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Category Archives: Trading Desk

Lawsuits Expose the Seemly Underbelly of Programmatic Digital

25 Sep

fraudsterAt the rate things are progressing in digital media and programmatic trading, the tenuous relationships between advertisers, agencies, ad tech providers, exchanges and publishers are about to come unglued.

While many in the ad industry have had their doubts about programmatic digital, this sector has grown unabated for the last several years. According to eMarketer in 2014 advertisers invested 28.3% of their ad budget in digital media. Their projection is that this will grow to 44.9% in 2020, likely topping $100 billion in total spend. eMarketer estimates that 80% of U.S. digital display activity in 2017 will be transacted programmatically. 

Interestingly, since 2014 the industry has become much more attuned to the risks encountered by advertisers when it comes to optimizing (or should we say safeguarding) their digital media investment. Yet in spite of the findings regarding unsavory practices emanating from the ANA’s seminal 2016 study on “Media Transparency” advertisers continue to pour an increasing share of their advertising spend into this media channel.

However, not all advertisers are continuing to embrace digital media quite as readily as they once did. A handful of progressives, namely Procter & Gamble, have begun to rethink the share of wallet being allocated to digital media and programmatic trading. Marc Pritchard, P&G’s Chief Marketing Officer, has been very outspoken in summing up his company’s position quite succinctly; “The reality is that in 2017 the bloom came off the rose for digital media. We had substantial waste in a fraudulent media supply chain. As little as 25% of the money spent in digital media actually made it to consumers.”

Given Mr. Pritchard’s comments it has been quite intriguing to monitor the legal developments in two high profile lawsuits that have recently been filed.

In the first case, Uber is suing Fetch Media, its digital agency suggesting that it had “squandered” tens of millions of dollars to “purchase non-existent, non-viewable and/ or fraudulent advertising” on its behalf. Uber has further alleged that the agency “nurtured an environment of obfuscation and fraud for its own personal benefit” and that of its parent company, Dentsu Aegis Network. To be fair, Fetch Media has denied what it says are “unsubstantiated” claims by Uber which it claims is designed to draw attention away from their “failure to pay suppliers.”  Allegations include that the agency acted as agent for Uber in some markets and executed principal-based buys in others and that they earned and retained undisclosed rebates tied to Uber’s media spend.

The second case involves RhythmOne, a technology enabled media company and its partner dataxu, a programmatic buy-side platform/ applications provider. RhythmOne originally filed suit regarding $1.9 million worth of unpaid invoices. Dataxu filed a counterclaim alleging that RhythmOne “used a fake auction to consistently overcharge” them and suggested that RhythmOne also “procured inventory from other exchanges, and then marked it up,” both violations of their partnership agreement. As an aside, for the $1.9 million in payments that dataxu admittedly and intentionally withheld from RhythmOne, going back to January, 2017, it is likely that dataxu’s clients had been billed and remitted payment to them. Which raises questions as to how and when their clients will be made whole.

Of note, both of these lawsuits delve into a range of topical issues that pose risks to most programmatic digital advertisers:

  • Agencies executing principal-based buys, rather than acting as agent for the advertiser.
  • The retention of undisclosed rebates tied to an agency’s use of advertiser funds.
  • Non-transparent fees and mark-ups being tacked on to the actual cost of media inventory by multiple middlemen (i.e. agencies, DSPs, exchanges).

These are issues that advertisers should familiarize themselves with and address through the development of a comprehensive client/ agency contract. In addition, advertisers must vigilantly monitor supplier compliance with the terms of those agreements to insure full transparency and, importantly, accountability when it comes to the stewardship of their digital media investment.

As these two cases highlight it is dam difficult for an advertiser to accurately assess the value of digital inventory that is being proffered on their behalf by their agency and adtech partners. Beyond establishing what percentage of an advertiser’s digital dollar actually goes toward media inventory, these separate, but related legal actions demonstrate that it is not just a lack of transparency that advertisers must worry about, but a lack of ethics. When it comes to programmatic digital media the American artist, John Knoll, may have said it best;

“Any tool can be used for good or bad. It’s really the ethics of the artist using it.”

