Let's look forward, but outwards too

Sarah Golding's future-facing agenda as IPA president focuses rightly on technology but also on fighting the advertising industry's corner.

Sitting proudly among the alliterations in Sarah Golding’s IPA president’s speech at the Waldorf Hilton last Wednesday were lots of interesting ideas. The push to embrace new technology to build a forward-looking industry fit for the future grabbed most of the initial attention. Yet her plans to shift the body’s focus outwards could be as important.

The IPA presidents of recent times have done much for the business. Since 2015, Tom Knox’s "Here for good" agenda has pushed its flagship issue of diversity to the top of everyone’s to-do list. The next step is for executives running companies to start effecting real change. After all, this year’s report failed to show much improvement. Yesterday, Grey London hosted a closed event with senior leaders from across the sector to brainstorm how they’re going to really change the ratio. 

The IPA will continue to be there to support agencies in their diversity journey – and Golding is hugely supportive of the push – but the subject needn’t be the focus of her agenda to become a reality. 

The tech industry has stolen much of the swagger that used to belong to the advertising game. It’s for us to claim it back. Why shouldn’t investors and financial journalists get as excited about creative tech as they do about health tech and fintech? Getting involved in London Tech Week as part of the IPAi strand of Golding’s agenda is a good first step. 

Golding’s outward-looking approach is also evident in the third plank of her agenda: monitoring the machines. She wants the IPA to take a more proactive role in industry debates such as ad fraud and the recent YouTube brand-safety crisis. ISBA and the Association of National Advertisers in the US have put the myriad issues synonymous with digital advertising into the spotlight. But the agency world should wrest back some of the initiative. It has at least as much skin in the game. Stands such as the vote of no confidence against the Government Procurement Service in 2013 are all too infrequent.

The Advertising Association already represents the wider industry externally but there should be space for the IPA too. Advertising is one of the creative industries’ – and the British economy’s – greatest success stories and the agency landscape is central to that. The AA has just submitted a "bullish" proposal to the government’s industrial green paper. The AA has called for the UK to position itself as a global media and advertising hub in a post-Brexit world. It has also proposed a new advertising tax credit as a driver of domestic growth. 

There is no gain from the various industry bodies simply working against each other. Pleasingly, ISBA director-general Phil Smith has made soothing noises to allay the distrust prompted by the body’s aggressive and non-collaborative push of its new media agency contract. And the IPA fed into the AA response to the green paper. But there should be issues where the IPA can carve out its own role, fighting its part of the industry’s corner where necessary. Golding looks set to make sure it does just that.

Maisie McCabe is acting UK editor of Campaign. 

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