ANA Invites 4A's to Orlando Conference for 'Open Dialogue' on Transparency

ANA Also Asks 4A's to 'Publicly Clarify' Stance on K2 Intelligence Report Findings

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Peace in our time? The 4A's Nancy Hill and ANA's Bob Liodice.
Peace in our time? The 4A's Nancy Hill and ANA's Bob Liodice.

In response to the 4A's rejection of the Association of National Advertisers/Ebiquity report on media transparency, the ANA is inviting the ad-agency trade group to the marketer trade group's annual Masters of Marketing conference to "have an open dialogue and create a pathway that will lead to industry consensus and collaboration."

"Since there continues to be profound disagreement as to the nature and extent of this obvious U.S. marketplace problem, we would like to invite the leaders of the 4A's Board of Directors to confer with the ANA Board at our October 19 meeting at the Masters of Marketing national conference," said ANA CEO BOB Liodice in a statement on Thursday.

In a way, this would be a repeat of what happened at last year's Masters of Marketing conference.

The ANA had intially planned to announced the hiring of Ebiquity and investigative firm K2 Intelligence to investigate allegations that agencies were collecting rebates from U.S. media-buying deals at its 2015 conference, held in Orlando, Fla. But it was delayed after the ANA sent the initial draft of its release announcing the firms to the 4A's, which led to a round of intense dialogue, much of which happened at an ANA board meeting during the Masters of Marketing conference. 4A's President and CEO Nancy Hill, along with 4A's Exec VP-Media Relations Bill Tucker and Bill Koenigsberg, CEO of Horizon Media and board chair of the 4A's, joined the ANA board meeting to present their point of view on the selection of the firms and the level of collaboration between the two organizations.

Ultimately, last year's conference focused largely on success stories and case studies, keeping the thorniest issues off the main stage.

The ANA went ahead with the hiring of the two firms two weeks later. The 58-page K2 Intelligence report, which was released in early June, found that rebates, including "cash rebates," and "other non-transparent practices" are pervasive in the U.S. media buying ecosystem. And in the ANA transparency guidelines released in July, the association called for marketers to diminish "non-disclosed agency activities."

Last week, Ms. Hill issued a statement in which she dismissed the ANA's transparency guidelines from Ebiquity and encouraged agencies to reference the advertising-agency trade group's own guidelines for maintaining transparent agency-client relationships.

Mr. Liodice said in his retort that the 4A's "chose to dismiss the recommendations and, essentially, called for a preservation of the status quo," instead of providing "new insights into the depth and magnitude of the transparency issue and offering positive suggestions."

"We find it perplexing that the 4A's decided to ignore those voices and default to a survey of its own members," he added in the statement.

In addition to asking the 4A's to meet in October, the ANA wants the association to acknowledge that there's a transparency problem in the U.S. media buying industry.

"We ask that the 4A's publicly clarify whether they accept or reject the findings of the K2 report -- a report which reflects the unambiguous perspectives from current and former agency leaders and a cross section of senior leaders in the industry," according to Mr. Liodice's statement.

He added the associations must agree that there is a common problem if they want to have meaningful conversations going forward.

In the meantime, the ANA "will relentlessly remind its members that the transparency issues contained in the K2 Intelligence assessment are real" and encourage them to consider the recommendations in the ANA/Ebiquity report, according to Mr. Liodice's statement.

"ANA recognizes that the industry must change," he said. "That is why we were sure to identify prescriptions for marketers and agencies that we believe could lead to a shared stewardship of a marketer's media investment."

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UPDATE: In a statement responding to the ANA, Ms. Hill said the agency association didn't want to get into its members' contract negotiations. "We maintain our position that transparency is a best practice and continue to advocate for this to our members," she said. "It is inappropriate for a trade association to comment on contractual language, which is between the two contracting parties, not between two trade associations. We have always wanted to have open dialogue, and still welcome finding common ground. But when it comes to legal and contract specifics, we feel these are best left between agency and client."

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