Today is a good day for Marina Palomba. It is 3pm and she has received only two enquiries from the 217 advertising agencies that make up her client base at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA).
She aims to deal with most enquiries within an hour of receiving the call or email, or at the very least by the end of that day, which can start to get tough when she reaches her thirteenth call of the day.
But Palomba has been relishing the challenge since joining the IPA as legal director and sole in-house lawyer from DJ Freeman at the start of the year. She is wasting no time in spreading the word that she has arrived and has been busy running lectures for agencies on issues such as intellectual property rights in advertising. The IPA had been without an in-house function for six months, during which time the Simpkins Partnership filled the gap. Before that it was carried out by Simon Gallant, a consultant at Mishcon de Reya.
The IPA now represents 85 per cent of ad agencies and has a dual role within the industry. First, it acts as spokesman for its members, representing them on issues of common concern and speaking on their behalf in negotiations with media bodies, government departments and unions. Second, it contributes to the effective operation of member companies through its advisory, training and information services.
Palomba gets involved in both roles. She spends around 50 to 60 per cent of her time advising members of the IPA. A sliding scale of membership fees, relating to the size of agencies, effectively pays her fees.
Enquiries tend to be urgent, often prompted by last-minute worries before an ad is aired or printed, and therefore need a fast response. “Because I come from a private practice background, I come from an ethos where you offer good service. A lot of advice being sought is short notice,” says Palomba.
But on more long-running matters, she will refer members to the specialist advertising practices at firms such as Lewis Silkin and Osborne Clarke. Niche firm the Simpkins Partnership is also high up on her list and acts as the IPA’s own external law firm, filling in for Palomba whenever she is away or caught up in the IPA’s lobbying role.
Even among the larger agencies, very few have their own in-house capability – somewhat surprising given the tricky legal issues inherent in the business. Exceptions include Young & Rubicam and Bartle Bogle Hegarty, where Palomba has already got to know the in-house lawyers. “We often discuss things, which is good because being in-house can be isolated,” she says.
Palomba faces an incredibly varied role advising the IPA’s members. “The agencies are acting for clients from all walks of industry, from car makers to nappy manufacturers. You have to know vast areas of law which you wouldn’t think would be necessary for an advertising lawyer,” she says.
Palomba now knows more than enough about carbon dioxide emissions, for example, or the regulations advertisers have to adhere to when they offer consumers credit. But predominantly the calls and emails she receives are on the kind of advertising-related issues you would expect: copyright, trademarks, passing off, contracts between agencies and advertisers and increasingly matters concerning privacy and data protection.
Members will call her up to ask whether the colours they are using are too similar to McDonald’s or whether they need to cover up the Esso signs in the background of their Renault advert.
Most recently, the issue of naming celebrities was pushed to the forefront by Formula One driver Eddie Irvine’s High Court win last month over the use of a “doctored” photograph of him on an advertising leaflet for a radio station.
The landmark High Court ruling sent a warning to agencies that they could come under fire if they use celebrities in ads without their consent. This amounts to passing off under English law. Palomba says that not all cases are as black and white as the Irvine example, but she adds: “Because we’re moving closer to a legal right of privacy and because of data protection, advertisers have to be more careful about referring to individuals.”
She is making it clear to agencies that if an ad contains an obvious implication that there is a connection between the product and the celebrity – and the celebrity’s permission has not been obtained – then they could be in legal trouble.
TV ads tend to be less problematic than other mediums because they have to be passed by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC) before they go out. But the BACC cannot guarantee that an agency is not infringing regulations. Instead, they might ask: “Have you taken legal advice on naming David Beckham?” This is where Palomba may be asked to step in.
But for all the tricky issues, Palomba clearly loves the job, not least because she gets to preview the latest ads. “Part of my day is looking at adverts. Sometimes I’ll get a video clip or a story board or audio for radio, or early shoots on email which I run on my desktop,” she says.
It is a job which gets involved in the heated arguments surrounding controversial images such as the Sophie Dahl Opium ad or Telewest’s risque slogan, “stay on that bloody phone”, or the latest debate over advertising to children.
Palomba is very much involved in the IPA’s role as spokesman for its members. Her role involves lobbying and commenting on relevant pieces of legislation, such as the e-commerce directive. The issue of self-regulation is particularly close to members’ hearts.
“We’re promoting advertising and defending it from the creep of legislation which is eroding self-regulation,” says Palomba. “England has the most successful and effective self-regulation structure in Europe. The Government can’t actually afford to enforce effective control and is very supportive of self-regulation, particularly because we’ve done a good job in the past. But in other countries in Europe, self-regulation is not as effective.” Hence the tide of legislation affecting advertising that is coming out of Europe.
Part of the IPA’s efforts to curb this includes working with similar bodies on the Continent to build up self-regulation structures. “Until we can assist our colleagues in Europe in building up self-regulation bodies it is difficult to change things,” says Palomba.
In the UK she is a member of the committee currently reviewing the Advertising Standards Authority code of practice, known as the Cap Code.
Palomba’s biggest problem is fitting all of this in. She plans to monitor the level of enquiries she receives from IPA members and, if it does become unmanageable, she might consider adding more firms to her list for referral work.
Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA)
|Organisation||Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA)|
|Legal director||Marina Palomba|
|Reporting to||Director general Hamish Pringle|
|Main location for lawyers||London|
|Main law firms||The Simpkins Partnership, Lewis Silkin, Osborne Clarke|