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WASHINGTON-Maybe, just maybe, the ad industry needs a good scare-or worse-to get the message.

Maybe a little ad tax, or perhaps a law banning some advertising. Either way, it might show what happens when an industry fails to raise enough money to develop friends and allies in those high places where lawmakers enact or derail regulations and statutes.

Such is the dilemma confronting the ad industry's still struggling political action committee, Pro-Adpac, established in 1988.

On March 21, Bozell Worldwide President and Pro-Adpac Chairman Chuck Peebler personally appealed to thousands of ad industry members. The letter asked for contributions to a political action committee "to keep our industry free from government interference and taxation."

Reaction so far has been lukewarm to Mr. Peebler's alert.

In 1993, Pro-Adpac received $40,923 in contributions, according to Federal Election Commission records, and handed out $44,569. Through August, the committee took in another $19,950 and handed out $19,908.

That's a far cry from what Mr. Peebler hoped for when he mailed invitations to join Pro-Adpac's Committee of One Thousand, to be populated by donors of $1,000.

"It's safe to say that we'd like to be more successful than we've been," he said. "In an industry like ours, in today's climate, a political action committee should have at least $100,000 a year to potentially have any effect at all. Maybe I haven't done as good a job as I should, or maybe the people are just not as conscious of the problems we face as they might be."

While Pro-Adpac is raising more than it did two years ago, it still is in the PAC minor leagues.

From Jan. 1, 1993, through June 30, 1994-during which Pro-Adpac took in about $54,700 and handed out $59,600-the Lincoln Club of Orange County (Calif.), the 29th largest independent PAC, took in $325,711 and spent $266,618. In that same period, the National Association of Broadcasters PAC took in $474,659 and spent $406,216.

Hal Shoup, exec VP, American Association of Advertising Agencies, said an annual PAC budget of $100,000 might not seem large enough to provide the industry with some clout, but the Pro-Adpac treasurer said it would suffice.

"I think that amount would allow us to focus support on the members of the congressional and Senate committees as well as candidates," said Mr. Shoup. "We don't have a lot of supporters, but the ones we have, we can go back to for help. But to expand, I think we have to be broader in our reach."

Mr. Shoup also acknowledged that government affairs might not be a high priority at many agencies. "And, to be honest, there's some political naivete out there-where people who haven't been to Washington don't realize the number of opposing groups that are competing for the ear of a committee member, and that it's important for groups like ours to show their support with contributions to candidates' campaigns."

He agreed the tranquility that has characterized 1994 may have worked against the PAC.

"I'm sure that given a major or serious threat or loss for advertising, it would tend to galvanize the industry and maybe make it easier to secure contributions, though that would be a terrible price to pay. But maybe we're hurt by our success, and people might think that we've kept them out of trouble without their support."

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