4A’s Challenges Consultants

Plans to Create Agency Database on the Web for Reviews
NEW YORK–The American Association of Advertising Agencies plans to launch a Web site next year featuring a “neutral” database of advertising agency information that some say could pose a threat, if not an outright confrontation, to the lucrative business of search consultants.
The proposal marks another step in a long-simmering battle between the 4A’s and review consultants. In July, the 4A’s issued guidelines advising member agencies against participating in “pay-for-play” scenarios where they pay fees to consultants for new-business pitches.
“The [4A’s] new business committee came to us and said, ‘Look, there are all these various people putting up Web sites, and they all want to charge us money to be listed. This is getting out of hand,'” said 4A’s president and chief executive O. Burtch Drake. A decision was made to create a “neutral” site where agencies can list basic information for new-business pitches on a non-profit basis, he said.
While few consultants raised major objections, others questioned the usefulness of the initiative, noting it duplicates information already available in various formats.
Adforum, for example, charges each shop $2,000 to post information and creative samples on its site. About 150 agencies now subscribe; total listings include more than 6,400 agencies worldwide.
Some also suggested that by collecting standard data, the site could, in effect, homogenize agencies. “It creates commonality whereas one should be looking for differences,” said Alan Krinsky, partner at ADvice & ADvisors in New York.
Skip Pile, of Pile and Co. in Boston, said he had discussed creating such a site with the 4A’s, but that the association decided to go its own route. “We understand, but feel there are certain misconceptions and shortcomings associated with its approach.”
Specifically, Pile said reviews are “simply not done online, any more than a homeowner would choose an architect to design an addition to his home from the Yellow Pages. The idea that this membership directory can supplant or replace the consultant role is naive and expensive.”
Each shop participating in the site will be charged a fee based on gross income–as each is for 4A’s membership–that will range from $500 to $5,000, and will be reimbursed if site development costs are lower than estimated. Little Tornadoes in New York is handling site development. The site, expected to launch in the first quarter, will be at www.aaaa.org.