Let’s not fight among ourselves, let’s work together and create an interesting, fun environment which is a more profitable environment,” says Hooper.

Former SPCA chairman and initiator of the merger talks, Clive Mishon, thinks the commercial venture is “fantastic”.

He agrees the opening up of the SPCA to other agencies may lead to the rebranding of the association, but insists the bottom line is value for members no matter what discipline they represent.

IPA president Rupert Howell and Direct Marketing Association president Colin Lloyd are both keen to see if the commercial arm is successful for the smaller trade body.

The venture is a chance for industry representatives to take control of issues which have troubled the sector over the past few years and make them profitable. The results will be closely watched by agencies and fellow trade bodies alike.

One thing is certain, Hooper firmly believes he has found an answer to the merger question – which has dragged on for over a year – as well as a solution to the recruitment and attitude problems which have dogged the entire industry for much longer.

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