There are steps that advertisers can take to both safeguard and optimize their digital media investment. If you are interested in learning more, contact Cliff Campeau, Principal of AARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation.

In China, Ad Platforms Are Bypassing Media Buying Agencies

14 Sep

big dataInteresting article from Digiday profiling the fact that advertisers in China, seeking more transparency, are moving budget dollars from agency trading desks to Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT).

Not surprisingly, the agency community is a little less supportive of this approach due to the lower margins affiliated with BAT (i.e. 5%) versus the 50 percent earned from their trading desksRead More.

Is Programmatic Advertising Worth the Risk?

26 Jul

RiskConceptually, it is easy to understand the potential of programmatic media buying. It is obvious to most that using technology to supplant what is a manual, labor intensive process to drive efficiencies and improve media investment decisions could be a plus for advertisers, agencies and publishers (not to mention ad tech vendors).

The only question to be addressed is “when” will the benefits of programmatic outweigh the costs and the risks to advertisers?

Proponents of programmatic will argue that this buying tactic has already generated economic benefit for advertisers when it comes to digital media buying. After all, streamlining the processes related to the issuance and completion of RFPs, buyer/ seller negotiations and preparation of insertion orders clearly saves time and reduces labor costs for all stakeholders.

No one would argue this premise. However, reducing labor costs associated with traditional buying is but one component of programmatic buying costs. Consider the broad array of programmatic buying related fees and expenses currently being born by advertisers:

  • Data Management Platform (DMP) fees
  • Demand Side Platform (DSP) fees
  • Data/ Targeting fees
  • Pre-Bid Decisioning/ Targeting fees
  • Ad Blocking (pre/ post) fees
  • Verification fees
  • Agency Campaign Management fees

It should be noted, that there are “other” non-transparent charges and fees linked to sell-side platforms (SSPs), bid processing, real-time bidding auction methodology and principal-based buys (media arbitrage) that are born by advertisers and limit the percentage of their digital media spend that actually goes toward inventory.

In a recent Ad News article by Arvind Hickman, the author referenced studies conducted by both the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) that demonstrate the magnitude of these programmatic fees and expenses. The WFA study determined that $.60 of every dollar spent on programmatic digital media buying goes to cover “programmatic transactions and fees.” The ANA study suggests that advertisers could be paying between $.54 – $.62 of every dollar on digital supply chain data, transaction fees and supply side charges.

Bear in mind that neither of these studies addressed the impact of media arbitrage or ad fraud. Industry studies, focused on assessing the level of digital ad fraud, fielded by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and WhiteOps found that fraudulent non-human traffic in the form of bots was “more prevalent in programmatic environments.” According to the research, display ads purchased programmatically were “55% more likely to be loaded by bots” than non-programmatic ads.

And yet, in-spite of the challenges still being faced with programmatic digital media buying, this media investment model is being rapidly rolled out to out-of-home, print and television.

Who do you think will bear the learning curve costs and risks associated with expanding programmatic to other media categories? The answer, is primarily advertisers and to a lesser extent, publishers.

We certainly understand that programmatic is the future of media buying. That said, rushing headlong into this arena, without satisfactory levels of transparency and or fraud prevention, combined with the upfront costs of the industry’s investment in technology, that are ultimately passed through to the advertiser, are both risky and costly to advertisers.

Is there a need to reach and take risks in order to secure positive progress? Yes. But, it might be best to follow the approach advocated by one of this country’s greatest military leaders, General George S. Patton:

“Take calculated risks, that is quite different than being rash.”

 

 

 

 

 

Has France Solved the Media Transparency Issue?

24 Feb

French Flag

Earlier this month the French government passed a new edict extending the coverage of Loi Sapin, their anti-corruption law passed in the early 90’s which made the process of buying media more transparent. 

