Last week in the lead-up to the long holiday weekend, Accenture Interactive said it was launching a new programmatic ad planning and buying service.
Now, agency groups are starting to react with some alarm, asserting that the new practice is more than a bit of a conflict of interest, given Accenture’s long track record as an auditor of media services and agency reviews.
The 4As issued a statement Tuesday afternoon (which followed an earlier statement issued by its UK equivalent IPA) outlining its concerns and urging agencies to reconsider involvement in Accenture-led agency reviews or audits.
The group also said it had reached out to the Media Rating Council to address auditing guidelines and auditor independence and objectivity.
And the 4As also urged marketers to consider “the inappropriateness of engaging firms that have inherent conflicts of interests.”
I wonder if that would include agencies and holding companies that handle more than one auto account or more than one client in any category for that matter. Happens all the time. Agencies and HCs have no problem explaining the conflicts away noting the secure walls that are erected to protect client confidentiality.
In any event, here’s the 4A’s statement in its entirety:
“In this ever-changing media landscape, the agency industry welcomes competition; it is good for clients, good for agencies and ultimately good for markets. But the playing field must be level for everyone in the ecosystem.
"While agencies have adapted to consulting firms’ disruption of the media landscape and their role as auditors in the client-agency partnership, we feel strongly that Accenture Interactive’s new Programmatic Services unit is a clear conflict of interest, positioning Accenture to engage in media trading and then also be responsible for auditing the trading results and processes of its competitors.
"We find this unacceptable and are concerned about whether Accenture will be transparent in ensuring that the massive amount of information it has collected from agencies—both as auditor as well as via the agency review process—is not leveraged for the benefit of its new practice.
"The 4As has reached out to the Media Rating Council (MRC) to emphasize the need to revisit the updated draft of the Ad Agency Media Auditing Guidelines to directly address auditor independence and objectivity, including conflicts of interests that exist when a “media auditor” either directly competes with companies that it audits or performs sourcing services (agency search review activity and/or agency media pricing, compensation or contract terms activities) that impact the objectivity of auditing activities.
"We urge all agencies to take this moment to think critically about whether they will continue participating in any review that Accenture is leading and determine if they will allow Accenture to continue auditing their media. We encourage marketers to consider the inappropriateness of engaging firms that have inherent conflicts of interests and to support their agency partners in this process, as well as have active dialogue around selecting auditors that are appropriate for both sides of the client-agency partnership.
"We are clear that agencies remain the best media partner for clients that don’t need a single channel expert, but instead a partner that can deliver judgment, creativity and perspective across categories and borders. Media agencies are the only enterprises that see every seller of inventory; every provider of data; every slice of the buy side, sell side, client side and the ad-tech stack.”
An Accenture rep didn’t immediately respond to a query seeking comment on the 4As and IPA statements, the latter reported earlier in the day by Campaign. The publication quoted an Accenture Interactive executive who stressed that different business units within the company handle audits and reviews and that “firewalls” and other measures are in place at the company to keep client data secure and confidential.
Which sounds a lot like what agencies have pretty much always said when asked about conflicts of their own.