He is pinning much of his hope for a revitalized CBBB on BBBOnLine, a new program to develop guidelines for corporate Web sites. And Jim says the CBBB has lined up enough sponsors for BBBOnLine -- which have chipped in $5 million -- to make it entirely self-funding and not take away any of CBBB's support for NARC.
The sad fact remains that for now CBBB and the ad industry don't have the money to hire a new head man or woman to run NARC. The problem is CBBB's dues-paying members number half what they did at their high point in 1970. Ad agencies, Jim told me, represent the biggest decline. "Advertisers should urge agencies to join," he said. "They should say, 'You really should support this process' of self-regulation."
CBBB's current 322 national members each pay a percentage of its revenue as dues, which amounts to $2.5 million a year. That sum hasn't changed since the council was formed in 1970, Jim said. Overall CBBB revenues are about $17 million, most from Auto Line, the largest dispute-resolution program in the world. (It handles about 32,000 mostly warranty cases a year.)
The 132 local Better Business Bureau chapters, by the way, bring in another $60 million in annual dues. The national CBBB operation gets 1.5% of that for programs it administers for local chapters.
The point is there's a lot of money sloshing around here, and yet the ad self-regulatory programs get only about 60% of the $2.5 million in national-member dues -- even though many companies probably join the CBBB to support national ad self-regulation.
On the industry side, money is definitely at a premium. The industry is going to appoint a committee to discuss funding sources to pay for a new NARC president (veteran adman Wally O'Brien was laid off because there wasn't enough money to pay him). The new person's job will be to raise the visibility of NARC and to raise money for its operation (as well as to recruit members for the CBBB, according to Jim Bast).
I guess it's not very practical for the ad industry to administer the NARC program on its own, as I suggested in my earlier column. No. 1, where would it raise the $1.5 million to keep the self-regulatory process going? No. 2, the industry probably gains credibility through the Better Business Bureaus' history of arbitration.
Jim Bast is about to retire as CBBB president-CEO, so most likely nothing much will be done to solve the money problem until his successor is at the helm, probably after Labor Day. Maybe the new CEO will loosen the purse strings under the premise that a more visible national ad self-regulation program will benefit the CBBB and help fill its coffers.
But I doubt it. CBBB has its own fish to fry, such as its new online guidelines that Jim thinks will "cascade over to the entire self-regulatory program."
As for the $10 million at the Advertising Education Foundation that I also mentioned, forgeddaboutit. As AEF Chairman David Bell told me in no uncertain terms, the AEF's mission is to be the ad industry's "clearinghouse, repository and distribution force for educational information and materials to improve the perception and understanding of the social and economic role of advertising." It will be setting up its own Web site to advance the mission.
A worthy and just cause, to be sure. But it seems slightly out of whack for the industry to have an embarrassingly large "nest egg," as David called it, to improve the understanding of advertising and not nearly enough to make sure there won't be any major misunderstandings that could undo all the good work of