Are account conflict problems really getting worse?
There’s an article in the new issue of Ad Age (5th December) “Tightened policies on conflicts box in agencies, clients”.
I was surprised, frankly, to hear that the situation in the US has become tighter. My experience in the UK and internationally has been the opposite. I think that the old paranoia about conflict (on both sides) has significantly reduced. There are a number of factors at work to explain this:
1. There are certain sectors – pharmaceuticals, travel, music, financial services – where lack of current market experience is a positive disadvantage. It was a real shock to learn that it was Marriott’s sensitivity about pitching agencies that gave rise to the story
2. Far more assignments are now effectively projects, or short term. It makes little sense for either clients or agencies to become too precious if the job on offer is not a long term alignment
3. Most of the big FMCG players have become enlightened enough not to worry too much about potential conflicts unless they are in the same product class or close sector
4. Senior marketers now seem to be to be more open about their strategies in this digital age. Once you start engaging consumers in dialogue, it is hard to be secretive about the end game
5. Media agencies – largely because there are far fewer major players – have always managed conflict. Essentially their situation is not too different from that of the magic circle lawyers and leading auditing firms.
6. If it’s cool for media agencies to erect Chinese walls, why wouldn’t it work on the creative side of the equation? The big groups run a multi-agency strategy to allow them to cover a wider spread of clients, and I see absolutely no sign of client challenge to that. Groups are allowed to handle competitors, provided they keep them in different – albeit sister – shops
7. Most important of all, the increasingly short-lived span of client/agency relationships makes it impractical for agencies to be too self-denying in the area of conflict. Nor can I see any reason why clients – who are the moving force behind account shifts – would expect any greater degree of siloing than has been the industry practice over the last two decades
Perhaps the US market really is going in a different direction. Or maybe Ad Age has just got it wrong.