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Marketing MathTM

Category Archives: Marketing Agency Network

Agencies vs. Consultants: What Does the Future Hold for Marketers?

24 Nov


pro vs con
Have you formed an opinion yet on the battle between traditional advertising agencies and management consulting firms for marketing and advertising supremacy?

Many have, citing profound differences between these two types of professional services providers. The basis for the beliefs are centered on a range of characteristics attributed to each type of firm, including; company culture, strategic focus, business processes, talent pools, breadth of capabilities and ability to provide integrated solutions.

The question to be asked, as management consultants continue to push into ad agency territory (largely through acquisition) is; “Are the differences between these entities meaningful?” Or will the blending of these two types of firms ultimately result in a level playing field among the large agency holding companies and international consultancies?

Most pundits suggest that the differences are very real, with consultants largely grounded in a strategic focus on how to boost a company’s performance, and agency services centered on building brands by leveraging traditional media channels and touchpoints. Clearly both perspectives are valuable in their own right. Along with these differences, other complicating factors are at play that will determine the ultimate outcome.

  1. Marketers seem to be increasingly focused on improving in-market performance, which is becoming the principal means of validating the efficacy of their advertising programs. Metrics such as awareness, consideration and brand purchase intent are all well-and-good, but at the end of the day organizations are more interested in topline growth, market share expansion and bottom-line profits.
  2. There have been profound shifts in consumer purchase behavior and questions raised about the validity of the traditional purchase funnel used by marketers to map a consumer’s progression from awareness to action. In today’s digital-centric world of transacting business the path to purchase is not as linear as it once was.
  3. Research among younger shoppers suggests that marketers can no longer pre-suppose that brands matter. Certainly not to the extent that they once did. In an industry where it is projected that companies will spend in excess of $1.0 trillion on marketing services in 2017 (source: GroupM, 2016 “Global Ad Expenditures Forecast”) this is quite alarming. According to Havas Worldwide’s 2015 annual index of “Meaningful Brands” it was determined that “only 5% of brands would truly be missed by consumers U.S. consumers.” Driving this trend has been the emergence of the 75 million plus U.S. millennial target segment, whose trust in brands has been eroded as have their perceptions of genuineness and brand authenticity.

These trends may point to a larger shift, where consumer purchase behavior is more readily shaped by relationships, peer input and social influences rather than by branding. Thus the ad industry’s model of pushing brand messaging through a variety of media channels as a way of creating awareness and consideration in the hope of driving purchase intent may not yield the results it once did. It is likely that this traditional approach will be supplanted by social engagement and social selling as consumers take control of the pre-purchase learning and competitive evaluation portion of the purchase decision making process.

This could allow management consultancies to curry favor among marketers under pressure to drive performance in the short-term. The consultancies ability to offer integrated end-to-end solutions including; organizational design, transformational strategy development, user experience design, data analytics, technology support and increasingly branding and marketing expertise is considered to be quite compelling to many Chief Marketing Officers.

With so much at stake, it is certain that the agency holding companies and global consulting organizations will continue to invest in transforming their businesses to better serve marketers seeking to evolve their approach to achieving in-market success. In the words of Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon:

“We expect all our businesses to have a positive impact on our top and bottom lines, Profitability is very important to us or we wouldn’t be in this business.”

The Ad Industry is Metamorphosing

30 Jun

phoenix risingIt was the best of times; it was the worst of times…” Most of us are familiar with the opening line from Charles Dickens in his epic work A Tale of Two Cities. Many marketers may even consider it an apt description of both the current state of the advertising industry and the challenges that they face in sustaining brand relevance and driving growth.

So, who will marketers count on to assist them with the tasks of deepening brand engagement with core target segments, revitalizing sales and profits in a low-growth environment and in differentiating their brands for competitive advantage?

Over the course of the last few years, many have opined on the viability of the ad agency model and what it portends for advertiser/ agency relationships going forward. And with good reason. Concerns cited include threats from non-traditional competitors such as management consulting and technology firms encroaching on their turf, talent recruitment and retention challenges and margin compression due to downward pressure on fees and expanded scopes of services.