There are two key tenants of Loi Sapin, which afford French advertisers a level of protection related to certain non-transparent revenue sources which the Association of National Advertisers (ANA)/ K2 2016 media transparency study showed were prevalent in the U.S. (and elsewhere around the globe). Specifically, we are referring to the practice of media owners and publishers paying rebates to the agency and the use of media arbitrage, where agencies purchase inventory on their own to be resold to their clients at a higher rate.

Loi Sapin prohibits agencies from selling media to their clients that the agency had purchased in its name. In today’s parlance, it prohibits media arbitrage or “principal-based” media buys. Secondly, the law clearly stipulates that the ad agencies cannot derive revenue from a media owner, stating that agencies can only be paid by advertisers.

To France’s credit, the new decree, which will take effect in January of 2018, expands the coverage of the anti-corruption law to include digital advertising and digital advertising services. Of note, this includes agency trading desks, which sometimes buy and resell digital media to their clients. Yes, agencies will still be able to provide programmatic media buying services through their trading desk operations to advertisers, they will simply have to disclose to their clients, upfront, those affiliates or entities where they or the agency holding company have an ownership interest.

Interestingly, the decree will also require the media owner to direct bill the advertiser and compels them to provide detailed information about the services that they provided to the advertiser. This particular aspect of the law will further enhance advertiser transparency and virtually eliminates the ability of an ad agency to blindly mark-up said services.

As U.S. advertisers and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), continue to evaluate the most effective means of improving media transparency, France’s anti-corruption law and its new decree covering digital media services certainly provides some interesting food for thought.

 

 

 

What if You Discovered That Your Digital Dollar Netted You a Dime’s Worth of Digital Media?

12 Feb

dimeIn 2014, the World Federation of Advertisers conducted a study which demonstrated that “only fifty-four cents of every media dollar in programmatic digital media buying” goes to the publisher, with the balance being divvied up by agency trading desks, DSPs and ad networks.

Fast forward to the spring of 2016 and a study by Technology Business Research (TBR) suggested that “only 40% of digital buys are going to working media.” TBR reported that 29% went to fund agency services and 31% to cover the cost of technology used to process those buys.

Where does the money go? For programmatic digital media, the advertiser’s dollar is spread across the following agents and platforms:

  • Agency campaign management fees
  • Technology fees (DMP, DSP, Adserving)
  • Data/Audience Targeting fees
  • Ad blocking pre/post
  • Verification (target delivery, ad fraud, brand safety)
  • Pre-bid & post-bid evaluation fees

It should be noted that the fees paid to the above providers are exclusive of fees and mark-ups added by SSPs, exchanges or publishers that are blind to both ad agencies and advertisers. What? That is correct. Given the complex nature of the digital ecosystem, impression level costs can be easily camouflaged by DSPs and SSPs. Thus, most advertisers (and their agencies) do not have a line-of-sight into true working media levels…even if they employ a cost-disclosed programmatic buying model (which is rare).

Take for example the fact that a large preponderance of programmatic digital media is placed on a real-time bidding or RTB basis, and a majority of that, is executed using a second-price auction methodology. With second-price auctions, the portion of the transaction that occurs between a buyer’s bid and when the clearing price is executed without advertiser or agency visibility, thus allowing exchanges to apply clearing or bid management fees and mark-ups as they see fit. So for example, if two advertisers place a bid for inventory, one at $20 per thousand and the other at $15 per thousand, the advertiser who placed the higher bid of $20 would win, but the “sale price” would be only one-cent more than the next highest bid, or $15.01. However, advertisers are charged the “cleared price,” (could be as high as $20 in this example) which is determined after the exchange applies clearing or bid management fees. How much you ask? Only the exchanges know and this is information not readily shared.

