World Federation of Advertisers reacts to ANA decision to invite agency members

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BRUSSELS -- The World Federation of Advertisers is to study closely the outcome of the U.S. Association of National Advertisers' move last week to invite agency membership and will make a decision in six months' time on its own stance.

It's likely that membership criteria of the WFA - currently stipulated as advertisers or advertiser associations (but not specifying membership of those associations) - will be altered at the organization's next General Assembly in May 1999, based on the U.S. experience. The WFA's Executive Committee met recently to discuss its position.

However, a similar move to include agencies as fully paid up members of the WFA looks unlikely, according to WFA Managing Director Bernard Adriaensens. "I'm not sure that what's necessary in the U.S. will be necessary on a worldwide basis," he says. "But I'll never say never."

The U.S. faces different challenges to elsewhere in the world - such as the need for strong self-regulation in areas like new media. In contrast, European advertisers have to abide by legislation as well as self-regulation, he points out.

Australia has already blazed the trail for the U.S.' ANA move, though in low profile style. The Australian Association of National Advertisers has opened up to agencies and media companies, though advertiser-members remain the key decision makers, Mr. Adriaensens notes. In that country too,self-regulation is a major issue.

In Europe, Mr. Adriaensens admits there are too many ad industry associations. "Most are under-staffed and underfunded because you're slicing the salami in too many pieces." But, he adds, a joint industry body can lose too much time in discussions to find a common position, "which is often then grey and weak."

The WFA will not dictate to member associations what structure they should take, Mr. Adriaensens claims. "We have to accept the challenges of the coming years are going to be more difficult and more global, what with [the advent of] digital [technology], the Internet and governments increasingly against advertising." It's inevitable that what works in China will be different to the U.K., for example. "We'll be open for everything," he adds. "We'll take the lesson [from the U.S.] and see what's possible.

Copyright October 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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