It may be as some predict that management consulting firms will leverage their capabilities in the area of strategy and integration to pirate work from ad agencies and that ad-tech providers will enable marketers to take certain tasks in-house. The question remains, how will marketers adjust to this dynamic and the evolution of their agency networks to potentially include consulting, data and ad-tech firms? There are already very real challenges related to agency stewardship today due to under-resourced client marketing staffs.

The aforementioned challenges, combined with the rate of digitization and the emerging role of artificial intelligence occurring within the ad industry, certainly pose challenges for advertising agencies and could serve to lessen their stranglehold on the marketing and advertising sector. In a recent McKinsey article entitled; “The Global Forces Inspiring a New Narrative of Progress” the authors note that “disruption is accelerating.” They opine that this dynamic is raising serious concerns for many organizations relating to the question, “How long can their traditional sources of competitive advantage survive in the face of technological shifts?”

That said, in spite of these risk factors and other marketplace developments, ad agencies are doing just fine:

  • Agency holding companies have continued their aggressive acquisition drives, supporting both their horizontal and vertical integration strategies. While overall M&A activity is down from 2016 levels, WPP and Dentsu have consummated twenty acquisitions with a combined value of $700 million through the first 4 months of 2017. (Source: R3’s “State of Agency M&A report” for January – April, 2017).
  • While down from 2016’s 5.7% growth rate, global ad spending is projected to grow 3.6% in 2017 (Source: Magna Global, June, 2017). Of note, this is higher than the International Monetary Fund’s projected increase for global GDP growth.
  • Even though 1Q17 Advertising Industry gross margins fell to 44.15%, the industry itself is healthy. For instance, within the services sector, the Advertising Industry achieved the highest gross margins, net margins, EBITDA margins and pre-tax margins for the quarter (Source: CSIMarket.com).
  • Some 86% of mid-sized ad agencies are confident that this year will be better than last in terms of profitable growth (Source: Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA) survey).

Importantly, since the demise of the “good ole days” of full-service agencies and the fifteen-percent commission remuneration model, agencies have demonstrated a unique ability to not only keep up with industry changes, but to take the lead from both a thought leadership and innovation perspective. They have been able to scale, attracting more clients and deeper talent pools, they have invested in emerging technologies to deal with increasingly complicated, data driven processes and to pioneer the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence to efficiently execute deliverables ranging from digital media investment to creative adaptations… all while dealing with evolving client expectations.

Further, it bears noting that the publicly traded holding companies; WPP, Omnicom Group, Publicis Groupe, Interpublic Group of Cos. and Dentsu, had combined estimated worldwide 2016 revenue levels of $60.7 billion (Source: Advertising Age, June 2017). When one considers the pre-dominance of the estimated billing process and agency remuneration schema that includes direct labor and overhead cost reimbursement plus guaranteed profit margins of 14% to 17% or more, one must also respect the financial clout that these publicly traded entities wield.

Is there a need for near-term belt tightening to offset softer 2017 ad spending levels? Yes. Do the holding companies need to consolidate agency brands and realign capabilities to boost the efficacy of their service delivery models and generate much needed efficiencies? Yes. Will agencies need to improve their talent recruitment and retention practices, across a diverse range of specialties? Yes. But no business is immune from these challenges, including management consultants, ad-tech platforms and publishers.

The big question the industry in general and marketers will need to assess is related to whether these players will be able to boldly transform their current business models, repositioning their firms to deliver integrated, multi-specialist services in a nimble, cost efficient, on-demand manner.

Broadly speaking, all participants are facing challenges as the ad industry undergoes its current metamorphoses. We believe that it is too early to predict winners and losers or to suggest that marketers adapt an attitude of empathy toward any of their marketing supply chain partners. After all, it is their marketing spend that has built this sector into a $457.4 billion global machine in 2017 (Source: Statista, 2017). And they must vigilantly safeguard and optimize that investment.

Below is one of the closing lines from A Tale of Two Cities, one that many may not be as familiar with:

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…”

With this parting thought, Dickens’ suggests that the main character in his novel and the city of France will be resurrected, rising above their present strife and “made illustrious.”

Here’s hoping that the ad industry achieves similar transformative success.

 

 

Has the Time Come and Gone for Digital Advertising Agencies?

28 Apr

We all understand the concept of “specialization” and the potential benefit delivery for certain service providers in select industries. That said, the era of the digital media specialist agency may be drawing to a close.

