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It’s Only Money…

5 Jun

digital mediaThere was one particularly startling revelation that came from the ANA’s recent Agency Financial Management conference in San Diego. During the presentation of this year’s “Agency Compensation Trends” survey results it was noted that the ANA found that almost half of the members it surveyed had not reviewed the findings of the ANA’s 2016 Transparency study.

Think about that. If an organization did not review the Transparency study’s findings, that means that there must not have been any resulting internal dialog with or among marketing’s C-Suite peers, no direct interaction with their agency network partners, no review of existing Client/Agency contracts, no improvements in reporting and controls in which to illuminate how an advertiser’s funds are being managed.

This, in spite of the level of trade media coverage regarding transparency issues ranging from rebates, discounts and media arbitrage, to the Department of Justice investigation into potential ad agency bid rigging practices or the level of ad fraud, traffic sourcing or non-disclosed programmatic fees on both the demand and sell side of the ledger.

There is only one conclusion that can be drawn from this remarkable revelation…many marketers simply don’t care how their organization’s advertising investment is being allocated or safeguarded. Unfortunately, we regularly see the ramifications of this attitude of indifference in our contract compliance audit practice:

  • Client / Agency agreements that haven’t been reviewed or updated in years
  • Failure among clients to enact their contractual audit rights with key agency partners
  • Limited controls regarding an agency’s use and or disclosure of its use of affiliates
  • No requirement for agency partners to competitively bid third-party and affiliate vendors
  • Lack of communication to media sellers regarding ad viewability standards
  • Failure to assert an advertiser’s position on not paying for fraudulent and non-human traffic
  • No requirement for publishers to disclose the use of sourced-traffic
  • Incomplete instructions on buy authorizations to media vendors, minimizing or blocking restitution opportunities
  • Poorly constructed media post-buy reconciliation formats that lack comprehensive information and insights

Interestingly, there have been many positive developments from key industry associations such as the ANA, 4A’s, IAB and public assertions from leading marketers such as P&G and L’Oréal to further inform and motivate marketers on the topic of transparency accountability. Yet, given the materiality of an organization’s marketing spend and the publicized risks to the optimization of its advertising investment, many organizations have not yet taken action, tolerating the risks associated with the status quo. As the noted British playwright, W. Somerset Maugham once said:

Tolerance is another word for indifference.”

The failure to proactively embrace transparency accountability can pose perilous risks to an organization’s marketing budget which in turn directly impacts its company’s revenue. Many would rightly suggest needlessly.

In these instances, the fault for the increased level of attendant financial risk, fraud and working media inefficiencies lies squarely with those companies that have adopted an attitude of indifference toward these very real proven threats. One cannot blame an ad agency, production house, tech provider, publisher or media re-seller for taking advantage of the status quo and acting in manners that, while not in the best interest of the advertiser, are not expressly contractually prohibited.

The good news is that advertisers can address these issues head-on in a quick and efficient manner, mitigating the risks posed by transparency deficiencies. It all begins with a review of existing Client/Agency contracts and engaging one’s agency partners in dialog regarding the adoption of industry best practice contract language to facilitate an open, principal-agent relationship. The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has a wealth of information on this topic and can also recommend external specialists to assist an advertiser with agency contract development and or compliance auditing.

Interested in safeguarding your marketing investment? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at AARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a no-obligation consultation on this topic.

Is Your Contract Worth the Paper It’s Written On?

25 May

partnershipThe Association of National Advertisers (ANA) recently released its study on programmatic media. The study was conducted in conjunction with the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA), Ebiquity and AD/FIN.

While the study provided fascinating insights into programmatic media performance and costs at the transactional level, there was one particular item that stood out:

88% of the advertisers that were interested in and 75% of the advertisers that signed up to participate in the study could not or had to opt out.

Why was this? According to the study’s authors, “because of a myriad of legal, technical and process roadblocks put up by players in the ecosystem.” Long story short, those advertisers did not have contractual language providing them with clear data ownership or usage rights with their agency, trading desk and or ad tech partners.

The obvious question to be asked is, How can an advertiser’s programmatic media transactional data not belong to the advertiser? After all, it was their media investment that funded the buys. It was their agency partners who invested those funds on their behalf (or not). So, who could possibly own that data if not the advertiser?

