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Review Consultants Set Own Rules

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4A's Guidelines to Standardize Agency Searches Get Cool Reception
BOSTON--The region's top consultants last week dismissed efforts by the American Association of Advertising Agencies to devise standards for speculative creative work and requests for proposals given the competitive nature of the ad business.
"Let them do questionnaires to their hearts' content," said Bill Weilbacher, whose consultancy, Bismark Corp. in Dennis, Mass., has handled recent agency searches for Merrill Lynch, Reebok International and Ryder TRS. "I don't use questionnaires."
To win big accounts, agencies are willing to provide whatever information and spend as much money as they see fit, Weilbacher said. For that reason, the guidelines on questionnaires and spending will be viewed by shops as "irrelevant" and prove to be "unenforceable," he said.
The effort "compromises the job the consultant does and . . . takes away any special flair and differentiation we have" from each other, said Jack Rossin, a Boston consultant who, with partner Dave Murphy, has overseen reviews for Sebago and others.
"We are not about enforcing or imposing," said Burtch Drake, president of the 4A's. When the organization's new business committee issues its review "suggestions" in a report in the next few months, the information is for agencies, clients and consultants "to use as they see fit," he said.
Along with client companies, some consultants, including Weilbacher, have been asked by the 4A's to contribute data being used to formulate the guidelines. Arnold Communications' executive Fran Kelly is a member of the group's 23-member new business committee drawing up the initiative.
The 4A's recently announced plans to allow consultants and clients to join, noted Skip Pile of Boston-based Pile and Co. That might foster a broader dialogue yielding workable review parameters, he suggested.
And yet another trade group, the Association of National Advertisers, recently began accepting agencies, a move that may make membership in the ANA more attractive to shops than the 4A's, Pile said. Which trade group will agencies find more compelling: "competitors that hate their guts" and impose regulations on their new business efforts or a gathering of "their clients and potential clients?" Pile asked.
The ANA's decision will have no effect on the new review criteria by the 4A's, which have been in the works for more than a year, Drake said.