Think about it, we have specialist agencies for programmatic advertising, paid search, organic search, social media, email, mobile marketing, website development, user experience, social, native and display advertising.

Why? What are the advantages that accrue to an advertiser from this level of specialization? More importantly, how many advertisers are equipped to engage with multiple media agency partners?

Integrating strategy and resource allocation decisions, coordinating roles and responsibilities and effectively managing relationships among several media agencies takes time, energy and money… assets that are tougher and tougher for marketers to come by. Not to mention, the additional costs incurred for overlapping agency services/personnel.

Specialist agencies aside, when it comes to digital media, advertisers are also contending with general market agencies, PR firms, multi-cultural, experiential and promotional agencies that are also involved with their digital marketing efforts. It is damn difficult for a marketing staff to coordinate and optimize digital communications along this many fronts, let alone integrate such efforts with an organization’s “traditional” media efforts. And, let’s face it, the task is not any easier (or cheaper) for an advertiser’s media agency-of-record to take the lead on this task and coordinate multiple disparate agencies working collaboratively and cohesively toward a common goal.

The ultimate question for advertisers may be, why take what is already a complex process and further complicate it by dividing efforts and resources across so many players?

In our contract compliance auditing and financial management practice we have seen advertisers pay a steep price for assembling agency networks that are too broad for their existing teams to effectively manage. This in turn leads to cost inefficiencies related to duplicative services and fees tied to the lack of clear role differentiation across agencies, and in turn, a reduction in working media. Say nothing of the impact on digital media effectiveness tied to communication and briefing gaps that inevitably arise in these scenarios. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from the words of William Blake, 18th century English poet and painter:

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom”

We believe that the time has come for advertisers to give more serious consideration to streamlining their agency networks in general, and specifically to pare back the number of agency partners involved with their digital media efforts… beginning with “specialist” shops.

A great place to start is to evaluate the potential for centralizing media planning for traditional and digital media. This is a logical “first step” and will allow marketing organizations to better leverage their data, to improve their targeting and segmentation schema, enhance their resource allocation decisions and integrate all facets of their communication plans. Additional benefits from such a strategy include more collaborative and improved media briefings and streamlined communications across agency partners. Similarly, when it comes to media buying, focusing on fewer partners makes it easier to leverage an organization’s overall media spend, optimize sponsorship and value-add opportunities across media properties, and to minimize agency fees by eliminating redundant buying activities across partner shops.

Major holding company media agencies and larger independent media firms, with broad resource offerings and the scale to provide “one-stop” service certainly stand to benefit from consolidation. As do ad technology firms such as Adobe, Oracle and Google that provide advertisers with the tools to manage certain digital functions in-house. It should be noted that while the large media networks of a holding company will benefit, specialized, stand alone digital media shops within those holding companies may face challenges related to such a consolidation.

In closing, we wanted to address the topic of the “rise of the management consultancies” as legitimate competitors to traditional agencies. As it relates to media planning and placement, we believe that the large ad agencies and holding companies will retain an edge in this area for some time to come. However, vulnerability in the areas of strategic consulting and customer connectivity (i.e. data integration, user experience and system development) is where we believe consulting firms will continue to make significant inroads with CMOs as marketers seek to fulfill corporate mandates to assist in digitally transforming their businesses. As this is occurring, some agencies have announced plans to expand their resource offerings to compete with the likes of Accenture, IBM, PwC and Deloitte in this area. Realistically, at least in the near-term, agency constraints on talent and functional expertise represent significant hurdles before an attack in this area can be mounted… while concurrently defending their current base of business.

 

Is the Agency Holding Company Model Viable Going Forward?

19 Oct

questionThe pursuit of excellence is less profitable than the pursuit of bigness, but it can be more satisfying.” 

 ~ David Ogilvy

It is not our intent to suggest that scale does not have its advantages. There are multiple instances, within the professional services sector in general and specifically within the ad agency community, where size translates into meaningful benefits for clients.

That said, since Papert, Koenig, Lois went public in 1962 and other advertising agencies soon followed suit, the ad industry has undergone dramatic change. Ad agency IPO’s begot an uptick in agencies acquiring other agencies, which Marion Harper, CEO of McCann Erickson pioneered with the formation of The Interpublic Group of Companies in the early ‘60’s. This was then followed by the “unbundling” phenomenon of the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s.