What would you do if your agency partner denied your organization access to programmatic performance data that you had requested. Data that would shed light on your programmatic media performance and costs (i.e. third-party costs, agency fees, tech fees, data fees). It certainly seems short-sighted that an agency would deny their clients access to this data, both in the context of the ANA study and for providing transparency into how their programmatic investment is being stewarded to disclose what their true working media percentage is.

Sadly, this is but one example of Client/ Agency contract language omissions that create disclosure and accountability gaps, which can lead to legal and financial risks for advertisers. Other examples include:

  • No requirement for an Agency to disclose or competitively bid in-house production resources or affiliate companies.
  • Media arbitrage deals in which the Agency is marking-up media by an undisclosed amount on inventory that it owns stemming from principal-based buys it has made.
  • Agencies acting as principals, rather than agents, when investing the Client’s creative production funds. One example might be the Agency or its production studio filing for and retaining incentives offered by states and municipalities for shooting or post-production work completed in their geography.

Marketing spend is on the rise and is certainly considered a material expenditure, which can represent 12%+ of a marketer’s revenue base (source: 2015 CMO survey).

And yet too often, an advertiser’s contractual audit rights are not broad enough to ensure unmitigated access to the data files, records and reporting necessary to evaluate an agency’s compliance with the agreement and or their financial management performance. This can and should include:

  • An advertiser’s right to select an internal or external auditor of its choice (i.e. contract compliance, media performance, financial management).
  • The right to audit the agency and its related parties (i.e. holding company, affiliates, related entities, etc.).
  • Assertion of the advertiser’s right to limit or eliminate an agency’s non-transparent revenue (i.e. AVB’s, rebates, non-disclosed fees, mark-ups, float income).
  • The right to audit principal inventory and or mark-ups.

Contracts are also a great vehicle for communicating performance guidelines for items ranging from brand safety and viewability policies to fraud monitoring requirements and an advertiser’s policy on not paying for bot traffic, all of which are designed to safeguard an advertiser’s investment.

From our perspective, it makes sense for advertisers to engage in dialog with their agency partners to talk through contract terms and conditions, such as these, to secure their perspective and ultimately their buy-in. After all, the contract is a document that will govern most aspects of the Client/Agency relationship. Thus, open dialog that leads to a transparent relationship can form the basis for a trusting partnership that will last for many years to come.

As Stan Musial, the legendary baseball hall of fame member of the St. Louis Cardinals once said:

The first principle of contract negotiations is don’t remind them of what you did in the past – tell them what you’re going to do in the future.”

May You Live in Interesting Times

23 Dec

confuciousOften referred to as the “Chinese Curse” this popular saying derives from the English Politician Sir Austen Chamberlain in the early twentieth century. Used ironically, the phrase has been used to suggest a set of outcomes that are a little more ominous, “May you experience much disorder and trouble in your life.”

As we reflect on what has been a tumultuous 2016, those working in the marketing and advertising industry most certainly would agree that we are living in interesting times. Recent news suggests that the industry’s troubles will not abate much in the coming year. The year began with evidence suggesting that the level of digital ad fraud would eclipse $8.0 billion in 2016, this was followed by the blockbuster findings from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) / K2 study on “Media Transparency” which rocked the global ad industry.  Sadly, the industry is winding down 2016 with a litany of additional actions and outcomes that pose serious threats to the level of trust, already shaken, between stakeholders in the $540 billion global advertising marketplace.

In the last two weeks, the industry heard once again from Facebook that it had made yet another audience reporting faux pas, its third of the year, which many in the ad agency community have been all too willing to forgive. Who could possibly be surprised with advertisers for being genuinely perplexed as to why the media agency community hasn’t more thoroughly scrutinized Facebook’s audience measurement reporting or pushed more aggressively for independent verification of those results.

Concurrently, halfway around the globe, Australia’s three largest magazine publishers (News Corp, Bauer Media and Pac Mags) decided to cease their participation in the Audited Media Association of Australia’s (AMAA) magazine circulation service leaving advertisers no other choice but to rely on these publishers’ self-reported “readership” numbers, rather than audited circulations figures.

In the United States, the federal government’s Department of Justice has subpoenaed agencies from four of the world’s largest holding companies; WPP, Omnicom, IPG and Publicis as part of its investigation into illegal bid-rigging for commercial production jobs. It is alleged that these agencies coerced and or rewarded independent production houses to submit inflated bids, ostensibly to manipulate the process in favor of agency in-house production resources. Many believe that the DOJ’s investigation will have a profound impact on both the estimated $5 billion production sector and potentially the rest of the business. Let’s not forget, the DOJ has not yet weighed in regarding agency practices identified in the ANA/ K2 study on media transparency.

