The Department of Justice investigation into alleged “bid rigging” by major creative agencies and their parent companies has expanded beyond the Big Three to include Interpublic.
This morning, the company released a statement before markets opened confirming that it has been contacted regarding the case first reported yesterday afternoon by The Wall Street Journal.
“We can confirm that one of our standalone domestic agencies has been contacted by the Department of Justice Antitrust Division for documents regarding video production practices and is cooperating with the government,” the statement reads.
IPG goes on to make the requisite claim that all related operations hew to existing standards: “The policies in our company’s Code of Conduct require that we do business in a manner that is fully consistent with the best interests of our clients — in the case of production, that means requiring triple bids on all projects above a minimal dollar threshold. IPG has established a long-standing record of holding ourselves to the highest standards of ethics and transparency and we expect all of our employees to act in accordance with our policies.”
An IPG spokesperson declined to elaborate beyond the above statement. At this time, we do not know which “standalone domestic agency” the quote references.
We have reached out to representatives from the remaining two major holding companies, Dentsu Aegis and Havas. Neither provided comment by the time this post went live.
Industry trade groups have also released cautious statements. The ANA writes, “This new development raises even more concerns about trust between advertisers and their agencies and we plan to follow it closely as it develops.”
As do we all; The hot takes have already begun.
Under the headline “Antitrust Probe Will Hasten Mad Men Decline,” Reuters columnist Jennifer Saba writes: “The business is already under pressure from Facebook and Google and their own clients. The whiff of more malfeasance is further evidence the model is broken.”
Bloomberg’s Leila Abboud goes even more poetic this morning, writing, “Like the alcohol in a dusty old bottle of vermouth, trust has evaporated in ad land.” She later adds, “A fresh probe won’t restore the confidence of big clients, some of whom appear to think their agencies are shafting them every time they’re not looking.”
To the undoubted relief of many readers, she goes on to pin a large share of the blame on clients who have been “squeezing lower fees out of agencies for years, even as they demand more services.”
This all sounds depressingly familiar.