AARM Formalizes Its Relationship with the ANA

1 Nov

thAARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management becomes a member of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), joining more that 1,000 leading suppliers, agencies, law firms, media companies and consultants as a Marketing Services Provider (MSP).

 

Programmatic Digital Media Reforms. Too Little, Too Late?

23 Oct

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There was an interesting announcement earlier this month, regarding the potential for introducing much needed reforms to the programmatic digital media marketplace.  Specifically, several of the top exchanges announced that they had reached out to the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) for help in cleaning up some of the non-toward practices that have plagued digital advertisers. 

As part of the group’s efforts, these exchanges have agreed to not charge hidden fees or offer rebates that unduly influence agency holding companies. Further, they have pledged to notify buyers in advance if they change auction dynamics, to clearly mark first-price and second-price auctions and to not bid cache without notice.

Translation, the exchanges have been employing these practices all along to the detriment of advertisers as a means of shoring up their bottom lines. Step in the right direction or affirmation of the ongoing murkiness associated with programmatic digital? Advertisers will have to decide, or have they already weighed in on this initiative.

Coincidentally, findings from an important research study and a forecast on digital marketing were also released earlier this month. The results of these efforts may very well shed some light on how advertisers are viewing the ongoing malaise within the digital media marketplace.

In the first study from the In-House Agency Forum (IHAF) and Forrester Research called “The State of In-House Agencies” it was revealed that 64% of corporate America have in-house agencies, which is up 50% from 2008. Interestingly, of those firms with in-house agencies, 38% have digital capabilities. The second piece of information came from an eMarketer forecast “Flight to Quality” which predicted that by 2020 open exchanges will see a declining share as programmatic money goes direct.” eMarketer is predicting that $4 of every $5 will go to private marketplaces. For reference, today, approximately 58% of all programmatic display spend, which totals $27 billion goes to private marketplaces.

The reasons for the move to programmatic direct are clear and compelling and have been at the root of advertiser concern for several years:

  • A desire to minimize the risk of digital ad fraud
  • The need to improve brand safety
  • A concerted effort to move away from low-quality, non-viewable inventory
  • Interest in a greater level of transparency (both as it relates to pricing/ fees and the content/ sites where their ads are placed)

Thus, it would appear that while the announcement by top exchanges to engage TAG to assist with reforming the practices employed by the exchanges may be a little too little, too late.

The time to take action to safeguard advertisers’ digital media investments and address advertiser concerns may have come and gone, at least as it relates to the open exchanges. Rebuilding advertiser trust and confidence was an excellent strategy… in 2016 at the height of the U.S. media market’s “Transparency Crisis.”

Unfortunately, as results from the aforementioned studies suggest, many agencies, adtech firms, and exchanges may have waited too long to remedy the woes that led to the epic level of waste that has negatively impacted advertisers’ programmatic digital media spend.

In the words of Og Mandino, the late 20th century American author:

There is an immeasurable distance between late and too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisers: What Does the Department of Justice Know That You Don’t?

19 Oct

FBI LogoIt has been two years since the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) published its blockbuster study on media transparency in the U.S. marketplace. Among the study’s findings were that the use of media rebates paid by publishers to agencies was “pervasive” and that there was a “fundamental disconnect” regarding client-agency relationships and the agencies assumed fiduciary obligation to act in an advertiser’s best interest.

Later that same year, December of 2016, the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced that it was conducting an investigation into the practice of “bid rigging” by agencies for TV and video production jobs. The bid rigging was allegedly being done to favor the agencies in-house production groups over independent production companies. This was done by urging outside production vendors to artificially inflate their bids, creating a reason and a paper trail for supporting the agency’s decision to award the production job to their in-house studio, which coincidentally bid a lower price for the work. At least four of the major ad agency holding companies were subpoenaed as part of this ongoing investigation.

One year after the release of the ANA media transparency study the ANA conducted research among its members that found:

  • 60% had taken “some” steps to address the study’s findings
  • 40% had not taken steps or weren’t sure if their companies had taken action
  • 50%+ of those that had taken steps indicated that had revised agency contract language
  • 20% of those that had taken steps had conducted audits of their agency partners

Given the $200 billion plus in estimated U.S. media spending (source: MAGNA, 2018) and the $5 billion U.S. commercial production market the aforementioned numbers are stunning in that more advertisers have not taken action to safeguard their advertising investment by implementing controls and oversight actions that mitigate risks and improve transparency.

