Following lengthy discussions, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers have agreed a code of best practice governing the appointment of search consultancies – independent advisers hired to help advertisers select an agency, conduct reviews or account audits.

Effective as of today, the guidelines are directed at all three sides of the advertiser/agency/consultant triangle. They address seven key issues including:

• Consultants should ask agencies for information in areas like financial and management operations that is "relevant to the specific search" and not to build their own databases.

• The information provided should be confidential.

• Consultants should not solicit business from agencies and should disclose any ties, past or present, to agencies they recommend in a review.

• Consultants "should not request any proprietary or sensitive information or materials from agencies" until the advertiser that is paying for the search can be identified.

• Agencies should not be required to pay search consultants fees to take part in reviews or pay fees for winning account reviews.

Consultants agreeing to bound by the guidelines will be entered onto a database jointly maintained by the two trade bodies.

As the practice of hiring of consultants gains momentum, there has been growing concern among agencies. "Most of the players are first rate and do a good job,'' conceded O Burtch Drake, president and chief executive at the Four As in New York, "but there have been some isolated abuses and egregious behavior.''

Commented one consultant, Bill Weilbacher, president at the Bismark Corporationin Dennis, Massachusetts: "I found this totally consistent with everything I do. I signed it, and it's going right back."

But Skip Pile, chairman and chief executive at Boston’s Pile & Company was less enthusiastic: “We have no problems with the guidelines [but] they appear to be the Four A's guidelines [issued last year] with a new letterhead with the ANA logo added. I don't like having to feel I'm on the defensive,” he said. “It's mostly a public relations initiative."

News source: New York Times