UK’s IPA ad trade body signs up to new government replacement for the COI – but what exactly is it?

As most ad people in the UK now know, the COI (Central Office of Information), which handled government ad campaigns among other duties, has been nixed to save money; fair enough as the COI spent the stuff as though it was going out of fashion, although it does seem to have had some unintended (although predictable) consequences: road deaths are going up, for example.

So there’s a new, albeit rather mysterious, regime in place and two Whitehall panjandrums turned up at last week’s IPA Council (comprising the UK’s top agency bods) to explain it.

This is what the IPA says of the meeting:

At last week’s meeting of the IPA Council, Jenny Grey (Executive Director for Government Communication at the Cabinet Office, pictured left)) and Wendy Proctor (Deputy Director, Cabinet Office Shared Comms Service) shared the vision for the new centralized model of communications which will deliver joined-up thinking and integrated solutions on Government comms planning and more agile and accessible procurement arrangements for suppliers.

Fine, but aren’t ‘joined-up thinking’ and ‘integrated solutions’ value judgements rather than a description of what the gals were on about?

Here’s what Grey and Procter had to say (according to the IPA’s press release):

The immediate focus is to ensure that replacement frameworks are in place for the existing COI contracts due to expire within the next few months to ensure continuity of service.

The frameworks will be publicised through OJEU in July and September and cover Creative Services, Delivery and Execution, Market Research, Communications Planning and Strategy and Planning. Awards will be announced in September and November respectfully (sic).

There is also a dynamic route to market being established to support the services being provided by the main frameworks which will allow greater access to Government work up to the value of £100k without the need for the lengthy OJEU procurement process. Opportunities will be advertised through ContractsFinder and niche suppliers are being encouraged to register their interest.

Once the new frameworks are in place, Central Government Departments and arm’s lengths bodies (ALBs) will be mandated to use the new arrangements and to manage the contracts awarded.

Hmm. What the fuck (I’m getting more like George Parker, I can’t help it) do OJEU and ALB mean? And, indeed, the rest of it.

The press release goes on:

In the discussion that followed at Council, Grey outlined her willingness to hear feedback on the phasing process and the IPA is contacting its members, including those attending its June Council, to collate an industry view on the process.

Says Paul Bainsfair, Director General, IPA : ” The COI was a tough act to follow – but times move on and it’s good to know that Government recognises the value of effective advertising and is prepared to spend behind it. Agencies will take a little while to get used to the new set-up, but the rationale for the change, and the enthusiasm of the Government Communications Centre are indisputable. We look forward to working together to make it successful.”

Now I’m not knocking Paul Bainsfair, the IPA or its comms staff, who struggle manfully to communicate all the stuff that comes their way. But the above is an Enola Gay-sized guano dump.

Advertising people are notorious for declining to round on clients and others and tell them not to be so stupid, to think again or get lost. Their instinct always is to make the best of it, even if there’s no best in it at all.

Allow me to rewrite the first bit of the press release.

Government communications supremos Jenny Grey and Wendy Proctor addressed the IPA Council about their plans to replace the COI. These amounted to the most half-baked, unnecessarily bureaucratic and pointless proposals even the most seasoned members of the Council had ever heard in a lifetime of listening to daft clients.

IPA director general Paul Bainsfair invited them to go back and think again and suggested the drinks were on them.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

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    Just to be clear COI spent money on behalf of government clients, including the cabinet office at their behest. COI never held/owned budget and it wasn’t within COI’s remit/power to ask clients to spend less.