It would appear as though the Department of Justice is taking these matters more seriously than many advertisers. The reason that the DoJ and FBI have undertaken probes of U.S. media buying and creative production bidding practices is quite simple… fraud, price fixing and bid rigging are prohibited under federal law.

The question is; “Why haven’t more advertisers, whose media and production dollars are at risk, been more proactive in constructively addressing these issues with their agency partners?”

The fact that the federal government has determined that it was necessary to launch two separate investigations into U.S. advertising industry practices is a clear signal that marketers should reinvigorate their oversight and compliance efforts. The stakes are high and the risks have not abated since the aforementioned practices first came to light.

If federal investigations into ad agency practices in these areas isn’t enough to spur advertisers to action, perhaps the words of Jon Mandel, former CEO of Mediacom in an interview with Mumbrella following his whistleblowing presentation regarding media agency “kickbacks” at an ANA conference in 2015 will provide the necessary incentive;

Clients need to stop suspending disbelief. The agency is supposed to be a professional providing you with proper advice not tarnished by their own profit. Marketers need to know the limits of that.

 

 

Exchanges Seek Outside Support to Reform

18 Oct

Tag LogoMuch needed reforms could be coming to the programmatic digital media marketplace. Earlier this week it was reported that several of the top exchanges had reached out to the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) for help in cleaning up some of the non-toward practices that have plagued advertisers.

Of note, these exchanges have agreed to not to charge hidden fees or give rebates to unduly influence agency holding companies. Further, they pledge to notify buyers in advance if they change auction dynamics, to clearly mark first-price and second-price auctions and not to bid cache without notice.  

Translation, the exchanges been employing these practices all along to the detriment of advertisers as a means of shoring up their bottom lines. Step in the right direction or affirmation of the ongoing murkiness associated with programmatic digital? Advertisers will have to decideRead More

Never a Wrong Time to Do the Right Thing

27 Sep

DoTheRightThingDoing right by others is certainly a core value and one that many of us subscribe to. For me personally, as a former ad agency account director, I have always been fond of the quote by Victor Hugo, the nineteenth-century French author: “Initiative is doing the right thing, without being told.

In the professional services business sector this credo was once considered “cost of entry.” Today, however, having one’s advertising agency and or intermediaries “do the right thing” isn’t a given and, in the current environment, very likely will come at a cost.

As an example, Forrester recently interviewed thirty-four media agency clients and found that “transparency” was a key priority for marketers. However, many of the media agencies that they spoke with indicated that they “are only transparent if clients require it in their contracts.” Nice to know.

Perhaps you’ve been following the trend among influencer marketing agencies and their vendors who are now charging clients incremental fees for conducting content reviews or brand-safety checks to safeguard advertisers’ placements. For years, influencers have been paid largely based upon the number of followers that they had. Sadly, many influencers had engaged in buying followers to boost their appeal to advertisers and, in turn, their revenue. Now that advertisers are savvy to this practice and are looking for assurances on the influencers utilized and the nature of their followers, influencer agencies want to incorporate an upcharge to advertisers.

What about those instances where trading desks and DSPs are now charging premiums to access content from exchanges that will ensure proper placement, safeguarding brands and minimizing the incidence of media fraud? Whoever said that it was okay to purchase high-risk, low return inventory to begin with?

Maybe you’ve experienced abnormal delays with regard to your ad agency partners closing and reconciling projects to actual costs or in receiving post-campaign media performance recaps. Or perhaps you were expecting your agency to competitively bid your production work, only to find out that they were relying on the same vendor(s) that they’ve always used (maybe even an agency affiliate). Or, you were of the belief that your media campaigns were being monitored and that audience delivery guarantees were being negotiated in-flight, only to find out that there was no such stewardship of your media investment.