Earlier this month Digiday ran an article entitled, “We Go Straight to the Publisher: Advertisers Beware of SSPs Arbitraging Media” which profiled a practice used by supply-side platforms (SSPs) that “misrepresent themselves.” How? By “reselling inventory and misstating which publishers they represent.” The net effect of this practice allow the exchanges an opportunity to “repackage and resell inventory” that they don’t actually have access to for publishers that they don’t have a relationship with.

Let’s look beyond programmatic digital media. Consider the findings from a Morgan Stanley analyst, reported in a New York Times article in early 2016 that stated that, “In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook.” What is significant here is that until very recently, these two entities have self-reported their performance, failing to embrace independent, industry accredited resources to verify their audience delivery numbers.  

The pitfalls of publisher self-reporting came to light this past fall when Facebook was found to have vastly overstated video viewing metric to advertisers for a period of two years between 60% and 80%.  

By the time one factors in the impact of fraud and non-human viewing, and or inventory that doesn’t adhere to digital media buying guidelines and viewability standards, it’s easy to understand the real risk to advertisers and the further dilution of their digital working media investment.

Advertisers have every right to wonder what exactly is going on with their digital media spend, why the process is so opaque and why the pace of industry progress to remedy these concerns has seemingly been so slow. Sadly, in spite of the leadership efforts of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), The ISBA, The Association of Canadian Advertisers and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) there is still much work to be done.

The question that we have continually raised is, “With advertisers continuing to allocate an ever increasing level of their media share-of-wallet to digital, where is the impetus for change?” After all, in spite of all of the known risks and the lack of transparency, the inflow of ad dollars has been nothing short of spectacular. According to eMarketer, digital media spend in the U.S. alone for 2016 eclipsed $72 billion and accounted for 37% of total media spending.

There are steps that advertisers can take to both safeguard and optimize their digital media investment. Interested in learn more? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal of AARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation. After all, as Warren Buffett once said:

“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”

Principal-Based Buying: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

29 Apr

contract signingRecently, Ad Age ran an article entitled: “Risky Business: Why Media Agencies are Betting on Principal-Based Buying.” To be honest, my first reaction was, what in the world is principal-based buying? It didn’t take long to figure out that it was simply a new descriptor for media arbitrage.

Clever, principal-based buying sounds so much more appealing and less subversive than media arbitrage. However, arbitrage is arbitrage, regardless of what moniker that is placed on the act of purchasing media and reselling said media to advertisers. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of arbitrage is clear:

The nearly simultaneous purchase and sale of something in one place and selling it in another in order to profit from price discrepancies.”

 We certainly understand the primary allure of media arbitrage to agencies; the potential for higher margins than what traditional remuneration models would allow for. Let’s face it agency holding companies are publicly traded entities with a fiduciary obligation to drive shareowner profitability.

Simply, “principal-based” buying is a practice that is in clear violation of the principal- agent relationship, which has long been the driving concept behind client/ agency relations.

Forget the opacity, which is a hallmark of this buying tactic and the potential risks to advertisers seeking to optimize media value and boost working media ratios. The main issue with agency ownership of media is the potential impact on the objectivity of the advice, which it offers its clients.

Media time and space is a perishable product. It is also speculative in nature when it comes to projecting future value from a relevancy and audience delivery perspective. So what happens in the event an agency, indulging in arbitrage, has a significant ownership position in distressed, dated inventory? Could such a position create internal pressure on the agency’s media staff to move that inventory? In turn, might such pressure result in agency media team’s pushing that inventory off on clients, whether it represents the best fit at the best price?

Assuming that an advertiser knowingly engages their agency partner’s trading desk and believes that this relationship will yield a price advantage over traditional buying practices there are a few questions to consider; “How will you know? What methodology will you apply to vet the quality of the inventory and the price paid? Who will conduct that analysis for you?” In short, is this a proposition whose economic benefit to the advertiser can ever be accurately evaluated?

