If Not an RFP, Then What?

15 Mar

RFP ProcessIt was with great interest that I read a recent article on Digiday entitled; “End of an era: Media buyers are ditching the much-hated RFP” that heralded the demise of the digital RFP.

For those of us with a media background, we’re certainly familiar with the longstanding list of complaints leveled by media sellers at agencies on the multitude of abuses heaped upon them by what is perceived as an unfair or at least highly disorganized and inefficient RFP process. I get it and I empathize with the media sellers for the inequities which they have suffered at the hands of misguided or poorly trained media buyers.

Let’s face it, the RFP does serve an important role in allowing media agency buyers to gather the requisite detail from media sellers as it relates to their ability to deliver on the agency’s media plan and to solicit inventory, audience delivery and pricing feedback.

Yes, the standardization of RFP templates appears to be a pipedream and the resulting impact on the time and effort required by media sellers to complete these RFPs is onerous, the process cumbersome and meaningful feedback from agency media buyers rare. For these and other reasons, it is understood that agency media buyers and publishers alike dislike RFPs.

That said, some of the reasons cited in the aforementioned article to support the declining use of RFP’s should raise concerns among advertisers. I’m not talking about the reduced role of price negotiations due to the increased use of biddable media, but rather the notion that an uptick in the use of digital direct buying, agencies relying on meetings with sellers rather than an RFP or a seller’s ability to “figure out what the strategy is” do not support abandonment of this important tool.

Properly executed, the RFP process allows an agency buyer to communicate strategic and tactical instructions to the seller. In turn, asking sellers for feedback on how best to drive performance for the advertiser’s brand can yield a treasure trove of information. The RFP also provides an excellent opportunity for publishers to make a compelling case as to why they should be on the buy.

Additionally, RFPs serve as an ideal tool for establishing parameters on items such as site retargeting, frequency capping and content considerations (including restrictions). It allows media buyers to gather the requisite detail on items ranging from data segments and sources to audience specifications and universe estimates. How better to communicate creative unit specifications or cross device allocations and target consumption levels or to establish measurement requirements for everything from impressions and video completion rates to qualified site visitors, viewability levels and cost per completed view. What about identifying verification sources and costs, third-party tagging requirements and or establishing the level of reporting granularity.

Last, but certainly not least, the RFP serves a vital “accountability” role by clearly establishing advertiser expectations and communicating guidelines that a seller will need to adhere to, should a deal be transacted.

So while the RFP process is far from perfect, rather than scrapping it, I would advocate that the process be revamped to make it more relevant to all stakeholders, less onerous for media sellers and more productive for agency media buyers. In the words of the noted journalist George Will:

“The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement.”







Does Your Organization View Marketing Spend as a Material Expense?

2 Mar

digital mediaWhile on the surface this seems like a nonsensical question, advertiser indifference toward independent contract compliance, financial management and performance auditing of their agency partners might suggest an answer that would surprise you.

According to The CMO Survey conducted by Deloitte, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the American Marketing Association in February of 2018, companies surveyed spent on average 10.3% of their annual sales on marketing. This would certainly qualify as a “material” expense in our book, particularly when one considers that this investment is being made to build brand equity, establish customer loyalty and to drive demand generation.

So why do so many advertisers take a laissez-faire (French term that translates as “leave alone”) attitude toward basic governance and assurance practices related to their marketing spend?

Is it the belief that a tight client-agency agreement provides the requisite safeguards and controls? Perhaps it is because of an unyielding level of trust in one’s agency partners, intermediaries and third-party vendors exhibited by an organization’s C-suite.

Based upon our experience over two decades of providing contract compliance support to some of the world’s leading advertisers we know that this is not the case. Marketers recognize that the industry is fluid and that the breadth and rapidity of change is such that contract language needs to be reviewed and updated on a frequent basis. Similarly, while advertisers certainly trust their agencies, there is also a core belief in the concept of “trust but verify.”

No, we believe that the reason for the laissez-faire approach to marketing accountability is the fact that no one function “owns” this task organizationally.