What is going on? What happened to doing the right thing? When you query your agency partners they suggest that the Scope of Work (SOW) didn’t specifically call for those activities nor did the agency Staffing Plan allow for providing that support at the frequency or within the time frame that you had come to expect. This obviously begs the question, “When did the agency stop providing the level of service and oversight support that it once did?”

The message is clear, advertisers can take nothing for granted and certainly cannot assume that their agency, adtech, production and media vendors have their back. Simply stated, we are operating in an era when advertisers must incorporate legal terms and conditions, which provide the requisite safeguards and controls that govern the behavior and service levels that they expect, into their agency agreements in order to have each vendor in the advertising supply-chain do the right thing.

As importantly, having solid contract language and tightly written scopes of work in and of themselves does not guarantee that agents and intermediaries will fall in line and comply with advertiser expectations. Experience suggests that adherence will typically only be achieved through performance and accountability monitoring. As the old adage goes; “What is inspected is respected.”

Please note, that we are not suggesting that an advertisers shouldn’t pay for the level of coverage and service that they expect to receive. That said, advertisers can no longer take it for granted that certain service standards, which historically have been part and parcel of agency standard operating procedures and hadn’t been necessary to be called out in an agreement or an SOW, are still being followed. If a service provider drops or alters the nature of a service being provided, it should be incumbent to at least communicate those decisions to the advertiser and engage in discussions to ascertain if the changes are acceptable or negotiate additional fees to cover the desired level of support.

In the end, successfully aligning advertiser expectations and supply-chain member service delivery standards comes down to all parties committing to a policy of open, honest, two-way dialog to ensure that there are no surprises and to incent an environment of initiative taking.

 

 

Iconic Ad Agency Brands Continue to Disappear

25 Sep

Y&R logoI was struck with both a twinge of disappointment and nostalgia when I read the news that WPP is considering folding the Young & Rubicam agency into VML, renaming the entity VMLY&R.

Born in the 1920’s at a time before television and digital media even existed, Young & Rubicam was truly an iconic agency brand that went on to produce memorable work for clients such as Jell-O (“Bill Cosby with Kids”), Lays Potato Chips (“Betcha can’t eat just one”) and Bristol-Meyers (“Excedrin headache”) during the 1960’s and 70’s. A cutting-edge agency that produced the first color TV commercial perhaps it is only fitting that it is being merged into an agency which specializes in leveraging emerging technologies and digital media to help brands forge and manage consumer connections in the twenty-first century.

For sentimentalist, however, who remember the golden era of advertising, when full-service agencies ruled, serving their clients’ as valued, trusted strategic partners and when remuneration was straightforward and transparent (15% commission rate) Young & Rubicam’s transformation into VMLY&R is but another sign of an industry in search of a new identity. Thus the Y&R nameplate will join the likes of other legendary shops that have become distant memories of a bygone era:

  • Ted Bates
  • N.W. Ayer
  • Marsteller
  • Needham Harper & Steers
  • Wells, Rich, Greene
  • Kenyon & Eckhardt
  • Papert, Koenig, Lois

The decade of the sixties ushered in the rise of the agency holding company, courtesy of Marion Harper and his Interpublic Group of Companies and a turn to Wall Street for public funding to fuel three decades of merger and acquisition activity, the likes of which we will probably never see again.

This ultimately led to the decoupling of agency services and the emergence of specialist agencies. Initially, this was a tenable situation when there were a limited number of agencies including, creative shops, media agencies, diversity firms and direct marketing agencies. But as the number of areas of specialization continued to mushroom, so too did advertisers’ agency rosters as shops focusing on disciplines such as; experiential marketing, digital media, social marketing and brand activation were born.

The industry’s move toward specialization led to fragmentation, increased competition, margin erosion and talent acquisition and retention challenges for the agencies themselves. Some have argued that this scenario, coupled with the emerging role of corporate procurement in the marketing arena, and the downward pressure on agency fees that resulted, fueled the growth in non-transparent revenue practices implemented by many agencies.  

Ironically, while these practices satisfied the holding companies short-term profit motivations, the revelation of these non-toward initiatives, which belied what advertisers believed to be an agency’s fiduciary responsibilities ultimately cost them the trust and confidence of advertisers. This, in turn, has opened the door for management and tech consulting firms to challenge ad agencies traditional market position.

