ANA, 4A's Are Never at Odds (Except When They Are)

A Closer Look at This Complicated Relationship

By Published on .

Nancy Hill and Bob Liodice
Nancy Hill and Bob Liodice
Most Popular

So just what is the relationship between the marketing industry's two largest trade groups? Well, it's complicated.

The Association of National Advertisers represents more than 680 companies that collectively spend over $250 billion on marketing and advertising. The 4A's, on the other hand, serves the agencies that serve the ANA. Its membership produces 80% of the total ad volume placed by shops nationally.

While the ANA and the 4A's collaborate well on many joint studies and task forces, they have also butted heads in the past. The most memorable flap dates to the ANA annual meeting in October 1998 when the advertiser group invited agencies to join. O. Burtch Drake, then-president-CEO of the 4A's, was informed of the decision only moments before it was declared from the stage by then-president-CEO of ANA John Sarsen. A clearly angry Mr. Drake warned the ANA to "stay off our turf," citing issues such as agency compensation where advertisers and agencies are often at odds.

The decision was also controversial within ANA. "There was dissension about the initial invitation even among the members of the ANA board. Some were said to be concerned about having agencies join an organization where internal discussions might be about cutting compensation costs and rocky agency relationships," Ad Age reported at the time.

The solution was another "joint study" between the groups on the issue. In April, 1999, Mr. Drake said, "There's been a misperception that the 4A's and the ANA are at war. We're not at war," he said. "The main focus will be how can we help [the two organizations] work together."

The offer for agencies to join was ultimately rescinded. But even then there was some leftover rancor. In October 1999 at the next annual ANA conference, Mr. Sarsen told Ad Age the group's change of heart came because "We assumed that . . . it would not disrupt the [4A's]. But the agencies saw it as an either-or situation, and we didn't want to decimate the 4A's." That prompted Mr. Drake to fire back. "Even if [agency members did join ANA] it wouldn't have 'decimated' us,'' he said. By some measures, such as revenue and resources, "we are much bigger and more powerful than ANA."

Today, the consensus is mainly that, despite the occasional flare-up, the relationship between the 4A's and the ANA is generally positive, even if they are sometimes on opposite sides of an issue. The relationship strengthened after President-CEO Bob Liodice joined the ANA and President-CEO Nancy Hill began leading the 4A's. And while the frenemies are already facing more challenges due to issues like rebates that pit clients and agencies against one another, there are plenty of problems the industry is facing, like ad blocking, that will require collaboration. "We very much want to cooperate as much as we possibly can to the extent that it's feasible and we want to get this behind us as quickly as possible," said Ms. Hill, of the rebates debate. "We're moving on."