In our experience, few marketing departments willingly invite independent scrutiny of their marketing and advertising practices, controls and or the performance of their agency networks. If such examination is not mandated corporately, it will likely not be initiated by marketing. Similarly, the procurement organization is typically focused on screening, vetting and contracting with current and potential marketing vendors. Many procurement teams recognize the value of periodic agency audits, but as “support” departments they rarely have the budget to self-fund such accountability initiatives. The same is true of Internal Audit and their ability to underwrite the cost of audit projects in this area.

In many instances, procurement and internal audit leaders will approach marketing and ask for their participation in and funding for a governance and assurance initiative, but too often this is proffered on a voluntary basis. Unfortunately, this scenario rarely leads to a marketing accountability and transparency review. Thus, in the end, if an organization doesn’t mandate periodic examinations or the ongoing monitoring of its marketing investment or provide funding for such an initiative to its procurement and internal audit team(s) than it may be “flying blind” when it comes to safeguarding its marketing investment.

The irony, as progressive marketing organizations have learned, is that a formal governance and assurance program, which includes marketing, provides financial returns that more than pay for the cost of the attendant independent examinations. Further, the resulting improvements in contract language and process related learnings yield efficiency gains for clients and agencies alike and the resulting transparency gains can serve as the impetus for improving the level of trust and ultimately the relationship between these partners.

With an admitted “pro audit” bias, we can state unequivocally that our experience over the course of two plus decades of providing contract compliance and financial management audit support to advertisers, our belief in the old saying; “In god we trust, all others we audit” has never been stronger.


Try This Quick Programmatic Digital “Transparency” Test

26 Feb

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.”

Keeping Pace with the Rate of Change in Ad Industry Can be a Challenge

31 Jan

lexiconDo you sometimes wonder how you will ever keep up with the dizzying array of change that has become a constant in the ad industry? The good news is that you may not be alone in your angst. Just take a look at how industry lexicon has evolved in recent years to reflect the technological changes that the industry is dealing with and one can easily surmise why practitioners feel stressed out…

Industry Lexicon for the 21st Century

Algorithm, artificial intelligence, programmatic media buying, header bidding, second-price auctions, big data, fraud, domain spoofing, viewability, demand side platform, Pinterest, supply side platform, data management platform. Ad tech, exchange, tech stack, human marketing, voice activation, block chain technology, deep learning, managed service model, the duopoly, GDPR, hyperlocal media, ad spoofing, biometric recognition, virtual reality, winning bid log metadata files, econometrics, transparency, martech, Facebook, linear TV, Snapchat, digital content production, ad tech integration, ads.text, brand safety, publisher addressable marketplace, blackhat SEO, walled gardens, proprietary tech integration, trading desks, principal-based buying, PII-based consumer ID’s, brand safe environments, push notifications, mobile-app fraud, spoof impressions, ad networks, e-commerce analytics platform, contextual fit, attribution fraud, HULU, curated inventory, general data protection regulation, CX strategy, cyber security, white list, multi-screen viewing, bid management fees, Instagram, PAM, PII based identifiers, automated monetization, onboard connected TV, app-install, exchanges, click spam, downstream metrics, dynamic creative optimization, sustainable ecosystems, dynamic personalization, performance media platform, extremist content, audience engagement, monetization, fake followers, hard news, enterprise brands, CPI, retargeting, data controller, software development kits, mediation products, combinatorial bidding, people-based marketing, waterfalling,  trust, content recommendation guarantees, Alexa, frequency capping, probabilistic methodology, addressable IDs, over-the-top video streaming, TAG, streaming environments, cross-channel messaging, influencer marketing, direct-to-consumer brands, brand activation, experiential marketing, growth hacking, social selling, fake news, user generated content, storytelling, illegitimate traffic sourcing, private marketplaces, sandboxing, non-human viewing, synchronized nodes, decentralized ad networks, voice assistants, cross-channel attribution, verification technologies, internet of things, personalization, social search, facial recognition platforms, 3-D printing, hyper-relevance, automated buying, voice activation, first-price ad auction, AI machine learning, in-home sensors, smart re-ordering services, digital workspace, multi-channel ecosystem, native advertising, organic posts, privacy settings and controls, FVOD free-video-on-demand, clearing price, net neutrality, invisible bots, Spotify, voice strategy, audio logos, autonomous vehicles, behavioral DNA, spot cloaking…

Never a dull moment for ad industry professionals to be sure. Consider the words of the twentieth century American writer, Alvin Toffler:

“Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” 

The questions to be considered are; “Can the industry sustain this rate of change, without compromising its ability to deliver? Can you?” Only time will tell.


