A Humpty task – can Fisk crack it?

It is no mean achievement to make the politics of industry bodies an interesting and important subject. Which is the least that can be said of Peter Fisk, as he wrestles with the prickly task of hauling the Chartered Institute of Marketing into the 21st century.

The new chief executive has set about his radical agenda with brio – and it is the pace and ambition of his reforms which is causing some problems, both internally and in the industry at large.

The CIM, though the wealthiest and largest industry body, with about 60,000 members and considerable international presence, is commonly regarded as a bit of a sleeping giant. Its traditional remit is training and education. Dull but worthy. And, indeed, vital stuff for the junior to middle orders in marketing who swell the ranks of its membership.

Herein lies its simultaneous strength and weakness as a representative organisation. The CIM can count on stolid loyalty, but is scarcely in a position – as yet – to consider itself the cutting edge of the marketing industry. Arguably, that is what other organisations are there to do. ISBA, the IPA and the Advertising Association, for instance, are seen as the main lobbying conduit for government, European Union and wider industry issues. The Marketing Society, on the other hand, has long been the natural forum for senior networking within the industry.

Fisk has the potential to muddy a generally calm millpond. While this does not appear to be his conscious intention, it will be an inevitable consequence of staking out some of the ‘higher ground’ in the marketing world.

The cool detachment of an experienced management consultant has given Fisk an admirable grasp of the bigger picture. Most marketers would surely concur with him in saying that their skills and professionalism are not taken seriously enough by UK plc or in government circles. Note, for instance, the poor consideration given to advertisers’ interests during the drawing up of the Communications Bill, and during the referral of the ITV merger. One inescapable reason for this is the blurred and confusing picture the industry presents in public. So there is plenty to salute in Fisk’s determination to get marketing ‘speaking with a single voice’.

But it’s a Humpty Dumpty of an issue, which requires the utmost tact and savoir faire if the parts are to be assembled effectively. What we have seen so far of an industry trying to consolidate itself does not impress. Aborted negotiations between the IPA and DMA have left the fabric of the Big Tent looking distinctly flabby. Meanwhile, a merger between the CIM and the Marketing Society (once a CIM-breakaway) – logical on paper – looks as distant as ever.

In such circumstances, it may be tempting to believe the CIM, as the best-endowed and largest player, should go it alone. There is much to applaud in scrapping the ineffectual Marketing Council and attempting to create in the CIM an academy of excellence. Nevertheless, to take the project further will require the full collaboration of both Fisk’s industry peers and the CIM’s workforce. At the moment, he shows signs of alienating both.

‘You can’t make an omelette without cracking eggs’ may have been a maxim that served Lenin well, but it won’t work in the gentler, less autocratic, world of marketing.

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