The time's right to kill time sheet

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Shona Seifert and Tom Early are the names on the court papers, but the whole advertising business is being dragged into disrepute as the two former Ogilvy & Mather staffers are tried for padding time sheets on a government account. Not only must the industry recognize how flaky and undisciplined it is being made to look-but it must take action.

Even if the defendants convince the jury they did not specifically order employees to misreport the hours worked on the Office of National Drug Control Policy account, the taint of their involvement in what is being portrayed-at best-as serious account mismanagement will effectively stunt their careers.

The defendants are not the only ones who look bad. With a steady stream of Ogilvy staffers and former staffers testifying that hours spent on other businesses were transferred to the ONDCP account, the entire agency's account-oversight and billing have been made to look totally inadequate.

The agency was "not organized to handle time sheets," according to the defense attorney. No one has proved this-there is a difference between an attempt to overcharge one client and a systemic inability to cope with a simple billing mechanism. But it is hardly likely to inspire confidence among clients.

The trial has also highlighted the weaknesses of an easily exploited and laughably anachronistic method of measuring a creative agency's output. A time-sheet-based system is so open to abuse that there is no experienced marketer or adman who believes Ogilvy is the first or last to intentionally or unintentionally dupe clients. (Given that Ogilvy has instituted tougher accounting systems after the scandal, its billing practices may now be more rigorous than those at many other agencies.)

We live in an era of eroded trust and increased demand for accountability. It's a time in which even the most buttoned-down industries have been forced to increase financial disciplines, controls and transparency. It's time to call time on the time sheet.

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