Agencies Vs Brands -- Let The Blameless Cast The First Stone

Surprise, surprise -- the planned industrial action against InBev has failed at the first hurdle. What would have happened had it gone through is anyone's guess -- pop-up picket lines with placards featuring well-researched hashtags or a march of Gucci loafers to Westminster? Far too many fine eateries and champagne bars en route to make that one work. Everyone would have had to get in a cab and inadvertently outdo the recent Uber protests.

No, it was never going to work. The owner of beers including Corona, Stella and Budweiser is far too powerful, and its coffers too huge, for agencies to not only ignore themselves, but to also risk a rival bagging -- a little like asking young football stars not to sign a hundred thousand-pound-a-week deal at any Premier League club that doesn't pay the living wage. 

Aside from an ability to band together and rule themselves out of a major billing opportunity, the main reason the MMA didn't have their clarion call heard was that agencies aren't exactly a whole lot better. The MMA appears to be surprised that ISBA, the voice of the British advertiser, didn't support any action. I can't imagine that is actually the case, because it must have known all along that ISBA has had many complaints about how agencies behave and so was incredibly unlikely to suddenly round on one of its own.

ISBA once joked to me that they are always involved with agencies' bodies because it's better to be inside the tent than outside. That was the general gist, the actual phrase was said in jest and is not one I'll repeat here. But that's the situation. Advertisers aren't happy with the way big agencies act and so they were unlikely to stick up for them.

When you think about InBev's alleged transgressions, they don't make for great reading -- long payment terms exceeding 120 days, a bidding process to see how much time would be given for free and the return of 5% of billings to the company's CSR programme. Now, anyone working with an agency, or around them, will not be unused to them appearing to expect others --  particularly small agencies and providers -- to put in many hours of free work, the work they do pay for is seldom paid within 90 days, in my experience, and 120 days is not unheard of.

So -- anyone else hear the sound of smashing as the body representing agencies throws stones from its glass house? Nobody would defend what InBev is doing, but when it comes to organising a strike, one would have to stand there with great stoicism and suggest the agency that has not sinned should cast the first stone. 

And let's look at those sins. Estimates vary, but up to half -- in the worst case scenario -- of media bills have been attributed to click fraud, unviewable ads and charges. It kind of makes giving back 5% pale in to insignificance, doesn't it?

Then there are the harder-to-nail-down transgressions, but let me give you a real case scenario. I recently heard about a mega brand that had signed up with a mega agency and was being kept out of an email chain because the agency was now the brand guardian. The ultimate irony was that the ladies who gave this as their reason for not informing the client what they were up to had been on the account a couple of months, and the lady they were cutting out of the loop had looked after the brand for many years. 

Not the biggest crime in the world, I'll give you, but one of the many daily stories I hear about the mega agencies getting their teeth into a big brand and perhaps just losing sight of who the client is and who they are supposed to be serving.

I'm not saying either side is perfect; there is bad practice on both sides. What I am definitely saying is I have no idea what planet the MMA was on when it expected a bunch of agencies that aren't exactly whiter that white to call out a brand for acting in a pretty similar way.

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