Most recently, WhiteOps, a U.S. a cyber security firm providing ad viewability and fraud detection supporting the advertising industry, announced that it had uncovered a Russian led digital fraud effort that was literally stealing up to $5 million per day from advertisers. It was reported by the NY Times that the fraudsters impersonated more that “6,100 news and content publishers” while delivering up to 300 million fake ad views per day. How were they able to do this? By creating over one-half million bots that replicated the web surfing patterns of humans, starting and stopping videos and moving and clicking the cursor. 

If client organizations were experiencing a “crisis of trust” hangover following 2015, it certainly wasn’t remedied in 2016. Going into the New Year advertisers have every right to step back and ask, “Who can we trust?” Our agency partners? Ad tech vendors? Media Owners? Measurement Services? And who would blame advertisers for taking matters into their own hands and make a New Year Resolution to more directly deal with these issues. After all, it is their monetary inputs that fuel the entire industry and they certainly deserve better that what they’re getting right now. In the words of the iconic American actor, Clint Eastwood: Sometimes if you want to see a change for the better, you have to take things into your own hands.”

 

Big Data. Big Deal. You Bet.

5 Dec

digital trading deskThe evolution of media channels, ad targeting and the role of ad tech have significantly reshaped the media marketplace, allowing advertisers to select inventory and direct their messaging with an incredible level of precision. These developments have long been hoped for and yet, now that they are here, there is much that advertisers don’t understand about one important bi-product of the ad tech revolution… the disposition of the data gleaned from their investment at all levels of the media investment cycle.

In our contract compliance auditing practice, it is not uncommon that we find contract language gaps relating to issues such as:

  • Who owns the data?
  • Where is the data stored?
  • For how long?
  • How secure is the data?
  • Is the data kept separate from that of other advertisers?
  • Is your data being used to aid other advertisers?

These are important questions that heretofore have yet to be addressed by many advertisers within their agency agreements. “Big data” represents a potential treasure trove of information that can drive marketing strategy for advertisers by leveraging the insights gleaned from media transactional and customer behavioral data. That is, if and only if they are in receipt of the layers of data available to them and that they have the rights to use the data.

Rights to use their data? As odd as that may seem, data ownership is not automatically ceded to an advertiser. In spite of the fact that without an advertiser’s investment there would be no media buy and no corresponding data stream. Yet, many within the media chain have taken aggressive actions to claim that data as their own. Ad agencies, trading desks, publishers, demand side platforms (DSPs) and third party ad servers to name some of the entities that desire to own, or at a minimum, have unrestricted access to that data.

This jockeying for data ownership and access carries additional risks for advertisers in and around the topic of data privacy and security. Particularly as it relates to first-party data that may be utilized in the planning and placement of programmatic digital and addressable TV buys. Why? Because the unregulated, unsupervised use of an advertiser’s first-party data could be in violation of their users’ privacy rights.

Ownership and access rights to third-party data, which is often accessed on the advertiser’s behalf by its agency and or ad tech providers such as data management platform (DMP) and ad platform providers are generally clear and typically spelled out in licensing agreements between the various stakeholders. Then there is second-party data, which can best be described as information that users didn’t give you directly but was acquired through an advertiser’s relationship with another entity, such as an SEO platform or that was acquired via feedback from a behaviorally targeted digital display ad campaign. Advertisers must ensure that the use of and or sharing of second-party data is done in a privacy compliant manner to safeguard the interests of the user.

Complicated. Yes, and often little understood by those crafting client/agency agreements. It would certainly be appropriate for advertisers to revisit their agency agreements, with the goal of ensuring that their data ownership rights, privacy considerations and third-party access rights are clear and consistent in this emerging area. It is important to note that industry best practice templated language is still evolving and should not be relied on as an advertiser’s sole source for securing ownership/access rights and protections for agency agreements.

When it comes to advertiser data ownership, we share the beliefs of American businessman and politician Jim Oberweis, who stated:

“I am a strong believer that intellectual property rights need to be protected.”

Want to learn more about evolving your organization’s agency contract language? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at AARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com.

Advertiser Audit Rights: Define & Exercise Them

2 Aug

dreamstime_xs_7828625There is a new trend developing within the marketing agency community when it comes to negotiating client contract language – and that is a fairly aggressive attempt to limit the advertiser (client) audit rights and scope. In other words, limiting what the agency is required to have available as “proof” and support for agency billings to the client and agency use of client funds.

