EDITORIAL - It’s time to accept account conflicts

Make no mistake about who the arbiters are in any marriage involving Young & Rubicam which, this week, was weighing up the rival proposals of Publicis and WPP.

Make no mistake about who the arbiters are in any marriage

involving Young & Rubicam which, this week, was weighing up the rival

proposals of Publicis and WPP.



They are not Maurice Levy, the Publicis president, the Y&R chief

executive Tom Bell, WPP’s Martin Sorrell nor the bankers and legal

advisors surrounding them.



The men who have the final say on whether these deals live or die are

those such as the Ford boss Jac Nasser and his Renault counterpart Louis

Schwietzer.



Little matter that there are compelling strategic reasons for a Y&R

alignment with either Publicis or WPP to sustain its place as a serious

global player.



Throughout the talks, Publicis privately acknowledged that a non from

Renault would be a ’showstopper’. Meanwhile, Y&R sources were making it

clear that Ford’s refusal to share an agency group with a rival carmaker

would scupper a Franco-American partnership.



Whether powerful clients should be able to dictate and enforce such a

rigid conflict policy is a moot point.



The truth is that multinational advertisers can’t continue to have their

cake and eat it. By demanding such a huge range of marketing services

from their agencies, they have fuelled merger mania which may soon

result in no more than half a dozen holding companies. Slowly but

surely, hard-line client attitudes towards conflict are becoming

unsustainable.



If push comes to shove, how many global agency groups have the scale,

the strategic and creative talent and a gap in their client portfolio

which could enable them to accommodate Ford or Renault? And would either

carmaker wish so much upheaval in hunting and appointing one?



Circumstances have conspired to give agencies this extra power which,

through their own inertia and insecurity, they failed to snatch years

ago. Client companies have never had problems over conflicting business

handled by their lawyers or management consultants but -when it comes to

their advertising suppliers - they revert to the old master-servant

relationship.



Agencies have never had a better opportunity to redress this. As

businesses converge and retailers become banks, no agency would be able

to pitch for anything if unyielding conflict policies are carried to

their conclusion.



Whether the day will ever dawn when agencies will juggle their conflict

as lawyers and accountants do now remains to be seen. If clients can be

convinced that their ring fences are secure?



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