Do Advertisers Get What They Pay For?

17 Sep

do advertisers get what they pay forToo often, the answer is “No” advertisers do not get what they’ve paid for.  These shortfalls typically manifest themselves in two camps: 1) Lackluster service levels and work quality; and 2) Financial stewardship missteps.  Needless to say, both can have a negative impact on the efficacy of an organization’s marketing investment.

How can this be?  You ask.  There is a truism in the advertising world that what is inspected is respected.  Organizations that don’t apply this standard to their agency partners and third-party vendors are, quite simply, at risk. 

There are a number of factors that can impact service levels and work product.  These can include excessive agency staff turnover, deficient levels of involvement by senior agency personnel on the business, process limitations that squander time or fail to produce “memorable” work that is on strategy.  These items can result in high levels of project rework, scope creep, relationship dissonance and, if not kept in check, can negatively impact an advertiser’s demand generation efforts.  Make no mistake about it, this carries economic consequences that limit an advertiser’s return on marketing investment (ROMI).

Sound financial stewardship of an advertiser’s funds by their agency and third-party vendors is the fiduciary responsibility of each and every supplier.  However, an advertiser cannot leave anything to chance.  Tight contract controls regarding agency staffing, scope of work, remuneration parameters and reconciliation and reporting guidelines are a must and represent the first line of an accountability defense. 

Additionally, advertisers should require their media agency partners to conduct thorough post-buy analyses, conduct regular third-party billing reconciliations and to secure compensatory media weight and or cash for audience under delivery on a timely basis.  In the creative services arena, agencies should be monitored to insure adherence to the organization’s cost controls, production management and third-party accounts payable guidelines to insure that an advertiser’s billing and accounts payable expectations in these areas are being met. 

The financial impact of shortcomings in any of these areas can be significant.  In our agency contract compliance auditing practice it is not unusual to identify one-time errors or systemic oversights that can represent between 1.0% and 9.0% of an advertisers budget.  So what can an advertiser do to insure that they are securing maximum value for their advertising expenditure?  In the words of noted businessman and author Albert E.N. Gray:

“Inspect what you expect.”

Clients that have clearly articulated their expectations regarding agency staffing, deliverables, performance criteria and reporting have a much better chance to achieve their objectives and ensure they’re getting their “money’s worth.”  However, an advertiser must go beyond this important first step and incorporate a transparent process for auditing agency contract compliance and assessing performance relative to their stated goals.  The notion of an audit inspection should not send a negative message.  To the contrary, it is respected aand understood as a necessary control process like any other, such as balancing the cash-register daily in retail.   Call it what you would like (review, continuous monitoring, compliance testing, advertising audit), it’s simply a thorough way to ensure the millions of dollars spent on advertising are tracked appropriately.  Too many large marketers do not have such a process in place.  The combination of these actions will afford an advertiser the opportunity to drive each of the stakeholders that comprise their marketing supply chain to extraordinary performance.

It should be noted that supplier accountability management is not a one-and-done proposition.  Implementing and executing a system which has an ongoing monitoring component, often utilizing independent auditors, is necessary to ingrain the requisite processes into the culture of the advertiser and each member of their marketing services agency network.  In the words of the great philosopher Aristotle:

We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Interested in learning more about marketing accountability and how to implement the appropriate controls and transparency?  Contact Don Parsons, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management at dparsons@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on this topic.

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