Marketers and consultants contacted by Advertising Age last week said they believe the Four A's newly released guidelines amount to little more than grandstanding. Some said they also believe that despite adopting a tough stance, most agencies will continue to give in to consultants' demands during reviews.
"Agencies are intimidated by some consultants and feel if they don't answer questions, it will compromise whether they are in a review," said DeWitt Helm Jr., managing partner of Achenbaum, Agoda & Associates, New York.
Marketers also indicated their practices won't be influenced by Four A's guidelines.
"In the end, the client makes the decision. I've never heard of a consultant appointing an agency," said Eric Conn, senior manager of advertising at American Honda Motor Co., who used consultant Herb Zeltner to help choose Suissa Miller, Santa Monica, Calif., for the carmaker's $100 million Acura division review last year.
Mr. Conn said he picks consultants "based on their reputation, experience and credentials," adding, "If [a marketer] gets an unscrupulous specialist, that's their problem."
The Four A's guidelines deal with practices agencies said are questionable, if not unethical. Those include consultants asking for proprietary financial data to build databases (AA, Oct. 6).
Advertisers that use consultants and those that don't said the hidden agenda in the guidelines is compensation, noting that a key reason why they hire consultants is to negotiate deals.
"We say agencies are our partners, but they're not when it comes to price," said Herb Baum, chairman of Quaker State Corp.; he has not used a consultant in choosing an agency.
"A lot of consultants go into a review with the goal of cutting prices," added Kurt Graetzer, executive director of the Milk Processor Education Program, which works with Bozell Worldwide, New York, and didn't use a consultant to select the shop. "But in my opinion agencies are sometimes inefficient," he said.
While the Four A's said the guidelines were partly aimed at educating marketers that may not know what consultants are asking of agencies in the name of clients, few advertisers contacted seemed surprised-and even fewer were concerned.
'INFO ADDS VALUE'
"Agencies control what they divulge to consultants. If they're uncomfortable giving out certain information, they shouldn't give it out," said Mr. Conn. "The information consultants gather over the years adds to their value."
Agencies "are trying to protect themselves," he added, noting the guidelines were developed only by agency executives. "There were no clients and no consultants, so they only have a third of the story."
John Sarsen Jr., president-CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, said that group had discussions over whether it should get involved in the debate over consultants, but decided not to.
"Our individual members make the decisions about consultants and how they use them," he said. "I can understand the Four A's being interested in developing broad guidelines, but the use of them varies from member to member."
Karen Sheriff, director of corporate marketing and branding at Ameritech Corp., who used Morgan Anderson & Co. to help choose Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, for its $100 million account earlier this year, said, using a consultant "helped us a lot with the process of pulling together as a team and forcing us to focus on what we wanted. Ultimately, the decisions were ours, but we were better informed to make them."
The Four A's said advertisers' belief that its guidelines are aimed at halting compensation-cutting were way off-base.
"Speculating on what agencies' attitudes are about consultants is not fair and not valid," said Charles Decker Jr., Four A's senior VP-management services. In doing so, "advertisers are not addressing the specific guidelines."
He added, "This is no smokescreen. They [the guidelines] speak for themselves."