How to Prevent Fraud in Production Bidding

Advice from the DOJ

Back in 2002, the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division secured convictions that led to prison time for six executives in the Grey Worldwide / Color Wheel bid-rigging scheme. Rebecca Meiklejohn, a DOJ litigator, led the case which involved kickbacks and bid-rigging for production work on two of Grey’s largest accounts, Procter & Gamble Co. and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. (Note:  Grey was not the only agency that’s had isolated cases of misconduct by production staff.)

While speaking at the Association of National Advertisers’ Agency Financial Management conference back in 2005, Meiklejohn stated that it tends to be individuals within an agency that perpetrate these production related frauds despite any policies and best practices that agencies have in place. At the time, Meiklejohn recommended advertisers and their agencies require and enforce the following procedures to prevent procurement fraud:

  1. Competitive Bidding – all bids must be secured in writing with date stamp and prior to submitting bids to the client
  2. Conflict of Interest Policies – these need to be well defined and prohibit agencies from accepting any gratuities from suppliers
  3. Paper Trail – thorough production files must be maintained and include all original as well as revised bids and client authorizations, and all with date stamps
  4. Checks and Balances – agencies must have separate authority for awarding contracts from those approving supplier invoices, and clients must beware of telltale signs of improprieties, such as faxes without date stamps
Production Bid Management Challenges in the Digital Age

At Bajkowski + Partners, we’ve performed numerous process audits for clients that have included reviews of production management practices and we still uncover deficiencies within both the clients and their agencies. While we have not uncovered situations that indicate any intentional wrongdoing, we have seen several new production bid management challenges arise since production management went digital.

At the agencies, we typically find the following issues during a process and contract compliance audit:Continue reading

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UPDATE: DOJ Issues Subpoenas to Omnicom, Publicis and WPP in Production ‘Bid Rigging’ Probe

The four top holding companies, starting a few weeks ago with Interpublic Group, have one or more agency subsidiaries that have received subpoenas as part of the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division’s investigation into video production and post-production bidding practices.

According to an article in today’s issue of Adweek,  “Adweek spoke to several longtime veterans of creative shops and production companies, who described scenarios in which agencies either misled production partners about the rates clients will pay for their work or asked them to offer artificially inflated rates as ‘favors.'”

Allegations assert that agencies are obtaining inflated third party bids to make bids from the in-house agency production studios more competitive and retain the work that would otherwise go to an external production or post-production house.

While representatives from each of the holding companies confirmed that subpoenas had been received by one or more of their agencies, and that they intended to cooperate fully with the DOJ, all declined to provide further details on which agencies had been subpoenaed.

 

Bajkowski + Partners LLC is a leading consultancy providing services to marketing and procurement teams in the areas of agency relationship management, agency search, process audits, contract and SOW development and audits, and a number of other marketing resource and marketing operations related areas. For more information, please visit our website.

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Agency Transparency Issues, Audits and Reviews Projected to Increase Sharply in 2017

Adding fuel to the fire

The gap in client-agency relationships widened when, in March 2015, allegations by former Mediacom CEO Jon Mandel of widespread U.S. media agency kickbacks during the Association of National Advertisers Media Leadership Conference led to an eight-month investigation conducted by K2 Intelligence for the ANA. The resulting K2 report, issued in early 2016, generated criticism on the reports validity by the agency community but got the attention of U.S. marketing and procurement professionals alike.

While no one will say whether this issue drove the spate of high profile media agency reviews over the past year, the timing is certainly hard to ignore. And it was definitely the reason behind some assignments Continue reading

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Ad Agencies Under Investigation for Rigged Production Bidding Practices

According to recent articles by The Wall Street Journal and Advertising Age, the Department of Justice has launched a probe into advertising agency practices around the production bidding process. The inquiry focuses on whether or not agencies are engaging in unfair business practices in order to award more work to their own in-house production departments – potentially violating antitrust laws which prohibit price-fixing and bid-rigging.

In this alleged rigged bidding process, according to the Journal, agencies are purported to seek inflated bids Continue reading

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