Working for Procter & Gamble, probably the most security-conscious client in the world, makes me an unlikely candidate to champion the cause of “Chinese walls”. But as the number of media agencies gradually decreases into a few big buying points, clients will have to come to terms with conflicting business in the same building.
The recent merger of Starcom and Motive immediately raised the issue of a conflict of interest between Heinz and United Biscuits on the one hand, and Danone and Golden Wonder on the other. Strangely, no one from either agency could be found to comment on the clash. Presumably, delicate negotiations have already started with all parties.
But why should this be the case? Every advertiser is a media competitor to P&G’s Fairy Liquid. We are all fighting for the same spots and spaces, and we all want the lowest price. It is not in my interest to let anyone know my strategy. If I’ve found a good solution to a media conundrum, I want to keep it to myself.
Clients may worry about secret relaunches being discovered by rivals, but it is in my interest to protect this information. And protect it I do.
I’m in the fortunate position of having an office with a lockable door, but even those working in an open plan environment can be secure. A clean desk policy is easy to introduce: threaten someone that anything left on their desk will be put in the bin and see how clean the office suddenly becomes.
Lockable filing cabinets are easy to purchase at most furniture shops. Nowadays, computers generally have sophisticated password access. Booking and accounting systems, such as Donovan Data Systems, are also log-on- and password-sensitive.
If the client is still worried, you can always play the geography card – house the teams on different floors. Frankly, there is more danger of information escaping through an awards entry judged by the managing director of a rival agency.
Then there is the big issue of what constitutes a clash. Conventionally, this seems to have been based on the idea of products competing for the same pound. So Coca-Cola is seen as clashing with Sunny Delight, for obvious reasons. But in a shop I might decide to quench my thirst with a Calippo (English Walls as opposed to Chinese walls) – probably not seen as a client conflict problem.
Airline businesses only conflict if they compete on the same route. Similarly, a Rolls-Royce probably doesn’t conflict with a Mini. Would an agency be unable to work on Spillers Homepride Sauces and Mars Confectionery because different parts of the parent companies also make petfoods?
It’s all become so complex that my solution would be to ignore the whole area and trust agencies to apply common sense to the conflict issue.
However, if any of the aforementioned clients wants a new agency, MediaCom TMB will be glad to talk to them. Except Golden Wonder, of course – I think it clashes with Pringles.
Neil Ivey is director of P&G business at Mediacom TMB