Mediasmith, an independent digital agency based in San Francisco, has pulled out of the 4As, citing the trade association’s failure to support the Association of National Advertisers’ media-buying transparency recommendations.
The move marks the second agency to do so, following Cincinnati-based Empower MediaMarketing’s withdrawal. That came days after the 4As issued what some saw as a tepid response to an ANA-commissioned study by K2 Intelligence and Ebiquity and recommendations by the ANA to fix the problems revealed by it.
The reason for the timing of Mediasmith’s decision to officially withdraw its membership from the 4As last week, says Founder and CEO David Smith, was a 4As effort requiring members to put its own transparency principles into practice.
“We don’t love having to walk away from the 4As, but they were requiring agencies to become signatories to their transparency guidelines and we felt the time was right to do that,” explains Smith.
Smith said he is not necessarily encouraging other agencies to do the same, but he said Mediasmith has drafted a "client bill of rights" explicitly spelling out the need for and terms of media transparency and has begun publishing on its Web site.
“Maybe we’ll relabel it a ‘Marketers Bill of Rights,’ so others can use it too,” he said,
adding that the ANA has already endorsed it.
Empower's Andrew Susman said his agency did withdraw initially "as our own principled protest," but is glad to see others are taking a stand.
"I am glad to see that David [Smith] and others are following suit," he added. "Maybe some agencies are starting to realize that accepting the AAAA’s attempt to unilaterally set industry standards might make friends in the industry — but they may not be the friends that matter.”
The ANA declined to comment on Mediasmith’s decision to withdraw from the 4As, but Smith said Mediasmith is also considering joining the ANA as an “associate member.” The ANA has a couple of hundred associate members, including a number of agencies.
While no holding companies are ANA members, some agencies owned by holding companies are, including Havas’ Arnold Worldwide, Interpublic’s FCB Chicago, WPP’s Grey Worldwide, and Publicis’ Leo Burnett.
An ANA spokesman said the main benefit of associate members is access to certain events and content from the ANA that is not available to non-members.
Mediasmith’s Smith said the main material benefit being lost from its 4As membership is the association’s group health insurance benefit.
From his perspective, Smith said the 4As' position on media-buying transparency began devolving when WPP acquired 24/7 Real Media in 2007, and lobbied the 4As to change its policies concerning members taking principal ownership of media. But as far as Mediasmith is concerned, failing to support the ANA’s recommendations and requiring 4As members to sign on to its own principles were the last straw.
He said the 25-year-old shop has been a 4As member for 16 years.
“The 4As is fighting a battle that’s not our battle,” Smith concluded. “It’s the battle of New York mega agency companies. Our battle is to distance ourselves from those in the industry that are doing arbitrage, doing kickbacks, and literally putting it in writing to the tech companies on when and where to send the money.“It comes down to whether your feel it’s the client’s money or not. We feel it’s the client’s.”
No one from the 4As was available for comment at presstime.