Interestingly, the approach taken by the consulting firms is more reminiscent of the old “full-service” agency model, than the multi-brand specialist approach, which epitomizes today’s holding company model. Monolithic, global consulting brands delivering strategic, end-to-end, integrated solutions through a team of diverse, highly trained consultants steeped in their firm’s culture, processes and tools.

It is likely that WPP’s move to merge Y&R and VML signals the beginning of the next wave of holding company consolidations and potentially divestitures as they seek to pare their agency brand portfolios in an effort to eliminate redundancies, reduce overhead costs and streamline service delivery. Wave one this effort led to the disappearance of many of the great names in the agency world, either dropping them from their respective company nameplates or opting for acronyms, which resulted in Ogilvy, Benson & Mather being shortened to Ogilvy, Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn becoming BBDO and Doyle Dane Bernbach adopting the DDB moniker.

In the end, agencies can only hope that their consolidation and repositioning efforts boost their position with advertisers and assist them in defending their core business. After all, the challenge, as the legendary Bill Bernbach once intoned, is; “Getting your product known isn’t the answer. Getting it wanted is the answer.”

 

 

Agency Compensation: The “More for Less” Trap

31 Aug

More for LessFor many marketers, cutting agency fees is an obvious target when it comes to meeting budget reduction goals. The reasons are understandable given the need to balance achieving in-market results and preserving or improving working media levels, while achieving the desired savings target.

A factor which clouds this issue, is the general level of uncertainty among marketers as it relates to the overall competitiveness of the fees being paid to their agency partners. Are we paying our agencies too much? Or are we already at a competitive remuneration rate? Without being able to objectively address this item, there will likely be internal pressure brought to bear from finance and or procurement to reduce agency fees as part of the budget right-sizing initiative.

It should be noted that we believe in regularly reviewing agency fees, assessing their competitiveness vis-à-vis the market and in looking for ways to optimize a marketers return on its agency fee investment. That said, we also firmly believe in compensating agency partners fairly and in proportion to both the agreed upon scope of services and the agency’s ability to contribute to the attainment of an organization’s marketing and business goals.

Experience has taught us that organizations which focus solely on reducing agency fees, without adjusting the scope of work and or the agency staffing plan upon which those fees were based, can negatively impact agency relations and jeopardize the quality of the work generated by the agency. Further, we have found that when an advertiser involves its agency partners in the budget reduction process there is a greater likelihood of successfully addressing the near-term goal, with the least risk of negatively impacting brand sales.

While it should go without saying, we will say it any way, advertisers must adjust their expectations downward with regard to key agency deliverables in the wake of a budget reduction. It is not an agency’s responsibility to fund the advertiser’s savings goal. As it is, budget reductions create financial challenges for agencies in the form of reduced levels of revenue, which in turn create staffing and resource constraints that they must deal with. Thus, asking an agency to reduce its negotiated overhead rate or to lower its profit percentage to preserve planned deliverables (e.g. do more for less) is simply not appropriate.

There are specific areas that an advertiser might consider, in addition to right-sizing the scope of work to align with the revised marketing budget, which can reduce agency time-of-staff requirements and therefore fees:

  • Review the creative briefing and approval processes. Streamlining and reforming current practices in these areas can reduce the number of steps and therefore the number of agency personnel involved in the creative development process. This in turn can lower the level of “re-work” required, yielding meaningful time savings.
  • Extend current campaigns, rather than developing new approaches, leveraging current creative assets and forgoing the investment in both hard costs and agency fees required to conceive of and launch new creative campaigns.
  • When it comes to the creation of regional versions of creative or the production of collateral materials, embrace an “adapt” versus an “origination” mindset, optimizing existing content, rather than spending time and money to re-create the wheel. The age old acid test of “nice” or “necessary” is the best filter to apply in this area.
  • Reduce the number of media plan revisions over the course of a year. Establish clear goals, implement compelling and relevant strategies and tactics and “work the plan,” rather than revising and re-selling plans.
  • Assess the number of meetings, their frequency and the number of agency personnel required to attend. Attendance, travel time and expense and meeting prep time reductions can yield meaningful savings for both client and agency.
  • Work with the agency to adjust its staffing plan, evaluating both the number and level (e.g. experience) of personnel required to deliver against the revised scope of work.