Fast forward to 2016, where the top five agency holding companies; WPP, Omnicom, Publicis Groupe, Interpublic Group and Dentsu account for over 70% of the world’s estimated 2016 ad spend of $542 Billion (source: eMarketer, April, 2016). Further, each of these holding companies have broadened their acquisition strategies to further penetrate the larger $1.0 Trillion global media and marketing services category.

As a result, the portfolios for the top five agency holding companies contain between dozens and several hundred firms covering a myriad of marketing disciplines including, but not limited to:

  • Creative agencies
  • Media agencies
  • Digital agencies
  • Social Media agencies
  • Brand activation firms
  • PR firms
  • Relationship management firms
  • Programmatic trading desk operations
  • Research and audience measurement firms
  • Media properties

It is clear that the agency holding companies have successfully pursued and achieved “bigness.” The question is; “Has the holding company model achieved “excellence?” The answer may well depend on which stakeholder group one belongs to. Shareowners will likely have one viewpoint, suppliers and employees another and clients perhaps yet another perspective.

In the early days, the primary role of the holding company was to pursue efficiencies across their agency portfolios, while leveraging cross-agency synergies and driving strategy across their portfolio firms. Four decades later, this has evolved into holding company “agency” solutions consisting of cross-firm, multi-disciplinary client service teams served up to the holding companies top global clients.

Yet, the holding companies are struggling to define and evolve cultures, eliminate inefficiencies and break down silos across the numerous agency brands and marketing services firms that they have acquired. All while wrestling with issues and opportunities tied to the rate and rapidity of technological change and its impact on the business of creating and placing ads and not least of all… technology’s impact on consumer media consumption and purchasing behavior.

Today, the agency community is facing challenges related to attracting and retaining talent, evolving remuneration systems and regaining advertiser trust, all while being mired in a very public dispute with advertisers, publishers and ad tech providers regarding the issue of transparency.

Simultaneously, serious competitors have emerged, threatening the ad agencies stranglehold on advertising, media and marketing services. Consulting organizations such as Accenture, IBM Interactive, Deloitte Digital and PwC Digital now offer comprehensive, end-to-end consumer solutions, which include branding, graphic design, creative and media services to complement their analytical, strategy consulting, enterprise digital solutions and customer experience design skills.

This new breed of competition has monolithic brands, established cultures and highly trained, intelligent, flexible global workforces. Also looming on the competitive horizon are firms such as Adobe, Oracle, SalesForce, Facebook and Google that continue to focus on serving up marketing services and support to advertisers on a direct basis.  

Perhaps most importantly, the ad agency holding companies may not control their own destiny. At least not to the extent that they once did, when serving as valued, trusted advisors to their clients providing high-level strategic support and maintaining solid C-suite level relationships. Further, advertisers today have shown an openness to evaluating alternatives to the traditional client/ agency model, which has favored the aforementioned consultancies, technology and media firms along with in-house solutions.

It is certainly too soon to count the holding companies out, as they remain a formidable force in the industry. The question is can holding company leadership successfully chart a new course for leveraging their scale and talents to boost their relevancy in the years to come. What advice might one of the industry’s most iconic leaders offer to his holding company contemporaries?

“Leaders grasp nettles.” ~ David Ogilvy

Funding Accountability Initiatives

26 Aug

 

fundingThe desire on the part of many advertisers to extend their organization’s accountability initiative to marketing is high. This is due to the fact that marketing is both one of the largest indirect expense categories within an organization and, for those that believe in its ability to drive strategic outcomes, critical in driving brand value and demand generation.

One of the key challenges for Internal Audit and Procurement professionals in implementing accountability programs is that they typically do not have a budget to fund the projects. Rather, they are reliant on their peers in Marketing to “buy in” to the concept and to underwrite the investment associated with analyzing contract compliance, financial management and in-market performance across their agency networks. This dynamic can create a loggerhead that delays or prevents corporate scrutiny into marketing and advertising spending and its resulting business impact.

The irony is that relative to the millions of dollars invested in marketing, the cost of implementing an accountability program for this corporate function is much less than one-percent of total spend. As we know, applying the skills and capabilities of audit and procurement teams and outside consultants typically results in improved controls that mitigate financial and legal risks to the organization. Further, these efforts often uncover historical errors and overbillings, and always generate future savings and improved marketing return-on-investment opportunities that more than offset the cost of the program.

