Press reports surfaced today that WPP has declined to participate in a media audit being overseen by Accenture.
The holding company reportedly cited a conflict of interest given that Accenture not only does audits and agency reviews but also buys media via its Accenture Interactive agency division.
Apparently WPP has indicated it won’t participate in Accenture-led reviews in the future either.
Why WPP decided to play the conflict card now is unclear—the firm declined to comment on the matter. But Accenture has been in all those businesses for a while now so the timing of WPP’s objection is a bit curious.
Holding companies like WPP are also conflicted on many fronts. All have multiple competing clients in various business sectors. And some, like WPP and Omnicom, serve as ad buying agents while acquiring and reselling inventory to certain clients at a profit. Some clients have rejected the latter model.
But consultants and holding companies alike have always insisted that firewalls are in place so all the proper confidentialities are kept intact.
It doesn’t seem like much has changed really, other than the fact that the competition is getting a little testier.
Like WPP, Accenture declined to comment on the matter.
It's one thing for an agency network or holding company to have agencies that manage competing business – they don't talk to each other.
However, it's another when consultancies that are auditing the agencies get an inside look at contracts, scopes, pricing and deliverables of competitive agencies. That's a huge competitive advantage.
While consultancies claim to have "firewalls", we manage agency searches and have been told by new business directors that were previously with consulting companies that they do indeed get insider info from the audit side about the incumbent agencies as well as others competing for the business.
We shared this with the 4As and recommended that their member agencies adopt and require special language in their contracts that prohibits auditors from pitching the business for at least three years post-audit. And to include legal damages clauses of some sort. Yes, enforcement is an issue, but shrugging shoulders just encourages bad and unethical behavior.
To date, nothing has been implemented.