The history of the Overseas Press & Media Association

Many new Members and Affiliates may not be aware of the very rich and prestigious pedigree that The Overseas Press and Media Association has.

Alex
Foreword by past
President Alex McKibbin

Today it is taken for granted that OPMA is the undisputed leading Association representing international media to both agencies and clients in the UK advertising market. What is perhaps not quite so well known, is that this position was only achieved through a great deal of effort and commitment from many people.

Indeed it is remarkable that OPMA can trace its lineage right back to 1927 when Dominion Newspapers was formed. Through a number of name changes since then OPMA has evolved constantly to keep abreast of changes in the media market. Television, Internet right through to social media space, all these new developments have been reacted to.

How it all began

Latter day Fleet Street
Latter day Fleet Street

In 1927 when ‘Skipper’ Coulton of the Times of India held his lunch for some 12 London advertisement managers and the British representatives of various Dominion newspapers, who decided to form "Dominion Newspapers", the vast majority of British overseas consumer advertising was controlled and placed from the UK.

This was a situation far removed from today. One of the best examples of change can be illustrated by the flood of British advertising enjoyed by the London office s of the Press of the Indian sub-continent in 1927, com pared with the trickle of British advertising for the entire Press of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka today.

With the rapid expansion of British advertising activity overseas in the late 1920s and the early 1930s, the Association enjoyed an increase in membership, including a number representing newspapers in the Colonial Empire. As a result, in 1930, the name of the Association was changed to the "London Association of British Empire Newspapers Overseas".

The chance to meet

Throughout the next 25 years "LABENO" was essentially a social club offering members the chance to meet over lunch each month at 'Frascati's', Oxford Street (alas no more) and to hear some of the top ranking politicians and industrialists of the period who were invited to speak.

History -2-small

The Association comprised, in those days, representatives of the great British Empire newspapers and could readily command and obtain the Foreign and Colonial Secretaries of the time, including the late Lord Avon, as guest speakers. Each year they held their famous Christmas Dinner, Dance and Cabaret first at Frascati’s and later at the Connaught Rooms.

Throughout this period the chief restriction on membership was the condition that no member could act as an advertising agent or place advertising in publications represented by other members. In these early days the role of the publisher’s representative was mainly a matter of personal interpretation and many representatives acted as well, as advertising agents, handling entire overseas campaigns for British manufacturers. On the other hand even well-known advertising agents acted as the British representatives of a variety of overseas papers.

Following the changes in the British Empire and the creation of the Commonwealth, it was decided in 1958 to change the name of the Association to the "London Association of Commonwealth Newspapers Overseas". This was not achieved without much heart searching by some of the older members who found it difficult to appreciate not only the political changes in the Commonwealth, but the changes in the handling of international advertising.

With manufacturing units being established throughout the Commonwealth and with the creation of local advertising agencies, often owned and controlled by agencies in the UK and USA, and by no means least the establishment of commercial radio in some of the territories, international advertising in a new sense had arrived.

By 1961 the international advertising scene had so changed, as had the pattern of advertising, that members appreciated again, that if the Association was to continue to play a part it must now embrace all press media no matter from what country. Many members at that time already representing radio and cinema owners had seen the urgent necessity of setting up a body to cover all media represented in London and with powers to clarify the role of the international representative. Much remained to be done before this could be achieved. The name of the Association was changed to the "London Association of Newspapers Overseas".

With the rapid growth of international advertising in the early 60s and following a number of bankruptcies, amongst both representatives and advertising agents heavily involved in overseas advertising, it became increasingly clear that the UK representatives and London offices of all international media must join together to establish a professional association. They needed to agree codes of professional conduct and behaviour, to clarify and establish the role of the international media representative and their relationship with the media owner.

In Europe the difference between the UK representative and advertising agent was not understood by most publishers. Many allowed several representatives to act on their behalf resulting in poor remuneration, constant bickering, unreliable information and poor service. After protracted discussions, 30 leading UK advertisement managers and British representatives of overseas advertising media signed the Memorandum of Association on the 29th January 1965.

At its first meeting, after its election on the 24th June, the Executive Council made two fundamental decisions – to establish an annual Overseas Media Guide and to ask members to supply the Hon. Treasurer with regular reports about slow and bad payers. These two matters play just as important a part of the Executive Council’s agendas in 1977 as they did in 1965. In writing about how OPMA has developed since its formation as a professional association it is easier and better to see whether it has fulfilled its original intentions.

Throughout the years OPMA has stuck firmly to its basic aims and objectives as laid down by the founder members in the Memorandum and Articles of Association.

However, it has applied them with understanding and moderation, believing throughout, that if the Association could demonstrate that it had an essential role to play, which would benefit advertisier and agency, media owner and representative alike, OPMA would flourish and rapidly become a powerful voice in the field of international advertising.

