WPP’s M4C takes UK government to court – but we’re not allowed to see why

WPP’s M4C, its bespoke media agency that has handled the UK government’s media buying for the past four years, has taken its dispute over the Government’s decision to move the business to Carat an important step further by filing court papers. WPP claims the tendering process was flawed.

martin-sorrell-hed3-2013But, very unusually, we’re not allowed to see these ‘statements of claim.’ WPP says: “GroupM (WPP’s media holding company) applied to have the court file sealed, given that the Particulars of Claim contained sensitive and confidential pricing information submitted by GroupM in response to an Invitation To Tender (ITT) issued by the Cabinet Office.”

GroupM negotiates prices and deal for all WPP’s main media agencies, including M4C. It is often the case that big media buyers receive substantial rebates from media owners; which may be the case here as M4C disposes of over £140m of taxpayers’ money each year. There is then the issue of who benefits from such savings.

The Cabinet Office (the government department that’s taken over from the old COI) says: “In reaching a decision on who to award this contract to, we followed a thorough procedure which included engaging fully with suppliers, customers, trade bodies and private sector organisations and we will robustly defend this challenge.

“Our approach was designed to ensure the best possible competition from suppliers and will ultimately deliver the best deal for taxpayers. It included use of an independent media auditor.”

The media auditor in question is as yet unnamed. Likely candidates would include Accenture and Mike Greenlees’ Ebiquity.

The Cabinet Office wants to award the new four-year media account immediately to Carat while the court action, which may be protracted, gets underway.

This is a funny old business and no mistake. It’s hard to see how M4C would rub along with the Cabinet Office in the future even if a judge finds in its favour. On the face of it, WPP creative agencies are hardly likely to be helped in their attempts to land Government business either. But WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell (above) is famous for fighting his corner, no matter how powerful the opponent.

It would just be nice to know precisely what they’re arguing about.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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