Commentary

Transparency An 'Opt-In' Choice, Say The Agencies

There are weeks that I am proud and optimistic about our industry (looking at you, Walton Isaacson and your #turnignorancearound campaign), and there are weeks I am frustrated, angry and disappointed in our business. Both happened last week…

My frustration at the challenges of digital marketing and media transparency are well-documented, as is my call to action to all parties to meaningfully come together and think through some of the challenges.

So it was with bated breath that I fired up my trusted Tweetdeck last week full of optimism about the anticipated deluge of industry-challenging and industry-reforming tweets inspired by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A's) get-together in Miami.

It started promisingly with Nancy Hill, President and CEO of the 4A’s, mincing no words and calling out the issues head-on. Gender and minority inequality, pay inequality; she called a spade a spade. But then she talked about the 4A’s release of Transparency Guidelines in January, which has caused a massive rift with the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). Hill called it a mere “disagreement over language and timing,” while a month ago the ANA called it  “incomplete” and “rogue” and demanded a full retraction. I wrote about the issues here, if you need your memory refreshed.

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So the tone was set: Agencies need to address their people issues, but the biggest, most divisive industry issue is nothing more than a “disagreement.”

Sadly, Hill was not alone. Enter Sir Martin Sorrell, via video link. He addressed all the inequality and sexism issues straight up, and showed both in words (on a diverse workforce, he said that the number of “LGBT, transgender, Hispanic [staffers]" is "unacceptably low”) and actions (he appointed Tamara Ingram as J. Walter Thompson's new CEO, having a woman replace an embattled male CEO) that his leadership is prepared to do the right thing.

And then Sorrell too, moved on to the transparency issue. He said that — and please try not to laugh out loud when you read this — he "does not see the point" of the ANA’s efforts to bring clarity and/or proof into allegations of agency kickbacks. As a much-better, more-trustworthy alternative to an industry-supported investigation, he said that WPP is addressing these concerns internally. Hey! I told you not to laugh!

He went on to say: "In the case of media buying, programmatic and online, we have changed our approach,” noting that WPP now offers an opt-in model for its clients so they can decide if they want to participate, and to what degree of transparency.
“Opt-in”! That is what Bernard Madoff offered: an opt-in. That's what those email scam artists offer.

So here we are, about a month away from the annual ANA Advertising Financial Management Conference on May 1, where presumably the ANA will present its findings from its year-long investigation into all the allegations. This is the investigation the 4A’s initially participated in, until the ANA proposed that the findings should inform the language of future client-agency contracts. “No thanks," said the 4A’s. “I think we’re going to go with an opt-in model and some vague guidelines of our own. So we’re good.” A mere “disagreement” over language.

To quote a millennial: “This is like, so… I can’t even…” I call myself a naïve optimist. But you’re making it hard, 4A’s. You’re making it really hard!

4 comments about "Transparency An 'Opt-In' Choice, Say The Agencies".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 28, 2016 at 8:23 p.m.

    Dear, nothing will change for transparancy or anything else unless the change is mandatory, forced, regulated or any other word you want to use. And the more humongous they are, the more regulation is necessary. They have no reason to change otherwise.

  2. Bill Duggan from ANA, March 29, 2016 at 9:45 a.m.

    To set the record straight, ANA will NOT present the findings of our transparency assessment at the Advertising Financial Management Conference.  The agenda for that conference is here -- http://www.ana.net/conference/show/id/AFM-MAY16.  While ANA CEO Bob Liodice will mention the project in his opening keynote, the report findings will likely be released in early June.

    Bill Duggan, Groups EVP, ANA

  3. B Sass from U of C, March 29, 2016 at 10:58 a.m.

    Does the ANA investigation have any teeth? Can they send their findings to the SEC? Or, is it just going to be a handslap for any modest bad behavior? 

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 29, 2016 at 1:41 p.m.

    In fairness to Sorrell, all he seems to be saying---if the quote in this piece is accurate----is that some clients actually dictate the kinds of media they buy, based on personal whims and non-media factors like merchandising, one-upping their rivals, etc. so why would they care about "accountability" as they were the ones who insisted on the buys in the first place. This is particularly true of many TV sports buys, certain primetime and news selections, major TV "specials" certain "must-buy" magazines with thematic compatability to the advertiser's product or service, etc. On the other hand, other clients are very suspicious of their agencies and like to monitor every buy down to the last bit of audience and penny spent. Fine---so they have the option to "opt-in" and get detailed reports. If every client demanded this treatment for every buy----even those they mandated----the agency would be swamped with tedious and unproductive workloads, without compensation for same----unless the client shared the added costs---and don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

    As far as the ANA sending its "findings" to the SEC, that's a rather huge leap. Why not see what they are first, before assuming that we are dealing with a massive Bernie Madoff-like ponze scheme, with the agencies all declared quilty as charged and every client rushing to take all of its media functions in-house. Who would they hire, anyway? My guess is the same people that worked for them at their agencies.

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