How then has it fared and developed through the years? Membership is approximately double the original estimated potential of 55; the Overseas Media Guide has grown many times in size, content and influence and is established as one of the leading reference books in the field of international advertising.

OPMA’s codes of conduct and commercial behaviour for international advertising have been widely accepted by media owners throughout the world as standards for their own country. The activities of fraudulent and doubtful advertisers have been exposed. The OPMA Credit Terms have been established and enforced. VAT has been zero-rated for international advertising as a direct result of OPMA discussions with HM Customs & Excise. The role of the international media representative has been clarified and established. The result is that today, almost every leading media owner is represented in London by its own London Office or an exclusive British representative.

Today, London is well established as the international advertising centre of the world. The Overseas Press and Media Association and all those pioneers in the field of the representation of British Empire Newspapers in 1927 can look back in pride at the part they have played in this great achievement.

Once again Great Britain has demonstrated that it leads the world in another field of free enterprise and development.

Sir Colin Turner CBE DFC, Life President, OPMA

Update history (1980s - present)

For the first time, advertising became subject to Value Added Tax when in 1985 it was introduced in that year’s Budget statement. OPMA was quick to realise that in certain circumstances, this could lead to double taxation on international advertising, if both foreign government and UK tax were levied. Thereby, UK representatives would be placed at a significant disadvantage because space purchased in the UK would become considerably more expensive than if bought in the media owner’s domestic market.

The Council at the time, not the least the incumbent Treasurer Peter Holloway, was very proactive in making representation to H.M. Customs & Excise and eventually won a significant concession which, provided applied criteria were met, allowed OPMA Members to charge out advertising space on behalf of their publishers without VAT.

Towards the end of the Millennium, acknowledging the expanding market and the growing importance of the UK as a centre for international advertising, it was identified that OPMA needed to engage more extensively with international advertisers and their agencies. It had long been apparent that an inhibiting factor in expanding the Affiliate membership of the Association was the subscription charge for this category. Research had revealed that Affiliate member companies had been reluctant to underwrite the cost of membership, the perception being that there was no direct benefit to them.

After extensive discussion at Council level, in February 1996 it was decided that Affiliate membership should become free, provided the company criteria was met for membership. This concession has remained until this day and Affiliate membership has increased significantly since the decision was originally taken.

It had long been an aspiration of many senior members of Council that the Association should have its own Secretariat. In the 1980s – 1990s, the Association had seen substantial growth in terms of membership, the pagination of the OPMA Guide, corporate legislation and business and training activities that had been developed.

All of this had placed a very heavy human resource and administrative burden on proactive Council members and their companies, quite often to the detriment of their own businesses, because of the sheer amount of time and energy that was being committed to OPMA projects and general routine affairs of the Association.

For some years, the Association had been fortunate to have a proactive and committed editor of the Guide, Barbara Cruttenden, who had through sheer determination and hard work, evolved her role to also encompass the rapidly expanding social and membership needs of the Association.

However, her retirement brought OPMA to the crossroads that it had been approaching for some time and finally in October 1998, the Secretariat came into being. It was headed up by Jackie Dunn, who was Publisher of the OPMA Overseas Media Guide from 2000 to 2013 editions.

The 40th edition of the Guide was celebrated in June 2006 with a very successful Ruby party. The Guide continues to be the definitive media reference source for all those engaged in international advertising.

Another milestone was reached the following year, the 80th year since the formation of the association now known as OPMA, and another successful event, The Golden Party, was held in June 2007 in celebration of this. Also in 1998, the OPMA website - opma.co.uk – was officially launched and re-launched in January 2014.

The Association’s finances were effectively also incorporated into the Secretariat function and Peter Holloway, who had hitherto served the Association as a past President, Hon. Secretary and most notably from the early eighties for nearly two decades as Hon. Treasurer, became its Treasurer and custodian of the Association’s financial well-being, a position he occupied until Spring 2010.

The Council at the time were very concerned to protect the integrity of the Guide’s editorial content and worried that publishing the entire representation database on the website might compromise its profitability. However, the immediacy of the Internet and the ever-increasing emergence of the UK as an international advertising hub, brought the Association to the conclusion that editorial data should be published on the website, capable of being researched by various criteria. Thus, from 1999, the Association effectively provided agencies and advertisers with an online, continually updated Guide. The happy historical footnote is that the Guide has gone from strength to strength, in co-existence with the website as a complementary medium.

In 2009, OPMA decided to streamline and enhance the media search facilities on opma.co.uk, so that conventional print and outdoor media could be readily accessed alongside online and broadcast media. In addition print media profile search results can be delivered in full or abbreviated format, dependent on the needs of the media planner. Use of the site continues to increase rapidly and the average time spent per visit is mostly in excess of six minutes, which is outstanding for a vertical trade press advertising site.

With its rich history, OPMA looks forward to developing further and continuing to play a pivotal role in the international advertising community.

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