Are Advertising Agency Performance Assessments Disruptive?

4 Mar

disruptionThe answer to this question will be as diverse as the background and experience readers have with corporate accountability initiatives in general and marketing services agency audits in particular.  However, the question shouldn’t be whether or not these assessments of contract compliance or performance are disruptive but; “are they beneficial?” 

As a former agency account director and client side marketing executive, I have had the benefit of seeing the marketing accountability process from both perspectives.   As such, in my humble opinion, performance assessments and contract compliance audits are neither disruptive to the advertiser’s or the agency’s workflow, nor do they place any undue strain on the relationship.  Quite the contrary, in my experience performance monitoring and compliance testing serve to better align advertisers and agencies and more often than not lead to process improvements which are beneficial to both parties.

What is puzzling is that there are individuals on both the client and agency side that continue to rebel against the prospect of a comprehensive, independent assessment of their collective performance and adherence to the terms of the relationship.  After all, both parties were actively involved in negotiating their letter-of-agreement (LOA), which most likely contains a statement of work, an agency staffing plan, a schedule of charging practices, 3rd party vendor management parameters and a clause detailing the advertisers “Right to Audit.”   It occurs to me that accepting independent assessments is much akin to accepting the truth.  In the words of the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer :

“Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first, it is ridiculed, in the second it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident.”

More importantly, there isn’t a member of the C-Suite in any client organization who is not wholly on board with the notion of accountability.  While not initially the case in the context of marketing, those days are clearly in the rearview mirror.  It is not uncommon for corporations to spend between 1.5% and 5.0% of their revenue on marketing.  Whether the goal is to build brands, create short-term demand and or to grow market share, marketing is an important component in the success of an organization.  Thus, it is imperative that executives have confidence that their staff, their partners and their 3rd party vendors are making good resource allocation decisions with the company’s marketing investment. 

Performance reviews and compliance audits provide a measure of control to an advertiser to ensure that there is transparency into the decisions being made with regard to their marketing investment.  These initiatives have the added benefit of providing a mechanism to review personnel, processes and resource investment on the part of the agencies so that adjustments can be made along the way to improving their return on marketing investment (ROMI).   Independent audits also yield an excellent opportunity for client and agency to engage in a candid, comprehensive dialog regarding the audit findings and recommendations which frequently contain normative benchmarks or industry “Best Practice” insights.  This type of approach fosters partnership and strengthens relationships.  Everything is on the table, no surprises, with the simple goal of identifying various means of improving performance.

From a workflow perspective, audits should not disrupt an agency’s critical role in the demand generation process.  Is there a modicum of time required of the account team and or the subject matter experts on the agency side?  Most definitely, but not at an onerous level.  Further, this can be an incredibly worthwhile investment of time if the agency is willing to provide feedback and share insights into the relationship and thoughts that they might have on changes that can be made to strengthen that relationship and in turn boost performance.  Other than those qualitative interviews, it is the agency financial team that is typically “on point” for providing the requisite data and or reports required to support the audit.  The nature of the information request is straightforward is typically detailed within the LOA and can be readily accessed from the agency’s financial system, thus requiring little administrative time… unless of course the agency has neglected their “housekeeping” duties along the way (i.e. lax time-of-staff controls, failure to reconcile fees, delays in reconciling 3rd party vendor fees, etc…). 

In our opinion, it makes sense for both parties to view the accountability process as a sound “preventative” care practice that can preserve the health of the client / agency relationship… not to disrupt it.  Marketers who invite an independent assessment of their performance and that of their agency network are embracing an excellent opportunity to showcase their commitment to corporate accountability and a desire to maximize ROMI.   

Interested in learning more about marketing accountability and how to implement the appropriate controls and transparency?  Please contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on this topic.

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