Good for D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles for suing former client Gateway. We don't know enough about the particulars of the case to judge who was in the right and who in the wrong, but we do know it's about time advertising agencies showed they are willing to stand up for their own best interests as well as those of their clients -- even if it sometimes means seeking "justice" from a judge.
No one wants a wave of litigation to complicate, and embitter, agency/client relationships. DMB&B's recourse to the courts drew attention because such events are -- thus far -- rare. But that fundamental change in agency/client relationships that everyone talks about is real; things ain't what they used to be.
While marketers have adjusted to -- and set the tone for -- the realities of this new business environment, many agencies still seem to operate as if the old, more gentlemanly rules of the ad world still apply. Few would dare file suit against a client, former or current. After all, there's always the slim chance the shop will be rehired again by that client, or run into its marketing chief down the road in his or her new job at a different company, right? And heaven forbid any potential clients think of the agency as "litigious."
We don't mean to mock those concerns. But there are others that sometimes outweigh them. As DMB&B CEO Arthur Selkowitz told Advertising Age, his agency took Gateway to court because "in the final analysis, we believe it would be unfair to our employees and current clients" if the shop didn't try to collect the $9 million it believes it is owed.
After all, when Gateway dumped the agency just a year after hiring it, the computer marketer clearly concentrated on its own best interests -- as defined by a new president -- and not those of DMB&B.
Unfortunately, the business climate today is not one in which agency loyalty is rewarded. That's a blunt fact marketers continue to beat their shops over the head with. In fact, if DMB&B made one crucial mistake, it was in assuming its client would honor a contract it hadn't actually signed.
The new internet marketing world is still not moving fast enough to address children's privacy issues. A year ago, we
urged a multi-level approach to setting rules for Web sites that collect personal information from kids. Too many Web site operators still haven't got the message.
Companies should extend (modifying where needed) existing data privacy policies to the Web and disclose them. Industry groups should establish self-regulatory guidelines setting benchmarks for good practice. And the government should write narrow and enforceable regulations to apply to those marketers that choose to ignore this obligation to young consumers and their parents.
In the past year, the Direct Marketing Association and others have made major efforts to prod Web site operators to take action before the government moved in. DMA this month adopted a policy on kids' data collection that mirrors what the Federal Trade Commission desires, including a requirement that parents' permission be sought before information is collected. But compliance is spotty. An FTC survey found barely half of kids' Web sites it examined disclosed privacy policies, and less than a quarter sought parental permission. A separate DMA survey found better compliance rates, but far from universal coverage.
A year ago, some form of government-enforced standards seemed inevitable here. Now that FTC has asked for the authority to act, it seems likely it will get it. Our concern -- and every Web marketer's concern -- is that this narrow issue of kids and data collection not be the launching pad for Congress to entertain all sorts of other restrictions on Web marketing. The best antidote is for the rest of the Web marketing community to act -- now -- on kids data privacy rules.