Accenture has confirmed that it plans to “ramp down” its media auditing, benchmarking and agency pitch services later this year amid accusations the businesses conflicted with its media output. Who will mark the industry’s homework now one of the lead players has stepped down?

For the last two years, there’s been lengthy questioning around just how Accenture Interactive’s consultancy business would remain neutral while entering the media buying, which the IPA in 2018 blasted as a ‘direct conflict of interest’. The business seems to have finally agreed with the critics, albeit after lengthy consideration, and will no longer offer the services to clients come August.

“As part of the plan, we will work with clients to fulfill existing commitments and support their transitions,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Accenture Media Management, claims to annually audit more than $40bn of global advertising spending and says it invests more than $5m a year in proprietary tools and media research.

It said it offers “transparency and accountability” during a culture of confusion around digital media spend, the continued questions surrounding the conflict of interest were perhaps making the operation difficult to fulfill that ambition.

When announcing its move into a programmatic offering, Accenture Interactive’s global chief executive, Brian Whipple explained: “As their experience agency, our clients have been asking us to help them drive greater efficiencies with their programmatic media spend, specifically digital media.”

He added: “We are already focused on all the pieces that are related to media placement so it was a natural extension for us to help our clients deliver more hyper-relevant customer experiences through digital media.”

Rivals such as WPP are said to have refused to enter pitches against the management consultancy, Nicki Mendonça, not long after joining to lead Accenture Interactive Operations explained the situation to The Drum.

“When you prick an elephant’s arse, the elephant screeches,” she said of the pushback. “It shows a certain myopia as to the depth and breadth of Accenture which is a $100bn company,” she continues. “It’s 440,000 employees and we have our tentacles everywhere within 175 diamond clients. By fixating on one specific area of the business; say the auditing aspect of the media management aspect and blowing that out of proportion shows a certain myopia.”

As a result, the decision has not come as a surprise to external industry commentators.

The industry is already set to look to companies such as Ebiquity to fill the void.

Christian Polman, chief strategy officer for Ebiquity claimed that the decision by Accenture meant “fundamental change” to independent advisory services.

Increasingly, brands must be able to trust the advice they receive from advisors if they want to truly unlock the potential of their marketing spend and drive enhanced value and impact. This requires full independence from the media trading ecosystem, as well as adherence to well defined standards that are in-line with what is expected by brands and their agency and technology partners, such as what we’ve spelled out in Ebiquity’s Code of Conduct.”

Polman claimed that Ebiquity’s clients were crying out for independent training and standards around digital media, an area the organization has invested into recently with the acquisition of digital media monitoring firm Digital Decisions to further its auditing services. 

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