It has always been a mystery as to why more advertisers simply don’t formalize and legislate the marketing accountability program and establish the requisite budget to be administered by the CFO / Finance organization. A minority of our clients operate in this manner, but clearly a “win, win” situation is created where internal audit and procurement provide their support and apply their resources pro-actively and marketing doesn’t feel as though funding is coming at the expense of critical business building programs within their budgets.

From our perspective, the source of funding for extending a corporate accountability initiative to marketing is the last hurdle. The reason is that we have seen marketing’s appreciation for accountability support grow along with their respect for the audit and procurement functions and a recognition that such programs can improve the efficiency and efficacy of the organization’s marketing spend.

The advertising industry is a complex; rapidly changing, technology-driven sector fraught with opacity challenges and risks such as digital media fraud and non-transparent revenue practices employed by agencies, ad tech providers, ad exchanges and media sellers. In light of these dynamics, organizations truly understand the benefit of monitoring the disposition of their marketing investment and the performance of their advertising agencies and third-party vendors.

It has been over 140 years since Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker offered the following perspective on his ad spend:

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Yet, with the passage of time it would be difficult for the industry to suggest that much has changed with regard to a marketers ability to accurately assess the efficacy of their advertising spend.

There is no time like the present to proactively develop; implement and fund transformative accountability programs that can optimize planned business outcomes, while safeguarding marketing spend at every level of the advertising investment cycle.

Interested in learning more about marketing accountability programs? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management| AARM at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on the topic.

 

Two Words That Represent Accountability’s Biggest Obstacle; “Who’s Budget?”

24 Feb

accountabilityMany organizations want to implement an accountability program. Virtually all Internal Audit directors would like to extend that accountability initiative across the enterprise and most certainly want to provide coverage for categories with a significant spend, such as marketing.

Yet, in spite of the good intentions, U.S. companies have been slow to embrace independent compliance and performance auditing of their marketing supply chain partners. Ironically, the reason emanates from the answer to a very simple question, “Which departmental budget will be tapped to fund the initiative?” More often than not the answer to that question, in the context of a marketing and advertising spending review, is “Marketing.”

Given this dynamic, it is often a challenge for companies to implement an “unbudgeted” audit project once the fiscal year planning process has been completed, even if results dwarf its cost. Additionally, while many CMO’s have come to value the feedback and insights provided from the independent testing of supplier contract compliance and performance, there are others that still do not embrace audit or accountability initiatives. As a result, unless mandated by the C-Suite, independent accountability testing may never make its way into the budget, causing a huge assurance gap governing that company’s multi-million marketing investment.

There is good news however for procurement, finance and audit executives seeking to remove these obstacles and manage associated risks. Namely, that in addition to the opportunity for process improvements, performance monitoring, contract language enhancements and better controls, these engagements yield hard dollar returns resulting from various financial true-ups and future savings opportunities; far exceeding the fees necessary to conduct the review.

Positive financial returns aside, the costs associated with an audit of an advertiser’s agency network partners is miniscule when compared to the tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars being expended in this area.

Perhaps best of all, independent assessments of marketing agency compliance and third-party vendor billings sets a tone of the desired financial stewardship and accountability behavior that the client would like to see employed across its marketing supplier base. In turn, the very act of performing an independent audit, provides a powerful incentive for an agency to diligently self-police itself by tightly adhering to the processes and guidelines agreed to and memorialized in the Client/ Agency Master Services Agreement. In the words of the noted English author and speaker, Simon Sinek:

Actions speak louder than words. All companies say they care, right? But few actually exercise that care.

Interested in learning more about fielding a marketing agency network accountability initiative at your company? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at AARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com to for a complimentary consultation on the topic today.

In the Wake of PepsiCo’s Marketing Procurement Decision

16 Nov

OversightOn November 12, Ad Age reported that PepsiCo had made the decision to eliminate its Marketing Procurement department. As a result of the decision, the company will shift responsibility for marketing procurement activities to their brand executives.

