Art & Commerce: Running the Gauntlet

After the 4A’s discharges its online salvo, two search consultants fire back
It’s happened before. Several times in the past year or so. Adweek is on the phone, The New York Times is holding and a fax from the 4A’s squeaks its way out of the machine. Always in quick succession and always on a Thursday, close to deadline.
This time, two Thursdays ago, the headline on the release reads: “AAAA develops new Web site to help facilitate the agency search and review process: New business site will be centralized, nonprofit and neutral. Embargoed until October 18, 1999.”
Question: “The 4A’s will announce next week a new Web site that could be construed as an attempt to put search consultants out of business. I’d like your reaction to it for a story we’re working on for Monday.” –Judy Warner, editor, Adweek New England.
Question: “What gives with the 4A’s directory? Isn’t this what your deal is all about?” –Stuart Elliott, advertising writer, The New York Times.
Scrambling for the high ground, we hope we sound sincere: “Pile and Co. is looking forward to seeing and utilizing the 4A’s online directory. We feel it can only add to the body of current and relevant information available to us and our clients in agency review management.”
To be honest, we feel conveniently misunderstood, pigeonholed with “pay-to-play” consultants and marginalized by the 4A’s. In the Times piece the following day, 4A’s president O. Burtch Drake rationalized the $500 to $5,000 assessment on each member agency to build an online directory around the 4A’s Standardized New Business Questionnaire as follows: “It’s important that the industry have a site. We’ve been doing a lot of work in the new business area.”
At the risk of parsing Drake’s remarks, here are the facts as we see them:
– The 4A’s no longer solely represents the “industry” any more than the TV networks solely represent the broadcast industry. Marketers’ needs for truly integrated marketing communications across disciplines go well beyond advertising. Clients themselves are much more involved in branding and positioning than ever before. And, for better or worse, agency review consultants are here to stay–in our case, more than 400 reviews in the past 13 years, involving hundreds of agencies.
– The Internet has delivered on its basic promise of breaking down the information and commerce barriers between suppliers and customers. Our company embraced this promise more than three years ago and our use of the Web in review management has been a critical element in our success working with both clients and agencies.
Agency ComPile, our online interactive directory, comprised of more than 1,500 shops, has been live for most of 1999. It’s free to agencies, clients and anyone interested in the profile of all types of communications firms. “Pay-to-play” it’s not (although we do optionally charge agencies if they want to add creative or other work to their listings).
Here’s the good news: Along with the content upgrades planned in the short term for our site, the 4A’s Standardized New Business Questionnaire is up, verbatim, supported and searchable at www. as of Nov. 1.
No need for the 4A’s to spend $250,000, no need to issue any more Thursday releases. It’s done. For free.
Skip Pile (top) and Rick Hooker are principals of Pile and Co., a review consulting firm in Boston.