'Uncompromising' Attorney Leading DOJ Production Probe Has Long Adland History

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The Department of Justice's investigation into the advertising industry's production practices is likely to be thorough and unrelenting, given the history of the attorney leading it, Rebecca Meiklejohn.

Rebecca Meiklejohn, photographed in 2010.
Rebecca Meiklejohn, photographed in 2010. Credit: Jin Lee/Bloomberg

Ms. Meiklejohn, who has worked in the New York office of the Justice Department's antitrust division since 1975, is spearheading the probe into ad production practices that has spread to the four major holding companies. The investigation, which is looking into whether ad agencies have been unfairly directing production business to their in-house departments over independent shops, includes two Omnicom subsidiaries; one Publicis Groupe subsidiary; one Interpublic Group standalone domestic agency; and three WPP subsidiaries.

This is well-trod ground for Ms. Meiklejohn.

In the early 2000s, the Harvard Law School graduate guided an investigation of a bid-rigging scandal between Grey Advertising and Color Wheel that ultimately sent six executives to prison. The Grey case she uncovered involved kickbacks and bid-rigging on work for Procter & Gamble Co. and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. Grey cooperated in the investigation, which sent former Grey Exec VP Mitch Mosallem and five others to prison in 2002 and 2003.

"She's very hard-charging, very aggressive and she's an absolutely relentless investigator," said someone who knows Ms. Meiklejohn. "She drives defense lawyers crazy because she's not conciliatory and she doesn't really compromise; she really pushes very hard."

The person added that Ms. Meiklejohn has a knack for "turning over rocks and finding new violations and new avenues of investigation."

According to Business Insider, during the Grey/Color Wheel investigation, Ms. Meiklejohn "used informants wearing hidden microphones to collect evidence, in addition to flipping low-level offenders to testify against bigger fish on Madison Avenue."

During an Association of National Advertisers' Advertising Financial Management Conference in 2005, Ms. Meiklejohn said she became interested in procurement fraud involving advertising production in 1992 when a Philip Morris USA attorney called to say the marketer had uncovered kickbacks involving point-of-purchase suppliers. She's also previously investigated cases across the liquor and pharma industries including Pfizer and Merck, among others.

At the ANA Conference in 2005, she did not mince words. "I'm not here to slam Grey, but Mr. Mosallem had a reputation as a huge taker," said Ms. Meiklejohn at the time.

At the same conference, she offered a few tips to attendees about how to avoid procurement fraud, including: requiring competitive bidding; being cautious of "arts and crafts," such as faxes and date stamps being sliced off; enforcing solid conflict-of-interest policies on the part of both marketer and agency; and having a separate authority for awarding contracts and approving invoices.

Ms. Meiklejohn and representatives from the Department of Justice declined to comment for this story.

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