By definition, an audit is an inspection performed by an independent party. To have an audit performed by a person or company with a vested interest in the outcome would be equivalent to having students grade their own papers. This is why it is so troubling to hear the recent news that the media auditing firm, Accenture, has acquired the independent UK agency, Karmarama. Conflict of interest? I certainly think so. According to the Campaign post, “Accenture is ‘building a new breed of agency’ with Karmarama,”Accenture claimed that Karmarama “will become part of the world’s largest digital agency.” Accenture believes that this new holding group status of theirs will increase the company’s value and versatility, not understanding that this actually should make them ineligible to continue to perform the consulting part of their business.
If they’re in the advertising agency business now, how can they still be considered a neutral third party? You may ask, well, if Accenture is working with outside advertisers to audit other agencies they’re not affiliated with, that should be ok, right? The answer is still no. What’s to stop Accenture from denigrating an agency’s performance, while subtly praising Karmarama’s capabilities in that same space? What’s to stop Accenture from endorsing or opposing specific publishers that their agencies have previous relationships with? From a digital perspective, for example, what’s to stop Accenture from failing to pressure agencies adopt lower thresholds of fraud allowance, for the fear it might become industry standard? The answer to all of these questions is: nothing. Of course, that’s not to say that Accenture will definitely abuse this new status in their auditing efforts. But, we cannot say for sure that they will not. The question then becomes: Are you comfortable with this uncertainty when potentially millions of dollars are at stake?
The entire purpose of an audit is to provide the advertiser client with full transparency. Hiring a firm with a vested interest in the agency world eliminates any veil of neutrality that should be expected in this endeavor.