Platinum handcuffs muddy salary issue

Just as the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) was congratulating itself on a thoroughly professional appraisal of agency remuneration – in conjunction with other august industry bodies such as the ISBA MCCA and PRCA – along comes the Ed Morris affair to rain on their parade.

The industry paper is timely. Agency margins are under pressure as never before, having slipped from about 20 per cent to nearer 12 across the board. Whether we blame the slow eclipse of the 30-second commercial, the growing power of procurement departments or the relentless need for greater accountability, the advertising industry is under the cosh. Yet it remains, and will remain into the foreseeable future, the largest single component of marketing services. David Pattison, who has wrapped his IPA presidency around a hard-nosed survivalist strategy, makes an irrefutable point in launching the remuneration guidelines. The trend must be reversed. Good work demands a fair reward; otherwise, ultimately, both parties to the bargain will suffer.

Sadly, Mr Morris has – through no particular fault of his own – rather undermined the manifesto debate by reminding us (well, clients at any rate) that advertising is also about gigantic, flailing egos who cost a great deal of money. The exact elements of Morris’s highly generous package, which have caused near hysteria in some circles, are less important than what the package symbolises. Morris, commonly regarded as the creative dynamo of Lowe, was all set to defect with the rest of the Tesco team to Sir Frank Lowe’s new outfit, Red Brick Road. And then he wasn’t; it being difficult to escape the conclusion that Lowe had paid dearly for the pleasure of keeping his services.

As a matter of fact, what he is being paid (or given as a benefit in kind) is not abnormal, given his status. It is certainly theoretically attainable in other agencies, all the more so as it seems to be guaranteed for only three years. Lowe could also, if it were so minded, point out that it is no business of anyone else what it has paid to retain one of its stars; without him, the work and reputation of the agency might have suffered irremediably. In this sense, it could be argued, the agency business is little different to being a Premiership club.

Sadly, this is a timeless aperçu about the agency business has less and less resonance with clients. They see the generous sums being disbursed with the same jaundiced air of shell-shocked troops returning to an uncaring, frivolous home-front after years in the trenches. The more perceptive point out the absurdity of top-end agency pay scales that mirror those of blue-chip publicly listed companies.

It’s all the more unfortunate in that client conduct is itself far from irreproachable. EasyJet’s casual decision to repitch its &£50m European account no doubt cost a number of agencies over &£50,000 apiece to be eliminated. And for what good reason? Responsibility cuts both ways. But then, he who pays the piperâ¦

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