PepsiCo’s move is consistent with its philosophy of shifting responsibilities to their brand teams with the goal of allowing those decision makers to “more quickly balance cost value and quality in all of their decisions.” While the company acknowledged the potential risks associated with the move as it relates to financial due diligence and contract compliance, it believes that it will be able to leverage its procurement experience, practices and processes to support the brand teams in this endeavor.

As industry participants know all to well, the role of procurement in marketing has been a contentious one over the last decade or so. Thus, it is likely that this decision will spark much dialog among marketers, procurement professionals and their agency partners. Some advertisers will evaluate the merits of a similar approach for their business and many in the agency community will weigh the impact of this decision on the broader topic of procurement’s role in marketing going forward.

We believe that regardless of one’s perspective, periodic introspection on seminal topics such as marketing procurement is helpful and continued dialog between advertisers and agencies on the practice is healthy. That said, we do not view PepsiCo’s decision as the beginning of a trend away from enterprise accountability and its application to the marketing function.

In our agency contract compliance practice, we work with advertisers that have highly developed, actively involved marketing procurement teams and we also work with advertisers that have not yet involved procurement on the marketing portion of their business. Regardless, each organization is mindful of the accountability and oversight obligation they have when it comes to their marketing investment. After all, advertising and marketing spend is one of the largest line items on a company’s P&L, and is critical to brand building over the long-term and demand generation in the near-term.

Financial accountability related to marketing can be viewed as falling into the following categories:

  1. Formalizing and centralizing key aspects of the agency relationship lifecycle: agency selection, on-boarding, performance monitoring, optimization, and transition when necessary.
  2. Leveraging the agency investment, by brand and across the organization as a whole. Decisions in this area can include both agency remuneration system development and overall composition of the agency network. Do we draft and engage disparate agency brands? Select agencies from a particular holding company? Or do we build a dedicated shop at the holding company level (i.e. WPP’s Team Detroit serving Ford Motor Company or Garage Team Mazda).
  3. Financial stewardship oversight and implementation of controls to safeguard the organization’s marketing spend at each stage of the investment cycle.

In our experience, the best tactic for aiding management of an agency network is the use of a standardized but customizable “Master Services Agreement” template. Formalizing the legal and financial terms and conditions necessary to protect an advertiser’s monetary investment and intellectual property rights is a critical first step on the path toward accountability. This is closely followed by the need to identify representatives from select functional areas of the organization that have would have involvement in the contracting, compensation system development and performance review portions of the agency relationship management program.

Organization’s that have implemented Strategic Relationship Management (SRM) initiatives will undoubtedly have an edge when it comes to leveraging their agency fee investment across brands, divisions and geographies. These companies will likely already have pre-determined agency selection protocols and established compensation guidelines or at a minimum maintain a database of information that can be accessed by client-side executives responsible for agency relationship management to help shape their decision making in this area.

Finally, whether an advertiser has a formalized marketing procurement department or not, independent agency contract compliance and performance monitoring support will typically satisfy an organization’s oversight and transparency requirements.

Many will suggest that PepsiCo’s decision will lead the industry down the path of rethinking the role of or need for marketing procurement. To the contrary, we believe that procurement’s role in marketing has been and will continue to be a highly individualized decision for advertisers. While important, we believe that procurement is but one piece in the overall puzzle for advertisers seeking to optimize their return on marketing investment.

Ready to Embrace Full-Service Agencies Once Again?

24 Aug

full service advertising“Back in the day” is a catch phrase that many of us who came up in the ad business during the full-service agency, 15% commission era are accustomed to using when discussing the state of affairs within the industry today.

Things were simpler then for both marketers and ad agencies. Agencies were valued strategic partners, with C-Suite access that were tasked with developing brand positioning architectures, target segmentation schema and the creation and stewarding of brand communications across customer touchpoints. Marketers managed one full-service agency to handle all of the “above the line” branding and activation activities and maybe one or two “below the line” shops to handle tasks such as sales promotion and yellow pages advertising.

Fast forward to the here and now and the concept of “generalist” agencies, as full-service shops are often derogatorily referred to, has given way to specialization. As a result, marketers have seen the depth of their agency rosters swell in number to represent several to several dozen shops, each responsible for some, but not every aspect of a brand’s interaction with some, but not all segments of that brand’s target audience.

