ANA-4A's Feud Heats Up as ANA Unveils Investigation Hotline

Marketer Trade Group Voices Displeasure With Agency Group's Release of Transparency Guidelines

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Bob Liodice
Bob Liodice

Yesterday, the 4A's released its "Transparency Guiding Principles of Conduct" without the ANA's support, once again creating a rift between the agency and advertiser trade groups amid concern around media buying and planning practices.

Today, the Association of National Advertisers is responding with an official statement acknowledging its dissatisfaction with the principles, and a hotline to aid the investigation by K2 Intelligence, one of two firms the ANA hired late last year.

The issue dates back to March of last year, when former media agency executive Jon Mandel used a speech at an ANA event to allege that media agencies were letting undisclosed rebates from vendors influence their work on behalf of clients. The organizations created a joint task force to tackle the issue and assuage concern among clients and agencies, but that collaboration was short-lived when in October, the ANA hired K2 and Ebiquity/Firm Decisions to investigate the issue.

"By late spring, 2016, K2 Intelligence and Ebiquity/Firm Decisions will issue the findings of their industry assessment," the ANA said this morning in a statement. "We expect that the report will be accompanied by specific recommendations for the ANA as we create a set of transparency principles that are grounded in actual facts and data. As K2 and Ebiquity continue their assessment, the ANA calls upon industry executives with relevant insights to confidentially come forward and volunteer their perspectives. Anonymity and confidentiality are paramount in this process. Individuals can contact K2 Intelligence by calling 800.645.3083 or emailing mediatransparency@k2intelligence.com."

The ANA is also asking for an apology from the 4A's for listing its members involved in the joint task force on the release announcing the transparency principles.

"It was inappropriate that the 4A's issued its press release with the unauthorized use of ANA member company names. That use implies that the ANA and the companies named in the release endorse the principles of the 4A's -- which they do not. The ANA requests that their names be removed from the website of the 4A's, followed by apologies to the companies it unfortunately identified."

This comes less than a day after the 4A's issued the transparency principles on its own, along with this statement: "Despite the fact that a joint task force between leading advertisers and agency leaders set out to address the issues of transparency together, the 4A's is issuing these principles to its members without further delay. While that collaboration between marketing and agency leaders led to the development of these principles, ultimately the groups could not come to terms on language. The advertiser group sought to go beyond developing guideline language into prescribing contract language; the 4A's believes that should be left for discussion between individual agencies and clients and does not believe that is the role of an industry trade association."

The ANA said it had good reasons not to sign off. "We didn't feel the principles were strong enough or complete enough that it would allow us to endorse what was taking place," ANA CEO Bob Liodice told Ad Age soon after the 4A's issued its principles."We made a good-faith effort and agreed to disagree. What was particularly troubling was that in [today's] release, [the 4A's] acknowledges contributions from ANA members. The implication that the ANA members are endorsing that is blatantly false."

This morning, Bill Koenigsberg, Chair of the 4A's and CEO of media agency Horizon, responded to the ANA's statements. "Since the names [of the companies] are already out, we're trying to be respectful, and not disrespectful, by acknowledging the hard work," he told Ad Age, referring to the names of ANA members that the 4A's included in its release. "If we offended anyone, we apologize. That wasn't the intention. We're trying to be respectful."

But he also defended the decision to issue the principles at this time. "Ever since Jon Mandel painted the entire industry in a negative light, our membership has been asking us for guidance since many of us felt we'd been operating with full transparency," said Mr. Koenigsberg. "For the last eight months, we've been working closely with the ANA to try to come to agreement on principles. We did reach an impasse. We don't believe we jumped the gun or went rogue. We believe we had a responsibility to our membership, and we believe the industry is better today than yesterday."

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