Is the Clearcast/WPP backlash justified?, Thursday, 29 November 2012 08:00AM

John Tylee asks, should agencies have concerns over the ad approval body's hiring of Hogarth?

Clearcast: agencies have fears over the security of their TV scripts. Credit: Getty Images

Clearcast: agencies have fears over the security of their TV scripts. Credit: Getty Images


Agency chief Russ Lidstone, chief executive, Havas Worldwide London

"You can understand why non-WPP agencies are uneasy about a marcoms holding company engaging with an independent authority. That’s not to accuse WPP of being underhand – I’m sure Hogarth will behave in a professional manner. But there can be slip-ups during the cut-and-thrust of the action.A lot of concern centres on how the decision to appoint Hogarth was arrived at and the seemingly clandestine nature of the pitch. There was no debate with us before the decision was taken. The industry needs to be told how this system will work in practice. We also need cast-iron guarantees about the issues that worry us."

Agency chief Ian Pearman, chief executive, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

"There has been no consultation with us about the new clearance system. We’re very suspicious about what’s been going on and there are no guarantees Clearcast could give us that would reassure us about a system in which a WPP company is involved in passing our work along the chain. It’s something that will give our clients increasing concern. Clearcast needs to explain how it made its decision, what options were available to it and why the work was not awarded to an independent company. Otherwise, it is going to have a lot of dissatisfied customers."

Trade body Bob Wootton, director of media and advertising, ISBA

"Obviously, there’s concern that the new system could go wrong, but let’s not criticise it before it has even begun and, unless it does, advertisers won’t want to interfere. However, I don’t envy the IPA. It’s difficult enough for us to have our members arguing across the table, but the IPA is compromised on this issue because of the major WPP agencies in membership. I’ve no doubt agencies feel grumpy over this issue, but I think any possible breaches of confidentiality will create intense heat only in a very confined space and that the Chinese walls won’t fall over."

Clearance body Chris Mundy, managing director, Clearcast

"I understand why this is a concern to agencies, but we’ve discussed it at great length to ensure the system is compliant as far as confidentiality is concerned. And while it’s true that the selection process has not been completely open to everyone, we have used independent consultants to look at the options available to us. What’s more, we have a good understanding of agencies’ needs. Hogarth already works with non-WPP agencies without a problem and they know that, were they to do anything wrong, their reputation would be in tatters. We have certainly not gone into this with our eyes closed."

Having appointed WPP’s Hogarth Worldwide to run Clearcast’s new copy clearance system, Chris Mundy might have wished ISBA’s Bob Wootton had chosen not to describe his decision as "brave and courageous".

As fans of 'Yes Minister' will recall, it was these very words that the Whitehall mandarin Sir Humphrey Appleby used as code to get his ministerial boss Jim Hacker to drop a plan he thought was political suicide.

Many within the industry believe that Mundy, Clearcast’s managing director, has, at the very least, shot himself in the foot. Not only does the decision raise concerns about potential breaches of confidentiality on upcoming campaigns but questions about the power wielded by WPP and whether the Clearcast deal could aid an aggressive ex­pansion by WPP into advertising workflow and distribution.

What’s more, there are fears about the effect on broadcasters’ ad revenue if major advertisers cannot be convinced that the Chinese walls within the new system will hold.

A number of major non-WPP agency bosses have been in touch with Clearcast to register their concern about the security of their TV scripts within a system run by a direct rival and of what they claim has been a lack of consultation about Hogarth’s appointment.

They include Russ Lidstone, the Havas Worldwide London chief executive, and Ian Pearman, his counterpart at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. He has not ruled out asking AMV’s Omnicom parent to go into battle over the issue. "There is no guarantee that Clearcast could give us that we would accept," Pearman says.

Meanwhile, Chris Macdonald, the McCann Worldgroup London chairman, has called on the IPA and ISBA to make a joint approach to Clearcast about the issue.

Mundy, determined that the "difficult birth" of the previous clearance system implemented by the BACC, Clearcast’s predecessor, should not be repeated, insists that all the necessary checks and balances are in place.

He says an independent con­sultant was appointed to identify companies best able to deliver the right system to which access will be strictly controlled.

"We’ve never taken the issue of confidentiality lightly and we’re sure agencies will see the benefits of the system," he claims.

Others, though, fear that one advertiser could gain a commercial advantage just by being tipped the wink that a rival has submitted a TV script for clearance.

An industry insider warns, "It only takes one WPP employee to do a discreet favour for another. If major advertisers don’t believe the system is secure, they may start diverting more spend online."

That said, it may be that the new system has to be made to work because there is little alternative. For one thing, changing from one clearance system to another takes time. Indeed, Hogarth is not expected to take over fully from the in­cumbent, Adstream, until July or August of next year.

For another, few companies are capable of taking on such work. And there’s always the risk that another could be appointed only to be subsequently acquired by a marcoms group.

What’s more, not everybody sees a problem. What is the difference between having a script cleared via Hogarth and for an agency to be working with WPP’s research company Millward Brown, Stephen Woodford, the Adam & Eve/DDB chairman, asks.

And he adds, "Clearcast isn’t going to risk its integrity by having a supplier that threatens it."

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