At a time when there is much talk about the need for transparency and its role in helping to bolster trust and strengthen client-agency relationships, this trend is highly antithetical.

The most common examples of agencies trying to dictate and limit the client’s “Audit Rights” are:

  1. Limiting the window of time in which an advertiser can conduct the audit. For example, 12 months from date of service or invoice, as opposed to a 3 year window.
  2. Limiting access to agency financial data and or records, as opposed to full access to information that support agency billings, financial management and performance. This can include denying access to data such as employee time keeping records, agency overhead or holding company allocations to client, freelance records, prices paid for certain media and agency affiliate company costs.
  3. Limiting the amount of time the agency is required to retain data and records.
  4. Limiting the type of audit firm that an advertiser can engage to perform the testing – and or including language that seeks to secure agency approval of advertiser’s auditor selection.

In order to ensure full-transparency into the financial stewardship of funds by the agency and third-party vendors, experience suggests that advertisers must secure client-centric contractual audit terms and conditions. It is our belief that this is an advertiser’s unassailable right. After all, it is the advertiser who bears the risk of non-compliance and sub-standard performance when it comes to the investment and management of their marketing funds. And it is the advertiser who is providing the funding to the agent.

Contract language dealing with Audit Rights should grant advertisers the ability to establish the scope of the audit, deploy an audit team of its choice and to have unfettered access to information necessary to validate agency compliance and or performance (i.e. contract compliance, media performance, etc.). To ensure full transparency, advertiser Audit Rights should extend to the agency holding company and affiliates in any full-disclosure relationship.

As important as securing solid Audit Rights language, within a Client-Agency agreement, is the need for advertisers to exercise those rights on a regular basis. Whether through the deployment of internal audit personnel, engaging independent contract compliance or financial auditors or the use of a media performance audit firm, it is imperative that advertisers monitor and vet agency performance in these areas.

The frequency of such oversight actions can range from annual reviews to quarterly reconciliations to the implementation of continuous monitoring programs to assess the disposition and performance of advertiser funds, while under the control of their agency partners.

Sharing audit findings with both advertiser and agency is highly recommended so that both parties, if necessary, can adjust practices going forward. After all, the goal of an accountability program is to provide improved transparency, assurance, improved process, and stronger client-agency relationships. In the words of Thomas Huxley, the noted 19th century scientist:

“Learn what is true, in order to do what is right.”

If you would like to receive a complimentary review of your organization’s “Audit Rights” contract language please contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com.

 

“Our Agency Contract has Expired…”

22 Jul

ExpiredThis along with feedback such as; “We can’t find a copy of the agreement,” “We don’t have an executed copy of the contract” and “Hadn’t seen that version before” are common responses from advertisers when asked for copies of their Client/ Agency agreements when undertaking an inaugural agency contract compliance audit.

While alarming at a certain level, perhaps no more concerning than the dated, evergreen and largely inadequate agency-centric contractual instruments that represent a majority of the agreements that many advertisers have entered into.

Concerning? To be sure. Perhaps these organizations aren’t familiar with the words of legendary investor, Warren Buffett, who once said:

Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.

In an industry grappling with issues such as fraud, transparency, relationship stability, trust and the fairness of agency compensation systems the risks posed by non-existent or inadequate contracts are significant and include, legal, financial and intellectual property exposure.

The reasons for this dilemma are many and common across many client organizations:

  1. No central contract repository within the organization
  2. Limited cross-functional agency relationship oversight
  3. No strategic supplier management system
  4. Contracts negotiated by one function, not shared with relationship owners
  5. No enterprise wide accountability initiative

By now, most are aware of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) study on “Media Transparency” that was prepared in conjunction with K2 and released in June of this year. If there is one takeaway from the findings of that study, which all advertisers should pay heed to its the fact that a solid Client/ Agency contract is an advertisers best defense when it comes to protecting their advertising investment.

One side benefit of the ANA/ K2 study is that C-Suite members within many advertiser organizations are asking the questions; “How susceptible is our firm?” and “What level of control and transparency do we currently have when it comes to our marketing investment?”