Finally, once the planned reductions have been identified, consider adding or enhancing the agency’s performance bonus, with a large portion of the incentive compensation tied to in-market results. This is an excellent way to let the agency know that your organization understands both sides of the “share the pain, share the gain” partnership mantra. Taking this approach will deliver on the budget reduction mandated by the organization, without negatively impacting relationships with the organization’s agency network.

 

Will Programmatic Ever Address Advertiser Transparency Concerns?

20 Aug

dreamstime_m_35343815It has been two years since the Association of National Advertisers released its study on media transparency issues impacting advertisers within the U.S. media marketplace.

While much has changed, there remain reasons for concern. Most perplexing is the fact that with all of the intermediaries in place between advertiser and publisher, few seem to be looking out for the advertisers’ best interests.

The reasons for this lack of an advertiser-centric perspective are many and include greed, a lack of knowledge, insufficient oversight processes and often times indifference up and down the programmatic digital media supply chain.

Thus, it was with great interest that I read a recent article on Adexchanger.com entitled; “Index Exchange Called Out for Tweaking Its Auction.” In short, the article dealt with the fact that Index Exchange had altered its auction processes, without notifying advertisers, ad agencies or DSPs. Ostensibly, the exchange’s motivations for this move was to boost its market share, although in fairness, they claimed that they believed their approach reflected “industry practice.”

Of note, Index Exchange made the aforementioned change more than one year ago, employing a technique referred to as bid caching. In short, bid caching is where the exchange retains losing bids in an effort to run advertiser content on subsequent content viewed by the consumer. From an advertiser perspective there are a number of issues with this practice, as detailed by author Sarah Sluis of the aforementioned article on Adexchanger:

  1. Buyers will bid higher prices for the first page in a user session. Thus, if the losing bid is retained and the ad is served deeper into a user session, the buyer will have overpaid for that inventory.
  2. Any delay between the initial bid and the ad actually being served, using a bid caching methodology, increases the chance that the DSP will have found the user elsewhere, resulting in the campaign exceeding the pre-determined frequency caps.
  3. Brand safety definitely comes into play, because even though the ad is served on the same domain, it is on a different page than what was intended.

What is truly remarkable about this scenario is that buyers just learned of this practice and, according to Adexchanger, “not from Index Exchange.”

How many advertisers were negatively impacted by Index Exchange’s unannounced move? What were their agency and adtech partners doing in the placement and stewardship of their buys that an exchange’s shift in auction approaches went undetected for more than one year? Unsettling to be sure.

Ironically, this exchange had implemented a similar move previously, adopting a first-price auction approach, which was known to publishers but not announced to buyers.

Advertisers would be right to raise questions about the current state of programmatic affairs; exchanges not notifying the public of shifts in auction methodology, agency buyers and DSPs unable to detect these shifts to adjust their bid strategies, ad tech firms not catching the shift to safeguard brand ad placements, and publishers that were aware, but settled for the higher CPMs resulting from the shift, rather than informing the buy-side.

This is disheartening news, particularly when one considers the percentage of an advertiser’s dollar that goes to fund each of their intermediaries (at the expense of working media). Yet, advertiser fueled growth in programmatic digital media continues unabated.

Clearly a case of buyer beware. Advertisers that have not already reviewed their supplier contracts or enacted the “right to audit” clauses of their agency and adtech supplier agreements may want to make plans to do so as they begin finalize their 2019 digital media budgets. As the old saying goes:

The buyer needs a hundred eyes, the seller but one.”

 

Try This Quick Programmatic Digital “Transparency” Test

16 Aug

exam resultsIf you’re like most marketers, your organization is spending considerably more of its media budget on programmatic digital media today than it did last year and certainly more than it did five years ago. The question is, “Are you getting value for that shift in media spend?

While agencies and ad tech firms have clearly benefited from the rapid growth of programmatic digital media many marketers have seen their working media levels languish due to the third-party costs and intermediary fees associated with programmatic media.