Sadly, while the agency community may shrug off the notion of ever having committed to a principal-agent relationship with its clients too often we find that agencies, which have embraced media arbitrage, have not disclosed this fact to their clientele… in spite of the position often taken in the trade publications.

In our agency contract compliance practice we find that in most instances there is not a separate letter of agreement between the agency’s trading desk operation and the advertiser, that the language dealing with “related parties” within the contract is inadequate to cover such a scenario and that there are no limitations in place regarding the percentage of an advertiser’s media buy that can be run through the trading desk.

Hopefully, those agencies that intend to engage in and or extend their use of principal-based buying will also commit to fully disclosing this practice and its application to each of their clients, well in advance of implementing this buying approach on those clients’ behalf.

From an advertisers perspective, it is imperative to assess the type of relationship that you desire with your media agency. If a principal-agent relationship predicated on full-disclosure and the fiduciary obligations, which underlie such relationships, are important to your organization, the client/ agency agreement will need to reflect that position. On the other hand, if there is interest in exploring principal-based buying consider contracting directly with the agency trading desk and establishing caps on the percentage of the budget, which can be invested through that operation.

Compensation: One Key to Improved Digital Media Transparency

10 Sep

loyaltyLong troubled by the concept of ad agencies as media re-sellers, it has been my belief that the agency trading desk model and the resulting media arbitrage mode of compensation employed by most trading desk operations is one of the key drivers of advertiser transparency concerns with regard to digital media.

To be completely candid, our bias is that any activity in which ad agencies are engaged, that challenges the notion of a principal-agent relationship between advertiser and agency, is detrimental to establishing meaningful trust and mutual respect. Non-transparent agency revenue sources such as media arbitrage, AVBs and the awarding of jobs to related parties, without the appropriate level of due diligence or client awareness create a serious schism when it comes to marketing accountability. As importantly, they often form the basis for “me first” behavior on the part of agencies, which is not in the best interest of those clients that have entrusted them to act as their fiduciary partners with the goal of optimizing the advertisers return-on-marketing-investment (ROMI).

When it comes to digital media, there are too many competing forces focused on selfish financial interests, rather than those of the advertiser. Publishers, ad networks, exchanges, demand side platforms and agencies all seeking to optimize their share of an advertiser’s digital media investment.

Consider WPP’s recent second-quarter 2015 earning release in which the organization announced a first-half revenue gain of 6.8% and a profit increase of 51.7%. What was most telling was the following statement, within the release indicating that “net sales growth, which excludes inventory, purchased and resold to clients directly, was 5.2%.” So while media reselling makes up a relatively small portion of the agency holding company’s revenue base, it obviously contributes significantly to agency profitability. To WPP’s credit, it is the only agency holding company which breaks out organic net sales growth. 

During the spring of 2014, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) raised concerns on behalf of its members with regard to the lack of media transparency and cited issues related to “programmatic digital buying and agency trading desks” in particular. Supporting the ANA’s perspective was information from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and DataXu, which suggested that “only 55¢ of every media dollar in programmatic digital buying ends up with publishers,” with the rest going to “agencies, trading desks, demand-side platforms and ad networks.”  

Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against advertisers in this equation. Further, absent a principal-agent relationship to govern the interactions between advertisers and advertising agencies, one can legitimately ask; “Who is looking out for the advertiser’s interests?” 

Perhaps the simplest way of shifting the balance of power is to better align the roles and responsibilities of advertisers and agencies. This process should begin with a review of the media scope of services and the resulting agency remuneration system. Secondly, as part of this process, we believe that advertisers should seek to eliminate media arbitrage as a source of agency trading desk revenues. Why? To return to a fiduciary standard, where a principal-agent relationship is the hard and fast rule. 

To be fair, clients will need to consider a compensation schema, which offsets, at least in part, the revenue currently being generated by their agency partners under the current system. Such an approach could very well incorporate incentives tied to performance based criteria including but not limited to; inventory quality, CPM rate optimization, timeliness of digital buys and programmatic creative development and frequency cap/ curve management to reward extraordinary agency performance. 

