FBI asks ANA members to cooperate in 'criminal investigation' of media buying

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Credit: Al Drago/Bloomberg

The Association of National Advertisers says the FBI has contacted its outside counsel to request cooperation of the trade association and its members in what it calls a "criminal investigation into media buying practices."

The probe, first reported by the Wall Street Journal in September, claimed Havas SA is one advertising company under scrutiny, citing people familiar with the situation. News of the investigation came after years of industry claims about non-transparent practices in the media-buying industry, including a bombshell 2016 report from the ANA that claimed cash rebates and other non-transparent practices were pervasive in the U.S. media-buying ecosystem.

ANA CEO Bob Liodice emailed a letter Wednesday morning to its 2,000-strong membership saying the FBI contacted Reed Smith, the ANA's outside counsel. In the letter ANA said that on advice of counsel it has agreed to "share information about potential next steps member companies can take with the FBI if they believe they have been victimized."

In the note, Liodice says the "starting point is to identify those advertisers which believe they may have been defrauded." The ANA suggests that members who believe they may have been defrauded should retain counsel "through their own engagements and at their own cost," as well as review their media buying history and contracts and perform audits for indications of fraud.

ANA says its members account for more than $400 billion in marketing spending annually.

The letter says members can contact Reed Smith for guidance and work in coordination with members' legal counsel. Liodice added that it is each member's decision whether to cooperate with the FBI and federal law enforcement. "Each member's decision to cooperate with the FBI and federal law enforcement, or take any action or no action, is entirely voluntary and up to the member company."

The letter says the opening of a federal criminal investigation is "a significant event to the industry and to ANA members" and suggests members alert their CEO's, CFO's or legal counsel.

The 4A's, a trade association representing agencies, said it has no comment "at this time."

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