3 Keys to Strengthening Client-Agency Relationships

25 Jan

Keys to SuccessMost would agree that strong client-agency relationships are more conducive to achieving positive results that drive in-market performance levels which meet or exceed expectations.

Similarly, both client-side and agency executives agree that “trust” is imperative in building and maintaining a solid partnership. Thus, one could logically conclude that establishing a relationship predicated on trustworthiness would be beneficial to advertisers and agencies alike.

However, as the ad industry has evolved and grown over the last decade or so, it seems as though the ability to establish trust between stakeholders has been greatly compromised. Whether this is between advertisers and agencies or agencies and ad tech providers or between ad tech providers and publishers. While the reasons for this are many, pundits will point to the myriad of documented transparency related issues that have plagued the industry, while cynics might suggest that Agatha Christie had it right when she said: “Where large sums of money are concerned, it is advisable to trust nobody.”

As consultants specializing in marketing supply chain accountability, working with advertisers and their agency network partners, we take a more pragmatic view. We believe that trust is not elusive, that it can be earned and nourished if clients and agencies are willing to commit to the following three steps:

  1. Establish a Principal-Agent Relationship – In short, an advertiser should never have to doubt the allegiance of their agency partners or the objectivity of their recommendations. A principal-agent relationship establishes the expectation that the agency has a fiduciary responsibility to always act on behalf of and in the best interest of its client. Memorialized within the client-agency agreement, this principle is the single best means for fostering trust.
  2. Perform Independent Transparency Accountability Reviews – Actions that advertisers should consider and that agencies should welcome include contract compliance reviews, financial management audits and media performance assessments. Independent reviews of agency performance relative to client expectations and contractual performance requirements instills a certain level of discipline when it comes to governance, and provides both parties with the assurance each is acting within the guidelines of agreement and a platform in which to discuss improvement opportunities.
  3. Conduct QBRs and 360° Performance Evaluations – We are all in the communications business, yet too often client-agency communications are inadequate when it comes to strengthening the relationship. Not talking about day-to-day interactions, but dialog regarding key business strategies and challenges, performance expectations and opportunities that occurs at even the most senior level within each organization. The use of quarterly business reviews (QBRs), that involve cross functional team members and executives from both the advertiser and client organizations are a great way to ensure that both sides are focused on the business and relationship priorities established at the beginning of the year. Complementing the QBRs should be an annual performance evaluation where representatives from the client and agency are invited to provide feedback on the relationship and identify opportunities to improve processes and performance. This should then be followed by a brief meeting to discuss the results of the evaluation and come to an agreement on actions to be taken in the coming year.

Business relationships can be complex and at times difficult. In our experience, implementing the aforementioned steps greatly enhances effective levels of communication, which fosters trust and confidence, which leads to solid relationships that drive superior performance.  As George Bernard Shaw intoned: “The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

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


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

24 Nov

pro vs conHave 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.”

4 Questions That Can Impact Your Digital Buys

15 Nov


According to eMarketer, in 2017 advertisers will spend 38.3% of their ad budgets on digital media – in excess of $223 billion on a worldwide basis. Yet, in spite of the significant share-of-wallet represented by digital media, there is generally little introspection on the part of the advertiser.

Looking beyond the “Big 3” [ad fraud, safe brand environment and viewability concerns], the lack of introspection begins much closer to home. Simply, in our experience, client-agency Agreements do not adequately address digital media planning / placement roles, responsibilities, accountability or remuneration details.

Standard media Agreement language does not adequately cover digital media needs – specific rules and financial models need to be included in Agreement language that covering each potential intermediary involved in the buy process and to guarantee transparent reporting is provided to the advertiser. It is our experience that Agreement language gaps related to “controls” can be much costlier to advertisers than the aggregate negative impact of the Big 3.

And, regardless of Agreement language completeness, a compounding factor is that too few advertisers monitor their agencies compliance to these very important Agreement requirements.