Revising compensation is perhaps the quickest and most effective means available to revitalize advertiser confidence in their digital agency partners and in removing any agency qualms with regard to fully disclosing comprehensive digital media buy details to advertisers. Executed in combination with contract language dealing with the disclosure and disposition of other potential non-transparent revenue sources, such as rebates, AVBs and volume discounts and advertisers will have eliminated a couple of key items that have caused some within the client organization to question the loyalty of their agency partners. 

“Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved.” ~ Martin Luther

Will Transparency Concerns Undermine Trust?

17 Mar

transparencyAt the 2014 ANA “Agency Financial Management” conference, representatives from the Association of National Advertisers, Association of Canadian Advertisers and the World Federation of Advertisers each presented member survey results which indicated that their advertisers were concerned about the lack of transparency which existed into the financial stewardship of their advertising funds.

In their February, 2014 study, the ANA found that forty-six percent of the members’ surveyed expressed specific concern over the “transparency of media buys.” As contract compliance auditors, we know from our dealings that the resulting lack of clarity and in some instances, honesty surrounding issues such as data integrity, audience delivery, trading desks, reporting and financial reconciliations creates financial risks for advertisers. Sadly, the lack of transparency ultimately can serve to undermine attempts to improve trust levels between clients, agencies and media sellers. 

Fast forward one-year and two events come to light, which raise serious issues regarding trust.

The first was a speech made by Jon Mandel, former CEO of WPP’s Mediacom unit at the ANA’s “Media Leadership Conference” in early March, where he alleged the widespread use of volume based rebates or kickbacks from media sellers to agencies. He suggested that these practices, which have the potential to negatively affect advertisers, had migrated from cash advances to no-charge media weight which an agency can then deal back to clients or liquidate in barter deals. Mr. Mandel specifically stated that media agencies “…are not transparent about their actions. They recommend or implement media that is off strategy or off target if it works for their financial gain.”

The second event, which coincidentally involves Mr. Mandel’s former employer, Mediacom, deals with revelations regarding the use of “value banks” and the falsifying of media campaign reports by its Australia operation. For those not familiar with the term value bank, this is where media sellers provide a certain level of no-charge media weight to agencies based upon their aggregate client spending with that entity.

In a story which broke in Mumbarella, a media news website, it was reported that media “discrepancies” were found in late 2014 in an audit of Mediacom. The audit, conducted by EY was actually commissioned by Mediacom once it had learned of the problems. Among the findings of EY’s investigation were that Mediacom personnel had “altered the original demographic audience targets to make it appear as though the campaigns had reached the official OzTam audience ratings numbers.” Further, the review found that the agency had been taking “free or heavily discounted advertising time given to it by TV stations” and selling it back to its clients in violation of its parent company’s (GroupM) policy.

While Mediacom terminated several of the employees allegedly involved in these matters and pro-actively engaged an auditor, it should be noted that the audit found that the aforementioned fraud had been taking place undetected for a period of “at least two years.” This certainly raises questions regarding the efficacy of the controls that were in place at the agency to safeguard advertiser funds. The combination of lax controls and limited transparency had a negative financial impact on some of the agency’s largest clients (i.e. Yum! Brands, IAG, Foxtel).

As an aside, following Mr. Mandel’s comments to the ANA conference attendees, Rob Norman, Chief Digital Officer at WPP’s GroupM stated that; “In the U.S., rebates or other forms of hidden revenue are not part of GroupM’s trading relationships with vendors.” Sadly, in light of both Mr. Mandel’s revelations and the Mediacom Australia situation U.S. advertisers will likely take little solace in these reassurances from WPP. Worse, given the levels of advertiser concern about the lack of transparency within the industry, there is a high likelihood that other agencies will be painted by the same broad brush and assumed to be engaged in similar practices… whether they are or aren’t.