As marketers know all too well, every dollar invested programmatically is subject to what has been referred to as the “tech tax,” which according to David Kohl, CEO and President of TrustX this can account for over fifty cents of every dollar invested. In his article; “The High Cost of Low CPMs” written for AdExchanger, Mr. Kohl points out that “whether or not the ad reaches its target audience and whether or not it is served into the viewable window or below the fold, DSPs, SSPs, data providers, viewability and verification providers, tag managers, re-targeters and others all take their few cents.”

The question to be asked is; “To what extent is this happening to my organization?” Fortunately, there is a quick, three-step method for testing your risk profile when it comes to programmatic digital media.

Step 1 – Ask your accounts payable department to provide you with a few examples of the digital media invoices that comprise the billing from your digital media agency partners. Check if they have a description of the services provided and the type and level of media inventory purchased. The objective of this exercise is to determine whether the invoices are highly descriptive or general in nature and if a non-media reviewer would be able to ascertain the breakdown of “what” was actually provided for the amount being billed.

Step 2 – Review the third-party vendor invoices that accompany the billing from your agency. If supporting vendor documentation is not provided, ask your agency to provide detail for a handful of invoices. This detail should include the invoices from the actual media sellers, not the agency’s trading desk or an affiliate. Apply the same filter to your review of these invoices as you did for the agency’s billing, with regard to the adequacy of the descriptions breaking out the media purchased and all of the attendant costs (i.e. net media expense, agency campaign management fees, ad tech and data fees, etc.).

Step 3 – Evaluate both sets of invoices, agency and vendor, for an itemized list of the fees being charged such as:

  • Agency campaign management fees
  • Data fees
  • Pre-bid decision making/ targeting fees
  • Ad tech/ DSP fees
  • Publisher discrepancy fees
  • Ad verification fees
  • Bid clearing fees
  • Ad serving fees

If you find that invoice descriptions are less specific than you would like or that third-party vendor invoices don’t contain an itemized list of fees being charged, it is time to have a conversation with your agency partners.

The first topic to be discussed is establishing your position and preference for “How” your programmatic media buys are to be structured when your agency goes to market on your behalf. If it is transparency that you seek, they should be executing your programmatic buys on a “cost-disclosed” rather than a “non-disclosed” basis. This is the only way that you will be able to identify the net costs being assessed for the media inventory purchased and to calculate what percentage of your buys are going toward working media. Fraud and viewability concerns aside, advertisers have found that after fees are subtracted, they’re lucky if 50¢ of a dollar spent on programmatic digital media actually makes it to the publisher to fund the media that your consumers see.

Once you and your agency have agreed on the desired level of disclosure, conversation must necessarily turn to the need for updating client-agency agreements, statements-of-work and each of the media control documents utilized by the agency (i.e. media authorization form, electronic RFI templates, digital insertion orders, etc.). In spite of the ad industry’s efforts to reform what remains a murky digital media supply chain fraught with bad actors, questionable practices and a lack of transparency, advertisers remain at risk. Therefore, it is imperative to ensure all parties are held accountable that they employ the appropriate descriptive invoice detail, reporting requirements and itemized cost breakdowns mandated by the advertiser.

Testing the current state of your programmatic buys’ level of transparency is a necessary first step to stripping away the opacity that can surround digital media buying. In turn, the results of this self-examination will assist advertisers in both safeguarding and improving the return on their digital media investments. In the words of David Ogilvy:

“Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”

Marketers: Are you Optimizing Your Data?

16 Aug

Vision MissionWith the dramatic expansion of data availability and the explosion in marketing technology solutions ranging from Data Management Platforms (DMPs), Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) and A/B Testing Platforms to name a few, the opportunity for marketers to optimize the data available to them to improve execution has never been greater.

Yet, too few marketers and their agencies are fully utilizing these tools to synthesize this data to drive marketing insights that can boost the efficacy of their marketing investment. Mass personalization, the mapping of customer journeys and the ability to improve the organization’s responsivity to competitor actions and market conditions are all possibilities if these tools are properly deployed.

If you feel as though your company could deliver greater value from the investment it has already made in martech, you will want to read this article from McKinsey & Company entitled; “Making the Most of Marketing Technology to Drive Growth.” Read More

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