New 4A’s boss Marla Kaplowitz has more than just media rebates to deal with

The American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) is in the firing line as never before as clients rage about a supposed lack of “transparency” in media billings, notably the alleged widespread existence of undisclosed media rebates.

So it makes sense, in some ways anyway, to appoint MEC North America boss Marla Kaplowitz as its new president-CEO to replace long-serving Nancy Hill, who seems to have had enough of all this. Hill earned a chunky $730,000.

Here’s Kaplowitz talking at a 4A’s event in 2014. Its quite revealing.

Maybe her appointment is also a sign of where the power has moved in adland as media agencies take over more responsibility for strategy and ‘content’ matters from creative agencies. Some clients may believe, though, that what this really means is the production of “strategies” that funnel marketing money to the media owners offering the biggest discounts/rebates.

MEC is owned by WPP which has been one of the most vigorous naysayers about the recent Association of National Advertisers’ report into such media rebates, refusing to co-operate with the report’s authors K2 and Ebiquity. WPP is seemingly permanently at loggerheads with Ebiquity which it accuses of masquerading as an auditor when it’s really a consultant.

So will Kaplowitz be regarded as an impartial figure when she goes into bat for the 4A’s? Or just a mouthpiece for the big media agencies?

There’s a bigger issue here too. As more and more media buying becomes automated – so-called “programmatic” – an increasing number of investors in big marketing companies are asking why such clients actually need to employ an agency to do their automated media buying. Such agencies employ thousands of people and bill accordingly – but what do they actually do apart from re-boot the super computer? Many of the programmatic services they offer are actually bought in on a white label basis from tech specialists. Who, presumably, would be happy to work for clients direct. Indeed many are amazed that the aforementioned clients haven’t asked them to.

So, over the long term anyway, media agencies could become an endangered species. The more automated they become the more they jeopardise their currently central and profitable position.

Ms Kaplowitz looks like she’s going to earn her money.

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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.

One comment

  1. Stephen,
    Marla Kaplowitz will have to deal as well with the poor creative agency management practices that have led to Madison Avenue’s Manslaughter. 4As conducts many management training programs around the US, but the content of them has been underwhelming.
    Ad agencies suffer from growing workloads, declining fees and pressures to boost profits. The dumb thing they do is to downsize to make their numbers, rather than document, track and negotiate for better fees based on their growing Scopes of Work.
    Really, their dysfunctional approach to this is hard to believe.
    Marla could make a difference by raising the visibility of the problem and creating appropriate training.

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