The Secret Marketer: will marketing survive the economic climate?


I attended an industry networking dinner this week hosted by a leading headhunting firm, which had gathered together an eclectic group of clients, movers and shakers for an intimate think-tank discussion and dinner.

The debate was governed by the Chatham House Rule, which forbids me from sharing the detail via this column. But what exactly does Chatham House require?

First, a brief history lesson. Chatham House is a listed building in London that was home to three prime ministers (William Pitt the Elder, Edward Stanley and William Gladstone) before being gifted to what was then the British Institute of International Affairs in 1923.

The Chatham House Rule was first established in 1927 and is now used around the world.

Marketing budgets will face further cuts and there will be little appetite for risky innovation

Meetings do not have to take place at Chatham House to be held under the rule. Note rule, not rules. There is only one rule.

When a meeting is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but not to identify the speaker or any other participant or their affiliations.

So there you have it. The heart of the rule is about the dissemination of information after the event – nothing should be done to identify, either explicitly or implicitly, who said what.

So now that I’ve doubled checked what is required of me, here’s what was on the mind of some of Britain’s top bosses.

Nobody was in denial about how bad the economy is faring. The general consensus is that we are in for at least five years of rough and tumble as consumers continue to be thrifty.

Everybody is terrified about what is going to happen with the sovereign debt crisis. Several in the room commented that their businesses now have full-time crisis management contingency teams working on the basis that at least one euro nation will default at some point in 2012.

Can marketing ride to the rescue? The view is that marketing budgets will face further cuts and there will be little appetite for risky innovation. This is a time to stick to the knitting, defend the core and not be distracted by fancy ideas.

For those readers worried that this was a forum for gloomy finance directors and CEOs, here is the really bad news. Everybody in the room worked in marketing.

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