For an established industry with estimated 2014 global ad expenditures of $521.6 billion (source: MAGNA GLOBAL) it is amazing that some of the aforementioned practices would take place and that the industry would continue to deny rather than acknowledge their existence in an overt manner. Unchecked, the murky dealings of some media owners and a handful of agencies may ultimately push trust, not transparency to the fore of advertiser concerns and that is not a healthy dynamic when it comes to client/ agency relationships. The words of American humorist and journalist Kin Hubbard may serve to synthesize the crux of the issue:

“The hardest thing is to take less when you can get more.”

Interested in learning how you can improve your transparency into the financial management of your organizations marketing investment? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com.

 

 

 

 

Is Agency Ownership of Audience Measurement Providers a Good Idea?

13 Feb

transparencyRecently, WPP indicated that they were planning to take a large equity stake in comScore, one of the world’s largest online campaign measurement providers. This is in addition to WPP’s recent investment in Rentrak, a television audience measurement service, an organization in which WPP is now the largest institutional shareowner.

With WPP’s continued push into the campaign measurement space, advertisers may begin to question the consequences of an agency holding company’s ownership of audience delivery measurement resources. After all, these campaign measurement service providers gather and analyze data and publish ratings which are utilized to assess the efficacy of the agency’s media purchasing efforts on the advertiser’s behalf.

More broadly, based upon the business activities in which the agency holding companies now routinely engage in, one might legitimately question whether or not the designation of “agent” is even an apt description of the role which advertising firms play in support of their clients. Activities such as media arbitrage or reselling if one prefers, joint media and technology ownership deals with publishers, participation in AVB or volume rebate programs offered by media owners to agency holding companies tied to transactions entered into on behalf of their clients, all raise a legitimate question about “Whose” interests agencies are beholden to.

What recourse do advertisers have? After all, there are often distinct advantages to utilizing large agency holding company brands. Independent agencies, which while unencumbered by questions regarding their fiduciary focus, sometimes lack the scale or depth of resources required to perform in certain situations. Enlightened protectionism in the 21st century requires advertisers to aggressively push for enhanced transparency, improved controls and the unimpeachable right to audit their agency’s contract compliance and financial management performance. In the oft quoted words of President Ronald Reagan; “Trust, but verify.”

As a sound first step, it is essential for advertisers to understand their agency partners’ affiliate relationships. Secondly, it is imperative for advertisers to fashion contract language which requires their agencies to provide full disclosure when an agency affiliate is being utilized on their behalf, how that affiliate is compensated and by whom and whether or not the rates charged by that affiliate are competitive with comparable providers in the market. Whether in the context of ad serving, programmatic buying, trading desk operations or campaign measurement, an advertiser has a right to know when their agency has engaged an affiliate firm. This affords client stakeholders the opportunity to raise any questions or concerns they may have regarding such a selection and its impact on the agency’s objectivity. 

Once affiliate firms have been identified, tracking what percentage of an advertiser’s budget is being spent collectively at the agency holding company level can prove enlightening. More importantly, understanding the value of their account to the holding company based upon total revenues enhances an advertiser’s negotiating position when considering agency remuneration options going forward. 

As the ad industry has grown in size, generating approximately $521.6 billion in revenue in 2014 (source: MAGNA GLOBAL), it has also grown in complexity which is due in large to the rate and rapidity of technological change. Thus, it comes as no surprise that relationships among industry stakeholders have evolved, becoming more complex in their own right. The industry has begun to come to terms with the plurality of such relationships where partners may simultaneously be competitors or buyer agents may also function as sellers. However, “coming to terms” doesn’t mean blind acceptance. Rather it requires a new level of discourse and enhanced controls to protect advertisers and their investment.

Interested in learning more about agency network “affiliate management?” Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management, LLC at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on the topic.  

 

Is Legacy Thinking Impeding Your Progress?

