The Association of National Advertisers and the 4As recently created a joint committee addressing the issues arising from the increased popularity of project-based work and how that relates to conflicts of interest for agencies involved.
Brands foregoing the agency of record model for more transient project-related relationships with agencies has become an increasingly popular trend, with Chobani and Best Buy just the latest examples. In addition to the obvious shortcomings of less stability and a smaller payout, there’s also the problem of conflicts of interest, with brands asking agencies not associate with competing brands — sometimes even after their project-based assignment is over.
“There’s much more project work going on now than ever before, and it’s up to the individual client to analyze their respective policies,” Bill Duggan, a group executive vice president at the Association of National Advertisers responsible for managing its agency relations committee, told Adweek. “But clients that don’t have flexibility are limiting their options. That’s the big negative that a client needs to consider.”
John Butler, executive creative director of Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, recalled that the agency was forced to turn down an invitation to pitch Netlix in 2013 when it was working on a single campaign for Roku. He likens the agency-client relationship to dating, saying, “It’s like if we’re going to date, then we’re dating, you know what I mean? We [should be able] to see other people.”
The phenomenon of project-based work is particularly prevalent at independent agencies. Goodby Silverstein & Partners, for example, derives around 40 percent of its revenue from project-related business, according to co-chairman Jeff Goodby, an increase of 30 in the past five years. While such agencies appreciate the efforts the Association of National Advertisers and the 4As have made with the committee, Goodby remains skeptical that much will change. “I don’t think it will loosen up as long as agencies are willing to sign things that enjoin them from doing this,” he told Adweek. “And I don’t think it’s going to loosen up as long as the marketing people are insecure about relationships and what’s going to happen next.”