Ad agencies like to make the point that in this business,
information is power. In the US, especially, agencies compare the size
of their research departments against the opposition in a way that would
make teenage boys blush.
Unfortunately, something terrible is happening. Crucial information no
longer resides with the agency, but is the preserve of the
And agencies are adamant this situation has to change.
These consultants work in similar ways to the UK’s Advertising Agency
Register. Thus, companies such as Pile & Co of Boston assemble
information on agencies, with a print portfolio and showreel, and charge
clients for reviews based on this information.
But there are differences. US agencies are concerned that their
consultants have started to exploit the information they gather as a
result of this process. That they request information from agencies
that’s not strictly germane to the review at hand; that they make no
undertaking as to what they will do with this confidential information
in the future; that they use their privileged position to help pick up
cosy consultancy arrangements with agencies on the list and that they
request information without naming the client that is seeking it.
It’s an impressive list of charges - the very list that the Four As (the
US equivalent of the IPA) New Business Committee would like to see
The organisation last week published a set of guidelines for
consultancies outlawing these practices. But could they spread over
Martin Jones, managing director of the AAR, thinks not. ’The problem for
US agencies is that new business is often won by clients simply ticking
off a list. Attributes such as location of overseas offices are scored
and the business is awarded to the agency that scores highest. It puts
the consultant in a powerful position,’ he says. ’In the UK, the
situation is different - the process is much more intuitive. The list of
attributes is used as a check to ensure the agency is sufficiently
equipped to handle the business.’