GroupM sues Ebiquity after confidential document bungle

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 30 June 2016

Media buying powerhouse GroupM is suing Ebiquity's media auditing arm, FirmDecisions.

According to Campaign in the UK, the WPP-owned network alleges that FirmDecisions may have "misused" information from confidential documents that were sent in error by GroupM agencies.

One of the documents sent in July 2014 involved MediaCom Australia. Four months after this date, in November 2014,  MediaCom Australia was embroiled in an overcharging scandal involving top clients such as KFC and Foxtel.

It is not known if GroupM's decision to sue had anything to do with the MediaCom reporting saga here, and it's thought it also has no connection to Ebiquity’s involvement in the recent investigation by America’s Association of National Advertisers (ANA) into US media agencies.

FirmDecisions “inexplicably refused” to cooperate

According to a legal claim filed in London’s High Court, which AdNews has seen, from time to time FirmDecisions was engaged by clients of GroupM, as well as GroupM agencies, to carry out a media compliance audit. When it does so it enters into a standard non-disclosure agreement (NDA) – something that was agreed back in 2012 by global chief executive of FirmDecisions, Stephen Broderick, and global commercial director of GroupM, Scott Smith.

After four or five instances of FirmDecisions receiving confidential information from various GroupM agencies, by mistake, Broderick then raised this with Smith. Broderick also notes that on one occasion a document sent in error listed “media differences”.

GroupM said FirmDecisions had given "wholly inadequate" assurance that it had deleted all trace of the "four or five" different, confidential documents, which are thought to include details of clients’ media spend. GroupM said FirmDecisions “inexplicably refused” to provide details of the incidents, what agencies were involved and “it has also failed to confirm that confidential documents had not been disclosed to third parties”.

GroupM claims FirmDecisions acted in breach of the NDA due to failure to return the confidential documents, and that it had misused, or could misuse, the documents.

“Keep it up our sleeve”

Despite being bound by the obligations of confidence within the NDA, GroupM went on to quote an unnamed senior FirmDecisions employee as having said "in respect of a GroupM confidential document" that it was: "Best to keep it up our sleeve to use when needed. I just don’t want to be seen in breach of the NDA".

In response to GroupM's legal claim, Firm Decisions has filed a defence this week in the High Court that has given detail about each of the incidents and explained why it denied wrongdoing.

The defence filing listed at least six cases involving FirmDecisions receiving or being shown information accidentally, including with MediaCom Australia in July 2014, MediaBillings Australia in September 2014, Mindshare Turkey in May 2015, Mindshare Sweden in October 2015, Mindshare UK in November 2015 and MediaCom UK in February 2016

GroupM has also called for an injunction to restrain FirmDecisions staff from misusing the confidential information.

GroupM and Ebiquity were unable to comment.

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