IPA to tackle ‘massive’ problem of ‘intellectual property’ abuse

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising is drawing up plans to stop media agencies from being exploited by clients.

The discussion involves the huge amount of "intellectual property" which agencies routinely pass on to potential customers free of charge.

They include details of the cost of media services and, increasingly, sophisticated proposals on how clients could improve the profitability of their businesses.

Starcom Group chairman Jim Marshall heads the IPA Futures Group, which is discussing plans to tackle the problem.

"This is a massive issue for media agencies," he said.

Last week the IPA issued new guidelines urging advertising agencies to license their best ideas to clients, rather than give them away.

However, Marshall said the new code of practice was not enough to safeguard media agencies from being exploited.

"The issue is not as obvious or as specific as it is with creative agencies," he said, adding: "There is nevertheless a huge amount of what could be classed as intellectual property being basically given away for nothing to clients and I really believe something needs to be done about it."

Starcom recently refused to take part in a £300m global strategic review by Danone despite being one of its roster agencies.

The agency said it was asked to give away huge details of its potential plans for the brand, even though the decision on a new roster of agencies could take until 2008.

Hamish Pringle, director general of the IPA, said the group was trying to introduce the idea of intellectual property to boost awareness of the issue throughout the industry.

"We feel very strongly that media is not a commodity business – there is an enormous amount of added value in what good media agencies bring to the party, in terms of planning and buying and we need to reassert that added value," he said.

Marshall said the problem was not so much a matter of "clients ripping media agencies off as the fact that, when they are given such detailed information on areas such as the price of media – especially as auditors are often involved in the process – they are bound to take that information on board.

"Media agencies spend huge sums on research which is used in the pitch process. It's classic intellectual property, which they are giving away either too cheaply or for free," he added.

The IPA has urged its members to begin licensing its best creative ideas to clients, yet the most obvious place this would apply is with creative agencies.

Although he admitted it was a difficult task, Marshall said talks were ongoing at the IPA with the hope of coming up with more specific guidelines for media agencies to counter the problem, but he admitted it would be difficult not least "because we live in such a commercially competitive world".

IPA president David Pattison agreed that media agencies were giving away too many of their ideas too cheaply: "The IPA can't negotiate on behalf of every single agency. We can only take the horses to water – we can't make them drink. So if agencies chose to give their ideas away, that's their own decision, but we would encourage them not to.

"There are some situations where it's easy to see how the ownership of the ideas should be retained and there are other situations where, frankly, you are just doing the job you are paid for.

"A media planning assignment is what we get paid for – it is the stuff over and above that, where there is an ongoing benefit to the client, we should be thinking about negotiating."

But Pattison said the onus was on agencies to make a stand. "If you choose to pitch, what you choose to put into that pitch is entirely up to you. If you don't win that pitch, then if you have chosen to give those ideas away for nothing, that's really your lookout."

Pattison did say, however, that he thought there would come a point where agencies would be paid for pitching.

"But I don't think that will happen any time soon because, at the moment, there are too many agencies that are too willing to give ideas away for nothing," he said.

"Where I have a problem is when a client gets you to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and they say openly that any ideas you give them become theirs – even if you don't win the pitch. I do think that's bad practice," he added.

Marc Mendoza, UK chief executive of Media Planning Group, welcomed the IPA initiative, noting: "It will help, but there's no one magic silver bullet which is going to solve it completely.

"This is becoming more of an issue – at pitches more than anything else because you put up a load of ideas," he added.

"To be honest, it's the agencies who have put themselves in that position," he said. "It's not the clients who have done anything wrong."

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