A little chilling out needed over account conflicts

On page one of this issue is the story of how Sprint Canada and BBDO Canada, the telco's AOR for all of the last month or so, parted company over a rather tenuous account conflict: BBDO's Quebec affiliate PNMD handles work...

On page one of this issue is the story of how Sprint Canada and BBDO Canada, the telco’s AOR for all of the last month or so, parted company over a rather tenuous account conflict: BBDO’s Quebec affiliate PNMD handles work for QuebecTel, a smallish regional telco being taken over by big-time Sprint competitor BCT.Telus. While BBDO president Mike Fyshe claims it was his agency, and not Sprint, that initiated their parting of the ways, the split does raise some interesting questions about how to manage such conflicts when they arise, without throwing either the agency or the affected client into turmoil.

With consolidation the order of the day in the ad business and in many client sectors, especially among multinationals, the potential for sudden new conflicts arising is greater than ever. Add in the continuing trend toward vertical business diversification (that is, retailers getting into banking; banks getting into auto leasing; automotive companies getting into online retail, etc.) and the distinction about what actually constitutes a conflict and what doesn’t becomes decidedly blurry.

The challenge here for clients is to feel confident that when they choose an agency they’re going to get some stability on the account – at least long enough to develop some meaningful and effective advertising and marketing ideas and put them into play. It’s a well-documented fact that the best, most fruitful client/agency relationships are those that are based on trust and mutual understanding – something that can hardly exist if the spectre of one or the other party upping and leaving at any time hangs over everyone’s heads.

Talking to a few senior agency types, the solution seems abundantly obvious: Clients need to relax a little and trust their agencies to preserve and manage the integrity of their account. They say clients have to realize that some conflicts are simply unavoidable, but that agencies are generally willing to do whatever it takes to protect the client’s interests. The most often cited example is the building of so-called "Chinese walls", in which certain account groups within agencies are expressly forbidden to have any interaction with the other. That’s just one possible remedy. There are obviously many others, including (one would imagine) some that haven’t been widely discussed in an open industry forum.

As the prospect of new account conflicts appears to be growing throughout the marketing industry at large, Strategy would like to encourage some debate and discussion on the issue. If you have strong feelings on the matter, one way or another, I’d like to invite you to send me your thoughts via e-mail and I’ll publish some of the more insightful replies in this space in an upcoming issue.

David Bosworth

dbosworth@brunico.com

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