There are definitely a few swallows out there, though whether they herald a summer of recovery remains to be seen.
Only last week, Aegis signalled cautious optimism while announcing a decent set of year-end figures. Simultaneously, the Advertising Association unveiled quarterly figures which, if not entirely upbeat about the radio sector and business magazines, contained some remarkably good news for outdoor. Overall, the AA figures may suggest the decline has bottomed out.
This week, it is Initiative Media which is sounding the advance. Europe, particularly Germany, remains mired in gloom, but Britain, it seems, is about to lead the way to recovery. Initiative points up reasonable growth across all sectors, with radio being the slowest at 2.9 per cent and internet advertising the fastest (admittedly from a small base) at nearly 50 per cent.
Before we pop the champagne corks, however, a word of warning. Imminent recovery is far from a universally held view. Even sanguine Initiative cautions that all bets are off if the war in Iraq turns into a military quagmire. Others have been much gloomier in their predictions. Neil Blackley, after 20 years as a top City analyst covering agencies and media companies, recently quit the business with the chilly message that there is unlikely to be substantial recovery any time soon. And the Sage of Farm Street (aka Sir Martin Sorrell) remains firmly wedded to his view, enunciated a year ago, that – despite an adequate January and February – there will be no upturn before the Olympic Games and US presidential elections of 2004.
But there are more important long-term issues facing the marketing community than the timing of an upturn in marketing spend. And Peter Fisk, newly installed chief executive of the CIM, addresses some of them head on in this week’s Mitchell column.
Fisk, in what amounts to a personal manifesto, clearly regards better industry leadership as essential if marketing is ever to achieve its rightful place in the business mix. His main point is that cost efficiency is all very well, but effective marketing has to comprise a lot more than that if it is to bring value to all stakeholders – from those who buy the products to those who buy shares in the company producing them. Smartly thought out, smartly focused and smartly executed, effective marketing creates a kind of virtuous circle – not least for marketing directors, who will find their budgets swell rather than diminish when they bring the right efficiencies to bear. Fisk cites Cadbury Schweppes, which has increased its marketing spend by 87 per cent over four years, while doubling its share price.
But there’s more. ‘We really need to challenge the conventions of business: marketers should be the driving force of strategy and change,’ he says.
These are commendable, enthusiastic sentiments. The trouble is, they are not yet widely adopted within the marketing community, let alone without. It will be Fisk’s task – and opportunity – to ensure that they are.