To assess whether or not your organization is at risk, consider the following four questions:

  1. Can you identify each related parties or affiliate that your ad agency has deployed on your business to manage your digital spend?
  2. Does your Agreement include comprehensive compensation terms pertaining to related parties, affiliates and third-party intermediaries, that handle your digital ad spend?
  3. Is your agency acting as a Principal when buying any of your digital media?
  4. What line of sight do you have into your ACTUAL media placements and costs?

If you answered “No” to any of the questions, then there is a high likelihood that your digital media budget is not even close to being optimized. Why? Because the percentage of your digital media spend that pays for actual media is likely much lower than it should be, which is detrimental to the goal of effectively using media to drive brand growth.

Dollars that marketers are investing to drive demand are simply not making their way to the marketplace. Often a high percentage of an advertiser’s digital media spend is stripped off by agencies, in-house trading desks and intermediaries who have been entrusted to manage those media buys. A recent study conducted by AD/FIN and Ebiquity on behalf of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) estimated that fees claimed by digital agencies and ad tech intermediaries, which it dubbed the programmatic “technology tax” could exceed 60% of an advertiser’s media budget. This suggests that less than 40 cents of an advertiser’s investment is actually spent on consumer media.

A good place to begin is to ask your agency to identify any and all related parties that play a role when it comes to the planning, placement and distribution of your digital media investment. This includes trading desk operations, affiliates specializing in certain types of digital media (i.e. social, mobile) and third-party intermediaries being utilized by the agency (i.e. DSPs, Exchanges, Ad Networks, etc.). The goal is to then assess whether or not the agency and or its holding company has a financial interest in these organizations or are earning financial incentives for media activity booked through those entities.

Why should an advertiser care whether or not their agency is tapping affiliates or focusing on select intermediaries to handle their digital media? Because each of those parties are charging fees, commissions or mark-ups for services provided, most of which are not readily detectable. This raises the question of whether or not the advertiser is even aware charges are being levied against data, technology, campaign management fees, bid management fees and other transactional activities. Are such fees appropriate? Duplicative? Competitive? All good questions to be addressed.

When it comes to how an agency may have structured an advertiser’s digital media buys, there is ample room for concern. Is the affiliate is engaged in Principal-based buying (media arbitrage)?  Is digital media being placed on a non-disclosed basis, versus a “cost-disclosed” basis where the advertiser has knowledge of the actual media costs being charged by the digital media owner?

Evaluating your organization’s “risk” when it comes to digital media is important, particularly in light of the findings of the Association of National Advertiser’s (ANA) “Media Transparency” study released in 2016, which identified agency practices regarding non-transparent revenue generation that reduces an advertiser’s working media investment.

The best place to start is a review of your current client-agency Agreements, to ensure that the appropriate language safeguards are incorporated into the agreement in a clear, non-ambivalent manner. Once in place, monitoring your agency and its affiliates compliance to those contract terms and financial management standards is imperative if you want to assure compliance, while significantly boosting performance.  

“Today, knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.” ~ Peter Drucker                                                                                                                    

Interested in learning more about safeguarding your digital media investment? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal, AARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on this important topic.


Are We Missing the Real Issue with Ad Blockers?

26 Oct

blockerThe advertising industry is rightly concerned about the financial impact related to consumers growing use of ad blockers, which can filter out ads before users ever see them. A recent study by OnAudience.com highlights the reasons why:

  • 26% of U.S. consumers now use ad blockers, resulting in lost publisher revenues of $15.8 billion in 2016, up from $11.0 billion in 2015. The U.S. represents approximately $45 billion of the $100 billion global display market.
  • Internationally, the loss of publisher revenue from ad blocking is projected to rise to $42 billion, up from $28 billion in 2016.

In addition, Google has announced that the 2018 version of its Chrome web browser will allow consumers to automatically block “annoying, intrusive” ads, which will accelerate the financial impact of this trend given that Chrome represents approximately 60% of the desktop/mobile/tablet browser market (source: NETMARKETSHARE, September 2017). Google’s motivation, it claims, is that they are simply introducing the Coalition for Better Ads recently announced best practices standards to enhance the consumer’s web browsing experience.

