Five Major Holding Companies Cleared in DOJ Investigation

According to AdAge and Adweek, the Department of Justice closed its two year investigation into video production and post-production practices against five of the largest ad agency holding companies – IPG, MDC Partners, Omnicom, Publicis and WPP.

Apparently the DOJ has declined to comment on the status of its investigation which focused on whether ad agencies were awarding production business to their in-house departments over third-party providers in a ‘rigged bidding’ process.

The DOJ is still investigating media buying practices among the agencies, driven by the ANA K2 report citing serious problems that went against best practices and agency-client contracts.

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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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