ANA and 4A's: Yes, We Can Agree

Guidelines for Competitive Project Reviews Demonstrate Trade Group Collaboration

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If one were to form an opinion on the state of the relationship between the ANA and the 4A's based solely on recent trade press reports, that relationship would appear to be seriously wounded. Consider these recent headlines:

  • "The ANA and the 4A's Confrontation"
  • "ANA-4A's Feud Heats Up"
  • "The ANA and the 4A's Clash"

Ouch! Can't these guys agree on anything?

Despite recent differences of opinion, ANA and 4A's enjoy a long-term collaborative working relationship, based on mutual respect.

In late January the 4A's and ANA released new guidelines outlining best-practice recommendations designed to bring industrywide consistency to how competitive reviews for project assignments are conducted by marketers and advertising agencies. However, since other high-profile industry news broke in late January, you likely never heard about this important industry collaboration.

The ANA/4A's "Agency Reviews for Project Work Guidance Considerations," were issued in response to an increase in reviews for project assignments and the absence of any industrywide consistency in how agency reviews for project work should be conducted.

Project assignments are limited in time and scope, and are usually driven by a need to address a defined business opportunity. They often involve strategy and creative development, but they can also cover website work, social media, PR, media planning, and media buying.

The 4A's conducted a survey in 2014 that found that an overwhelming majority of advertising agency respondents -- 91% -- reported working on projects for new clients. With these project assignments and competitive reviews on the rise, it was important for us to work together to optimize the review process and establish industry practices that will benefit both agencies and clients.

The project reviews principles were created by a joint task force of industry leaders from the marketer and agency communities. The white paper's guidelines for an efficient project review process include the following recommendations:

  • Clients should align the parameters of the review to fit the opportunity.
  • Budgets should be shared early in the process so opportunities can be accurately assessed.
  • Agencies must understand the client's problem/opportunity, the project's objectives and be transparent about staff resources and capabilities.
  • Both parties should agree on how proprietary information should be handled and should document the agreement in a non-disclosure agreement.
  • Clients should align marketing and procurement on review objectives and criteria.

Breaking New Ground

ANA/4A's project review considerations include discussion of thorny, sometimes polarizing, industry dynamics such as the following:

1. Relationship models: There are pros and cons related to "agency of record" and "project by project (PxP) models. The AOR model encourages agencies to invest in the client's business, provides the client with dedicated resources and makes it easier to coordinate integrated marketing communications. The PxP model recognizes that a client may not need ongoing agency support and enables clients to consider less familiar agencies.

2. Exclusivity: Client expansion of agency rosters, the increase in specialist agencies and the trend toward more project assignments has heightened discussion of conflicts. The recommendations note that given the short-term nature of most projects, conflict parameters, if any, should be abbreviated, tightly defined and appropriately calibrated to the scope and scale of the relationship.

3. Spec work: The polarizing issue of speculative work is a long-standing industry dynamic. The white paper notes spec work considerations for both short-term tactical assignments and intermediate-term complex assignments. For short-term tactical assignments, clients should not require or suggest that agencies submit speculative strategic or creative work, and agencies are reminded that they are under no obligation to provide spec work. For intermediate-term complex assignments, clients should consider if spec work is required and the parties should establish formal agreement around ownership of the work.

4. Is a review even necessary? The white paper notes that not all projects benefit from a review and suggests that for smaller assignments a more streamlined approach saves time and effort on both sides.

The white paper suggests that the adoption of the recommended guidelines will produce these results:

  • For clients, an efficient review will speed up their time to market, increase the likelihood of arriving at a smart solution and reduce the cost of reviews.
  • For agencies, it will alleviate a strain on resources and help manage employees' non-billable time.
  • Most importantly, effective reviews will help match the right agency with the right client to produce the best results.

The recently released "ANA/4A's Agency Reviews for Project Work Guidance Considerations" white paper is the third in a series, following "Guidelines for Agency Search" (2011) and "Agency Selection Briefing Guidance" (2013).

Ultimately, we found that the most important consideration in conducting a review for a project-based assignment is to match the process to the opportunity. This will allow clients to select agencies they feel will do the best work and agencies to pursue opportunities that fit with their expertise so they can really shine. Ultimately, the guidance can help clients expand their resources and help agencies identify and pursue new business opportunities.

Confrontation? Clash? We call it -- collaboration.

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