ICA targets JTI for latest agency review boycott

Tobacco company JTI is the latest marketer to be targeted by the Institute of Communication Agencies for its agency review process.

The ICA announced Wednesday that it is calling for agencies to boycott the review, citing JTI’s “onerous speculative work requirements.”

In a release, ICA said several agencies had expressed concerns via its Pitch Watch service about spec requests that include “two or three, 360-degree, integrated ideas,” as well as measurement and competitive analysis.

“We know that very few ideas, created like this, in a vacuum, separate from the client, ever see the light of day, for all the obvious reasons,” said ICA president and CEO Scott Knox of the spec work request. “This is wasted time and money. [Wasted] resources spent by agencies in creating, and wasted by clients in reviewing.”

ICA discussed the matter with JTI, but the company intends to continue without any changes to its process.

It’s highly unusual for a marketer not to make any amendments after meeting with the ICA about agency review concerns, said Knox in an interview. “We’ve dealt with nearly 100 different brands through Pitch Watch, and this is only our seventh of having to go to the point of having a bit of a public debate about it,” he said of the ICA’s call to boycott.

Spec work has long been a sore spot for many agencies, and is a particular focus for the ICA and its ongoing efforts to improve the agency review process. A year ago, it introduced its Qualification-Based Selection framework for reviews, which puts an emphasis on competency, qualifications and experience, rather than cost or speculative work.

In a statement emailed to The Message, Caroline Evans, JTI’s head of corporate affairs and communications, confirmed the company would not make any changes to its review process. “We listened carefully [to the ICA], reflected on the concerns raised, and remain of the view that the RFP is being conducted fairly and equitably,” she said.

“As a company that markets and sells age-restricted and highly regulated products, it is particularly important that we are able to evaluate more than an agency’s credentials or past work,” she said. “We must carefully assess whether an agency will be able to produce work that is responsible and lawful. Not every agency has this prior experience or expertise.”

But Knox said concerns about compliance are even more reason for a QBS approach, rather than asking for speculative work. “From a legal and best-practice perspective, you need to know that an agency understands the law and understands the best practice standards, and understands self regulation,” he said. “That’s not going to come when they put up a PowerPoint presentation with a glossy new idea.”

David Brown