EDITORIAL: The implication that IPG will become more open should be met with the proper amount of caution

Ambiguous words from Interpublic's second-quarter conference call prompted a tantalizing headline in last week's Wall Street Journal: "Interpublic May Become More Open." Well, that would be nice - but let's look at the facts.

Ambiguous words from Interpublic's second-quarter conference call prompted a tantalizing headline in last week's Wall Street Journal: "Interpublic May Become More Open." Well, that would be nice - but let's look at the facts.

The column by Brian Steinberg pulls out newly minted IPG COO Christopher Coughlin's remark that, by early 2004, the company will offer "a set of quantifiable metrics that will provide a clear understanding of our business and its prospects." No one knows what that means at this point, or if the focus will be fixed on the larger advertising entities, rather than the comparatively small PR holdings. Sure, it's gratifying to know that some noise is being made in the investment community about the absurdity of trying to assess the performance of a company without detailed knowledge of its operations. The reason for criticizing the level of transparency for these companies is not simply Sarbanes-Oxley, which was what got the PR industry perturbed when it meant firms like Weber Shandwick and Hill & Knowlton would not appear in this year's industry rankings. Instead, the article points to systematic and long-term reporting habits of Interpublic, as well as Omnicom and WPP. But before anyone gets too happy, it is important to note that Coughlin's statement came during the same call in which the company suspended its previous earnings guidance for the year. His subsequent remark promises some return to transparency, but it is in no way clear what that really means. What the article does is set expectations that may be beyond Interpublic's ultimate willingness to deliver. Staff training must never be compromised The CEOs interviewed for this week's Analysis (p. 9) offered some perspectives on staff training. As the recession persisted, some firms curtailed training, while many changed their programs to more cost-effective models. One firm, said its agency head, had cut a major part of its training program, only to recognize immediately that decision was a big mistake. This year, that program is back in place. When operations are cut to the bone, training is often perceived as more of a burden than a blessing, even for the staff it is designed to benefit. Just thinking about the e-mails piling up while one is sitting in a classroom creates anxiety. But given that many cited client retention as a huge concern, it is foolish in the extreme to ignore the importance of improving skills - not only in communications techniques and creating strategic programs, but also building relationships with clients and the sales techniques that can help expand existing programs. Most recognize that fact as obvious. But as one CEO pointed out, there has almost never been a better time to reinforce knowledge and understanding of professional staff. The current market poses enormous issues for corporations, an invaluable laboratory for learning the range of issues that can impact performance, and perception, of companies. On-the-job training no doubt has already created a raft of seasoned professionals out there, who unblinkingly grapple with these challenges daily with their contacts. Reinforcing that with systematic training can only benefit the firm, and the clients.

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