In the current “specialization” model, the challenges for marketers, particularly for those with limited staff resources, that don’t employ a full-service agency-of-record, are many. There are critical tasks and hand-offs which need to be addressed within the client organization and across their agency network, such as:

  • Who is responsible for marketing communications strategy development?
  • Who is on point for the integration and coordination of the communications program across touchpoints? Across media? Across target segments? Across geographies?
  • Who owns the agency relationships?  

Factor in the challenges caused by evolving dynamics including organizational silos (i.e. digital versus traditional media), cross-channel marketing and attribution, big data and ad technology and the level of complexity, which marketers face grows to an almost dizzying height.

As to “who” is responsible, the obvious answer is that ownership of these tasks clearly resides with the client-side marketing team. This might help to explain why marketers are feeling stressed out, with many actually expressing a lack of confidence in their team’s ability.

Two short years ago Adobe conducted a survey of 1,000 U.S. marketers and found that only 40% of those surveyed felt that their company’s marketing efforts were effective. This same survey indicated that 68% of marketers were feeling “more pressure to show a return on investment on marketing spend” (ROMI). Earlier this year, Workfront surveyed 500 marketers and found that 25% felt “highly stressed” and 80% stated that they felt “overloaded and understaffed.”

It should go without saying that this is not a healthy dynamic for marketers and doesn’t seem to bode well for organizations seeking to optimize their ROMI.

One might realistically ask the question, “Are such organizational and or workload challenges impacting brand/ customer relationships? Some industry experts, such as Liz Miller, SVP of Marketing at the CMO Council have suggested that consumers in fact have a disjointed perspective of certain brands, resulting in part from inconsistent experiences across touchpoints. In a recent interview with Marketing Daily, Ms. Miller suggested that the key issue facing marketers was delivering a “holistic, connected customer experience.”

Thus it would seem that in this era of specialization, deep agency rosters, headcount pressures on both client and agency organizations, rapidly evolving ad technologies and an empowered consumer, with a wide array of choices a return to “simpler” times would be welcome.

In our experience, advertisers that are successfully navigating this complex, rapidly changing market have done three things that are contributing to their success:

  1. Reduced the size of their agency rosters.
  2. Deputized an Agency-of-Record partner to share in the responsibility for developing joint strategies and orchestrating marketing activities to deliver a holistic brand experience.
  3. Placed a high premium on effective, collaborative communications with their agency partners and internal stakeholders to gain buy-in to the organization’s marketing communications efforts and to provide regular performance updates. 

While a return to the “good ole days” may be nothing more than a fanciful wish, the concept of simplification remains a viable means of steadying the ship and allocating both advertiser and agency resources in a more efficient manner. 

As American computer scientist Alan Perlis, once said;

“Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it.”

 

Does Your Agency Agreement Address “Special Relationships?”

29 May

business relationship and partnership  conceptWhen it comes to the subject of contracts between advertisers and their marketing agency partners, there is one principle, long understood within the legal, financial and audit sectors that is frequently overlooked… the concept of “Related-Party” transactions.

Why is this important you might ask? Primarily because as principal agent, an advertising agency has a fiduciary responsibility to solely serve the interests of their clients. In fulfilling their role as a fiduciary, agencies are held to a standard of conduct and trust in which they must avoid self-dealing or conflicts in which the potential benefit to the agency is in conflict with that of their client. 

Over the course of the last thirty years, growth within the advertising industry has been chiefly driven by acquisitions and marked by consolidation. The net result was the emergence of large, complex and highly influential agency holding companies such as; WPP, Publicis Groupe, Omnicom, Interpublic and Dentsu. In turn, each of these organizations own dozens of diverse agency brands providing full-service advertising, media, creative, digital and social media, public relations and multi-cultural advertising services and resources. 

Each of the aforementioned holding companies is a publicly traded entity focused on maximizing profits for their shareowners. As such, one of the primary roles of holding company management is to leverage intra-group synergies across their agency brands to profitably drive group revenues. No one would begrudge them this focus, particularly in light of the need to offset acquisition costs and the marketing and operational expenses associated with maintaining dozens of agency brands. 

Unfortunately, advertisers are often unwitting participants in the act of leveraging intra-group synergies. Further, more often than not, the agreements which are in place to formally govern client/ agency relationships do not afford advertisers the requisite controls and or transparency concerning related-party transactions. 

