The controversy surrounds a request for proposals issued earlier this month that did not disclose the name or specific industry of the client and a separate survey that asks agencies to name the best and worst clients in the business.
The American Association of Advertising Agencies is at the forefront of the attacks. It issued a letter to agencies that urged them to use caution in filling out the questionnaires (AA, Aug. 16).
"If I were an agency, I'd be leery about providing information on best and worst clients," said Four A's President-CEO O. Burtch Drake last week, questioning the consultancy's motives.
As for the blind RFP, "I'd prefer if agencies just answered with the standard Four A's questionnaire," he said.
NORMAL RESPONSE RATES
Several agencies also voiced concerns. But Arthur Anderson, managing principal of the consultancy, said that hasn't stopped them from answering questions.
"We're still getting normal responses at our normal rate to both of them," he said.
Mr. Anderson said the Four A's is "making much ado about nothing." The questionnaires are standard, he said, adding it's not unusual for clients to keep their identities confidential in the early stages of a review.
He also denied charges of data mining, and said his company would never jeopardize its reputation by inappropriately soliciting agency information.
In a statement sent to the media, Mr. Anderson said the Four A's "is using a shotgun when it should be using a rifle and is biting the hand that feeds it."
Several agency executives said they would not release information on client practices. Among the questions that appear in the Morgan Anderson survey are "Which client in your opinion is the most difficult to work with?" and "What are the qualities that make for a well-structured client organization?"
Agency executives said they are concerned by a proliferation of review questionnaires that don't disclose client information.
"I've never had a category-blind RFP before. I don't know why a client would want that level of secrecy," said Chris Clark, exec VP-director of business development at Bates USA, New York.
Cleve Langton, DDB Worldwide director of new business and chairman of the Four A's new-business committee, said agencies risk wasting resources if they respond to blind questionnaires.
"I think the misconception here is that it takes agencies a couple of hours to fill out an RFP. It's not 2 hours, it's generally closer to 20 hours," he said,