07 May

ana agency financial management conferenceEmerging media, rapidly expanding technologies, a changing tax and regulatory environment, talent shortages and a global paradigm shift where marketing is being “outsourced” to the end user. These were just some of the topics addressed by Marketers and Agencies alike at the ANA’s annual “Agency Financial Management” conference in Naples, Florida in early May.

While there may be significant issues to be faced in the near future, the marketing industry remains a significant component of the global economy whose rate of growth outstrips that of most developed countries GDP growth.  That said there are changes required of the industry’s stakeholders to better prepare their organizations’ to successfully navigate a complex landscape fraught with both risks and opportunity.

This dynamic will require a fresh approach by clients and agencies alike along with a willingness to shed the bonds of legacy thinking, which has retarded industry progress on a number of key fronts in recent years.

One of the themes to emerge from the conference is that marketing is difficult, expensive and challenging.  When combined with talent, resource and education restraints being faced by many marketing organizations there is a belief that marketers are leaving dollars on the table.  Contributing factors range from digital media value erosion to a lack of transparency into certain aspects of the supply chain such as trading desks to the absence of industry governance on the issue of cross platform audience delivery measurement.

Underlying these challenges is the fact that client-side marketers, procurement professionals and marketing service agencies are still working on evolving their relationships and gaining better alignment on how best to optimize the advertisers’ return on marketing investment (ROMI).  Central to the success of this collaborative effort is the need to build trust and mutual respect among these stakeholders.

Interestingly, marketers expressed a strong, almost universal need for the introduction of uniform controls, competitive fee structures, tighter statements of work and the use of agency performance incentives to assist in positively driving change.  One aspect of boosting ROMI is the elimination of “waste.”  Based upon our experience in the area of agency financial management consulting, we have found that an excellent starting point for marketers in this area is to clarify the roles and responsibilities of their agency partners, minimizing redundancies and identifying those agencies that are considered strategic partners versus those that provide project-based support.  This provides a solid starting point for determining  “where” to begin in terms of initiating change and inviting those select partners to be part of the process.

On the “good news” front it was clear from the results of a recent survey conducted by the ANA and presented at the conference, that the trend toward an increased level of collaboration between marketing, finance and procurement is taking seed.  Further, as evidenced by findings from a separate survey conducted by the 4A’s, the agency community has clearly begun to accept procurement’s role in the agency sourcing and contract negotiation process.

There is one area however, which has the potential to seriously disrupt marketers’ efforts to optimize their ROMI… transparency, or more specifically, the lack of transparency that permeates the industry.  This was reflected in the results of survey data from the ANA, WFA, ISBA and ACA where “transparency” was identified by advertisers as one of, if not their top concern.  The lack of clarity and in some instances, honesty surrounding issues such as data integrity, audience delivery, trading desks, reporting and financial reconciliations creates financial risks for advertisers and undermines attempts to improve trust levels between clients, agencies and media sellers.  As Mike Thyen, Director of Global Procurement for emerging markets at Eli Lilly and Company so aptly stated:

“Where there is mystery, there’s margin.”

Examples of the potential for financial leakage related to a lack of transparency included the results from the aforementioned WFA study, cited by ANA President and CEO Bob Liodice, which found that for every dollar invested by advertisers in digital media, only fifty-five cents on the dollar flowed through to the publisher.  Inherent in this single example is the lack of transparency surrounding programmatic media buying, agency trading desks and the lack of auditable outcomes in terms of audience delivery, media rates paid and trading desk margins.

Changing times require firms to evolve and innovate in order to remain relevant with their customers and to improve their operations.  When it comes to marketing, the rate and rapidity of technology driven change is such that viewing today’s opportunities through an “old school” prism is certain to create risks and limit marketers’ ability to fully leverage their investment.   Keeping an open mind, forging strong relationships between marketing and procurement, implementing controls and reporting to enhance transparency and investing in one’s agency partnerships represent key actions to be considered to successfully face the changes which are underway.

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