It is no surprise how we got where we are. Advertisers wanted to improve consumer engagement and publishers wanted to drive revenues. This, in turn, led to publishers placing more ads on a web page, including higher paying video units, making ads larger or forcing visitors to somehow interact with these ads to get to the content. This involves video ads that automatically refresh or blast audio automatically or force consumers to wait for :05 to :10 seconds before they can access the content they seek.

In the end, advertisers and publishers have not realized greater levels of engagement, but rather helped to fuel greater levels of consumer irritation and therefore ad blocker usage.

Thus far, the industry has been focused on blocking the ad blockers. It is true that many publishers believe that being exposed to ads is a user’s obligation if they want their content to be free. Others, however, share the consumer’s disdain for obnoxious, intrusive ads, and would like to see them banned from their sites. The problem is that ad blockers tend to block all ads.

So what is the ad industry to do? Busting the use of ad blockers or implementing web browser workarounds would appear to be somewhat short-sighted. Consumers have clearly signaled that they find the level, number, positioning and type of online ads served to them on a regular basis to be discordant with their intended browsing habits. Pursuing a more measured approach on the part of the industry is warranted. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg intoned:

“Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”

The challenge is clear, finding a mechanism for publishers to fund their content creation at least in part through the use of online advertising. The answer, however, is not so readily apparent.

Let’s face it, by in large, consumers do not want to view online advertising. This can be evidenced by plummeting open and click-through rates, reductions in conversion rates and declines in average viewing times. Advertisers and publishers want “engagement” and sadly, consumers want nothing to do with most of the advertising foisted on them.

Is the answer better creative that informs, educates and entertains in the hope that users will both notice the ads and choose to interact with them? Or is it fewer, less intrusive ads that can take away from a user’s web browsing experience? Or will publishers finally have to solve the “pay to view” content dilemma, which consumers have largely been resistant to thus far?

If consumer engagement is the goal, the answer is likely “Yes” to all of the above.


Media Agency Estimated Billing Should Be Eliminated

24 Oct

accountspayableLet me start by saying that Advertising Agencies are not banks and should never be asked to settle vendor obligations, made on behalf of clients, with their own funds. That said, the long-standing practice of “estimated billing” is a relic of a bygone era and one which should be abandoned.

In a day and age where the electronic transfer of funds is commonplace and where most media owners invoice agencies based upon “actual” activity, following the month of service, the notion of an advertiser being billed upfront on an estimated basis is no longer necessary for the vast majority of media being purchased. From an advertiser’s perspective, this antiquated system results in burdensome levels of paperwork, drives up accounts payable processing costs, needlessly extends the invoice reconciliation process, restricts client use of funds, results in lost interest income opportunities for the advertiser and perhaps one of the less apparent benefits, eliminating the apprehension/reliance on an agency to accurately track and timely reconcile such estimated billing.

Can anyone cite a single benefit that accrues to an advertiser from this approach? If an advertiser were to purchase inventory directly from the media seller they would pay based upon actual costs, so why should it be any different when purchasing media via a client-agent relationship?

The move to final billing has but one drawback, to one stakeholder… the loss of agency float income on pre-billed activity. While conceptually we don’t believe that it is appropriate for an agent to make money on the use of client funds, we do understand that eliminating this non-transparent source of revenue would have a negative impact on an agency’s bottom-line. This, however, should not be the concern of the advertiser community, as this was never the intent of the estimated billing process to begin with. After all, it is the advertiser’s money and as such, they should be the only stakeholder to benefit from access to and the use of those funds.

Transitioning to actual billing makes good sense from both a treasury management and a transparency accountability perspective. It is more efficient, can reduce payment processing costs and can potentially improve days payable outstanding performance for the media seller.

As it is, advertisers generally have little to no insight into the time gap between remittance of their funds to their agency and in turn the time it takes for the agency to reconcile media activity and remit payment to an advertiser’s third-party media vendors. If client-side CFO’s were aware, there would certainly be significant interest in reforming the estimated billing system and the stewardship of an advertiser’s media advertising investment.

When it comes to financial management within the advertising sector, we have always been cognizant of the words of Robert Sarnoff, past president of NBC and RCA in the mid-twentieth century:

“Finance is the art of passing currency from hand to hand until it finally disappears.” 

Interested in learning more about improved financial management practices across your marketing agency network? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at AARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on this topic.

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.

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