So what is a related-party transaction? In short, related-party transactions can be defined as arrangements between two parties that are joined by a special relationship. For example, if an advertiser’s media agency of record were to funnel a portion of that advertiser’s digital media buy to a digital trading desk operation, which happened to be owned by the media AOR’s parent company that would be considered a related-party transaction. 

While there is nothing wrong with the premise of related-party transactions, they do carry the potential, or at least perception, for conflicts of interest. This may be as simple as an agency awarding work to a related party, rather than competitively bidding that work to a range of providers. Further, undisclosed, these transactions can mask the overall percentage of an advertiser’s budget being spent through their agency, its parent and subsidiary companies.  

Fortunately, this issue is easily addressed in the context of a client/ agency agreement. The first step is straightforward and involves defining the terms “related-parties” and “related-party transactions.” Secondly, it is imperative that advertisers introduce standards for the identification of agency related party relationships that may come into play on its business and to provide disclosure requirements for when an agency seeks to engage a related-party. At a minimum, such requirements should include: 

  • Identification of the related-party and the nature of the relationship
  • Statement of the business purpose of the transaction and why the related-party is being considered
  • Securing the requisite transparency controls ranging from access to invoices, compensation agreements, contracts and audit rights with regard to the related-party
  • A list of client personnel authorized to sign and approve related-party transactions, in advance of work being awarded

Too often client/ agency agreements do not establish guidelines for behavior in this area. When combined with the fact that agency operating styles sometimes do not openly reveal related-party transactions, a control gap is often created, which can have negative financial consequences for the advertiser as well as blemish the agency relationship. 

What is the True Cost of Opacity? (part 2 of 2)

01 May

risk-icebergPart 2 of a two-part look advertiser concerns regarding “transparency” and the impact it is having on client-agency relations.

Why is a tight client-agency agreement important? One need look no further than the recent comments of Maurice Levy, Chairman of Publicis; “We have a clear contract with our clients, and we are absolutely rigorous in respecting transparency and the contracts.”  It should be noted that other agency executives have also cited their compliance with the terms of their client agreements as part of their response to recent questions regarding transparency in the context of rebates and the lack of full-disclosure associated with trading desk operations.

As contract compliance auditors we would suggest that most of the client-agency agreements, which we review do not have sufficient language to deal with the evolving advertising landscape.  It is common to find contract language gaps when it comes to items such as; AVBs, related party obligations, disclosure requirements and or right to audit clauses. Therefore, it is quite possible for an agency to be in compliance with an agreement as Mr. Levy suggested and still not be operating in a fully transparent manner.

To the extent that reducing the level of opacity is an important step in establishing a solid client-agency relationship founded on the basis of trust, we would strongly encourage advertisers to review their marketing agency partner agreements.

If agencies truly functioned as principal agents for the advertiser, a less structured agreement may pose less risk. However, today we operate in a complex environment where agencies may have a financial stake in certain outcomes and those stakes are not always fully disclosed to clients. Thus the reality is that the potential for bias to impact an agency’s recommendations clearly negates the principal of agency neutrality.  Think about it, agencies today operate as independent agents, partnering with a range of third-party vendors in the research, technology and media sectors and actually owning and reselling media inventory to their clients.

Don’t agree? Consider the comments of Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of WPP’s Group M at the aforementioned ANA conference; “Those relationships, rightly or wrongly, don’t exist anymore” he said, adding that “You cease to be an agent the moment someone puts a gun to your head and says these are the CPMs you need to deliver.”

It is imperative that advertisers protect themselves from a legal and financial perspective by crafting contract language and implementing the appropriate monitoring and control processes to insure that they have the transparency that they seek in the context of their agency partners’ financial stewardship of their advertising investment.  This does not mean that clients cannot forge solid relationships with their agencies or that their agency partners should not be afforded positions of trust. Quite the contrary, it simply means that candid, direct dialog must occur so that each party in the relationship is clear and comfortable with regard to the guidelines that will be put in place to govern their relationship.

Once clients and agencies have aligned their interests in the context of their relationship, the ability to focus their time, talent and resources on driving business forward and tackling industry challenges will be greatly enhanced. Interested in learning more about industry best practices when it comes to client-agency agreements? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management, LLC at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on this important topic.

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