The independence and integrity of marketing consultants?

On April 12, Campaign UK had the following headline online “Oystercatchers admits wrongdoing in settlement with WPP”. If you read the story the issue is self explanatory and it does not take much to read between the lines.

Clearly the Search Consultancy had overstepped the line between facilitating the selection process on behalf of the clients, marketers and advertisers, to actively promoting a group of individuals. No-one can know except those involved if this was for financial gain or simply because of personal relationships. The issue is that the consultant was no longer acting in the best interests of their client or the industry.

WPP_Oystercatchers_Campaign.jpg

In July 2004 I tried to get the industry in Australia to accept the “Rules of the Road” guidelines for consultants, developed by the ANA and AAAA in the US. There was little interest from the AFA and negative response from my competitors.

With a lack of enthusiasm from the industry we developed our own guidelines that continue to hold us in good stead.

But I think the time has come to develop a set of industry standards for marketing and advertising consultants that the industry bodies hold consultants accountable.

In France, Bernard Petite at VTScan and his colleagues and competitors have drafted their own “Rules of the Road”. But in an increasingly global market I think that the marketers and advertisers, the buyers of our services should define the standards of practice for the consultants they work with, in consultation with those consultants.

Here is an English translation of the French Guidelines

Code of Conduct of Agency Search Consultants

1. Partnership between advertisers and their agencies has to be effective and stable.

2. All along our mission of selection of the best agencies to answer the needs of our clients, the advertisers, we should never forget this goal.

3. We, Agency Search Consultants, having signed this Code of Conduct, intend to confirm, through this signature, our commitment to a precise list of business principles that we do consider to be today absolutely necessary to ensure on the market quality and objectivity of our work for the service of our clients, the advertisers, in full respect of the agencies involved in these selections.

4. This approach has been supported by both Union des Annonceurs (UDA) for the advertisers and Association des Agences-Conseils en Communication (AACC) for the agencies

What is the job of Agency Search Consultant?

“Invented” in London in the beginning of the Seventies, and launched in France more than 30 years ago the Agency Search Consultancy business or review consultant business now exists in all developed countries. This specialized consultant, through a permanent immersion in the constantly changing world of agencies brings to his clients, the advertisers, a very thorough knowledge of the agency market, of its key actors, of their credentials and professional practices, in order to help them getting at the end the best possible partner, after a precise selection process built according to client needs, and to the structural, professional and cultural dimensions of the agencies considered for the selection.

The Seven Principles that we constantly follow all along the Agency Selection Process

I. Integrity. We commit ourselves to ensure to our clients, the advertisers an independent and objective recommendation with the best possible level of service delivered. We commit ourselves not to jeopardize the neutrality of our advices to clients though any particular and privileged relationship that could lead to a bias in our recommendations. If necessary we commit ourselves to inform agencies and advertisers of any change in our scope of activity /services.

II. Respect. We commit ourselves to mobilize all means and resources to ensure to our clients, both advertisers and agencies, a full respect of their interests. In that sense, we commit ourselves to respect and apply recommendations elaborated in common by AACC (French Agencies Trade Association) and UDA (French Advertisers Association) in terms of agencies selection practices.

III. Equity. We commit ourselves to grant a fair and identical treatment to all agencies approached along the selection process, and especially for the following points:

a. Transmission of information

b. Timing for information delivery and time given to work

c. Indemnity fee when it is granted by the client

d. Presence rules for client and/or agency people along the different steps of the pitch process.

IV. Absence of conflict of interest. In case of any consulting work undertaken for an agency (repositioning, change management, training, etc.) that may lead to any form of conflict of interest, we commit ourselves to inform all stakeholders in full transparency, and to take, if necessary all measures to make that conflict fully disappear.

We commit ourselves to keep our client informed of any conflict of interest that may result from any other mission assigned to us by one of its competitor.

V. Confidentiality. We commit ourselves to maintain the strictest confidentiality

a. About information given to us by our clients through their briefs, with or without a formal non-disclosure agreement.

b. About information and proposals produced by agencies whether they have won or lost the selection, except if this information may have a direct impact on the organization and follow-up of the selection.

We encourage the signature by all stakeholders of formal non-disclosure agreements with clearly defined period and scope of application.

VI. Excellence. We commit ourselves to offer our clients consultants with proven experience and expertise, working with objective and reliable working practices. On simple request from agencies and clients, we will deliver resumes of all our people and a full description of our methodologies.

VII. Transparency. We recognize the necessity to reveal our business model and compensation principles. They have to be known by our clients the advertisers and by all agencies involved in the selection process. In the agency selection business for the service of advertisers, our compensation is generally coming from the advertiser and mainly covers the time spent on the assignment by the consultants and the support staff for the accomplishment of the mission.

Additional success–fees paid by the winning agency to the review consultant at the end of the selection process are one of the compensation systems existing on the market. Review consultants using this system commit themselves to inform clients and agencies at the beginning of the selection mission about this practice.

This parallel source of income corresponds to a philosophy of “balanced power “ between clients and agencies during the pitch. In this system, agency success-fees cover the cost of time spent by review consultants to regularly visit agencies to build their expertise on the agency market, the skills and credentials of all agencies, and the feed back given by consultants to participating agencies all along the selection process to optimize their performance.

We commit ourselves not to ask agencies registration fees to be present in our data base and/or to open the selection to agencies having paid a fee to be in the selection.

We commit ourselves to the fact that our agency selection client/agency relationship business should represent at least 2/3 of our revenue. We accept this to be validated by an external auditor at the request of any client, any agency involved in a selection process, AACC or UDA.

Promotion of the Code October 2010. We commit ourselves to promote this Code of Conduct with all communication industry professionals in order to ensure its awareness.

Bruno Paillet Laurence Delporte bpaillet@coana.fr

Marie-Charlotte Longueville Stéphanie Pitet s.pitet@pitchville.fr

Bernard Petit Fabrice Valmier fvalmier@vtscan.fr

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About Darren Woolley

Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com
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2 Responses to The independence and integrity of marketing consultants?

  1. Tony Quail says:

    I think this is very important. If a consultant crosses that line one with one agency his/her role in the industry is "shot" – everyone talks.

  2. Thanks for the contribution Tony. It is true. Maintaining independence is paramount. It is a pity not all consultants understand this as there are many that play favourites and little power games to the detriment of everyone involved.

Comments are closed.