Conflict of interest means WPP won’t participate in Accenture-led pitches

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Conflict of Interest means WPP won’t participate in Accenture-led pitches

In a move unsurprising to many industry insiders, it emerged this week that WPP would henceforth refuse to participate in any Accenture-led audits or reviews. It cited as its reason that Accenture could use the data to which it has privileged access as an auditor to undercut WPP’s prices in other pitches for ad budgets.

Accenture’s digital arm gives it an unfair advantage

The concern is rooted in the fact that, last year, Accenture’s digital arm, Accenture Interactive, launched a programmatic services practice, offering programmatic consulting and in-housing; media strategy, planning and activation; and ad tech implementation and support. This placed them in direct competition with specialist programmatic companies but also the major media agencies, including WPP’s GroupM.

WPP is arguing that, from Accenture’s privileged position, it will be able to offer advertisers cheaper, more effective media rates during pitches, giving it a massive and unfair advantage. Accenture maintains that there are internal barriers in place between its audit and programmatic buying business units, but WPP is evidently unconvinced – as are we.

The threat from the ‘vanguard of advertising’

This decision is not out of the blue: there has been growing disquiet amongst the more traditional media agencies who feel, according to an article in the New York Times, “threatened by the ‘vanguard of advertising today’ – consulting firms like Accenture which offer technical wizardry in an age of cord-cutting and ad-blocking.” The fact that Accenture will now potentially be able to take market share from these agencies in an ‘underhand’ way only serves to entrench the tension – the battle has become war.

WPP needs to persuade clients to follow its lead

The issue with WPP’s move is that it will need to persuade clients – both current and future – to not work with Accenture as well. That could be extremely difficult: when clients own their data (as opposed to their agency), it is often inextricably entwined with a number of parties, an arrangement that is difficult to move away from; a Digiday article points out that clients will judge whether it’s worth it based on how satisfied they are with their auditor, and not on any gripes the advertiser has with said auditor.

ECI Media Management: independent and impartial

At ECI Media Management we fully back WPP’s decision. Impartiality is at the heart of effective auditing and no company which offers media services to a market where it has highly privileged access to the data and financial information of both advertisers and agencies can claim to be impartial. As Paul Bansfair, the Director General of the IPA (the UK ad industry’s trade body) said when Accenture Interactive announced the launch of its programmatic buying branch, “In an era where transparency is under the spotlight, this self-evident conflict of interest is unacceptable.”

At ECI Media Management, we are 100% director-owned and have no affiliations with any media agencies or owners, so our advice and actions are always based on what is best for the client. We believe that should be the norm across the auditing and media management sector.

Image: Shutterstock

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