Are eight heads any better than none?

The arrival of Thinkbox is welcome, but its lack of a full-time staff and low budget suggests it could be disappointing

The creation of a marketing body for commercial television has been a long time coming. Other media have been doing it for years, often with considerable success. The Radio Advertising Bureau, for instance, gained popularity among advertisers by bringing its medium to life and making it accountable.

TV companies, though, often seemed – certainly prior to the ITV merger – far too busy fighting each other to worry about competition from other media. The arrival of Thinkbox suggests that those days are gone. Internal rivalries must be set aside when your medium is being outpaced on all sides.

Thinkbox comes to TV quite late in the medium’s life-cycle. It must aspire, at least in the short term, to very different goals than those of similar representative bodies. This is where its crucial point of difference lies. Other trade bodies have been designed to encourage the growth of a medium. Will Thinkbox be trying to manage decline?

The good news is that many of Thinkbox’s aims will be well received by advertisers. It is hard to fault its ambition to “help customers get the best out of television”. To prioritise improving perceptions of the medium and encouraging dialogue with customers seems sensible.

Media agencies too will welcome this dialogue if it leads to new, innovative and effective solutions for clients. And Thinkbox could be an opportunity for advertisers and TV companies to campaign together, showing strong leadership over issues such as regulation of break patterns or product placement.

If Thinkbox succeeds in improving the quality of advertising and makes TV more accountable, it will be worthwhile. However, there are bound to be concerns about its ability to effect such change.

Finding any time when all eight members of the board – each one a senior director – can meet will be a logistical challenge in itself. That a “working group” sub-committee has been created implies that these time-pressures are already encouraging delegation. What is to stop this from being passed even further down the line, lessening influence at each step? Management by committee rarely results in a strong, coherent vision or the achievement to match. In the same way, it is difficult to see how a virtual body without permanent staff or a dedicated figurehead will ever live up to the hyperbole.

And the warning signs do not end here. This year’s budget of &£1.5m seems small for an industry of this size. It is to be hoped this merely signifies a prudent approach rather than a lack of commitment from those involved in this new marketing body.

Thinkbox has been established to realise the potential of an underachieving medium. As such, it should be welcomed, despite concerns over its operating structure. The real litmus test, though, will be whether it delivers more than just rhetoric, and whether it can operate above private agendas and old rivalries to produce benefits that will be felt throughout the industry.

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