Addressing these questions is an excellent place to begin, because it necessarily involves securing and reviewing current copies of the contractual agreements that are in place with each of the organization’s marketing vendors. Perhaps the next best place to turn is to engage either outside counsel or an independent agency contract compliance specialists, with deep knowledge of the marketing/ advertising industry and some of the advancements and best practices which are in place to safeguard an advertisers investment.

Once an updated agreement is put in place, the easiest way to manage these contracts, amendments and ongoing statement’s of work is to schedule (and contractually mandate) annual reviews of the agreement and all legal documents governing your agencies staffing plans and compensation.

For those seeking an added layer of protection, engaging an agency contract compliance specialist to monitor each agencies adherence to the terms and conditions of the agreements that govern these important relationships is an excellent idea.

Interested in assessing your organization’s legal and financial risks? Contact us for a complimentary agency contract risk assessment by emailing Cliff Campeau, Principal, Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com today.

Advertiser Audit Rights: Omnipresent but Seldom Enacted

11 Apr

transparencyVirtually every contract that exists between advertiser and agency partner provides the advertiser with the “right to audit” agency books, records and accounting practices related to services rendered. However, oddly enough, advertisers seldom act upon these negotiated, protective contract provisions in spite of the significant dollars being spent in this area. This is unfortunate for both advertiser and agency alike.

Why? At a time when many client / agency relationships are strained, largely as a result of diminishing levels of trust and transparency concerns, contract compliance work represent an excellent tool for building clarity around and confidence in agency financial management practices, resource investments, and actual performance.

Contract compliance work identifies gaps in understanding that can be negatively impacting client perceptions and agency margins. Whether related to the project briefing, the approval process, rework levels, mushrooming custom reporting requests, and or payment timing issues, independent testing work provides a prescriptive for positive change to benefit all stakeholders.

In our contract compliance practice, it is common to identify process and behavioral breakdowns that have crept into day-to-day activities between client and agency and that can be directly attributed to lack of oversight. Unchecked, bad habits whether accidental or intentional create financial risks that can be very costly to both parties. Periodic compliance work and ongoing performance monitoring can greatly provide new learnings that assist the advertiser to mitigate risks, optimize process, and eliminate unnecessary costs.

Independent audit work absolutely provides assurance and marketing spend governance. It drives in-market performance in a manner that improves the advertisers return-on-marketing-investment. An additional dynamic, born of a consistent marketing accountability program and contract compliance work, is a very real incentive for the parties to reform behaviors that are distracting an otherwise solid client / agency relationships predicated on trust and confidence.

A wise risk management practitioner once shared a somewhat comedic perspective on this dynamic by citing the following question and answer:

“What happens when you lock a wild hyena in a room with an Internal auditor? The hyena stops laughing.”

 Audits can be sobering and should be approached with a healthy and serious level of respect. However, they are not intended to intimidate or strike fear in the hearts of marketing team members or agency personnel. Further, sound audit methodologies should not interrupt client/ agency workflows, nor should they come with an onerous cost in terms of advertiser or agency resource investment required to participate in the process. The goal is to identify opportunities for improved transparency, controls, risk mitigation practices and financial management stewardship, and build long-term relationships.

We see relationships flourish and be strengthened when both parties embrace the process for what it was intended. That is why “Right to Audit” clauses exist and why they are so broadly represented in client / agency agreements in the U.S. and around the globe.

 

 

Linking Agency Fees to Outcomes

14 Dec

overheadThe topic of agency remuneration is one that the advertising industry has wrestled with for the last few decades, since the 15% standard agency commission went by the wayside. 

Agencies want to be paid fairly for their services and clients want to earn a fair return on their agency fee investment… at least theoretically. In reality, agencies want to earn as much money as possible on each of their accounts and clients want to pay as little in agency fees a they can. 

Unfortunately, both stakeholder groups’ true intentions can at a minimum negatively impact perceptions one side may have of the other and in a worse case scenario, drive bad behavior. This can include an advertiser focusing on continually ratcheting down agency fees, with little consideration for the relationship between agency fees and the scope of services. In turn, this is a perfect breeding ground for an agency’s decision to pursue non-transparent revenue sources to shore up perceived inequities at the expense of the advertiser. Ultimately, these actions can serve to undermine trust and eventually the stability of the client/ agency relationship. 

Thus the question remains; “How can both parties bridge the divide when it comes to the agency remuneration discussion?” 

The best solution, obviously, would be to structure a compensation system which is fully transparent, fair to both parties, encourages good behavior and fosters a relationship based upon mutual respect and shared goals. As Sam Walton, founder of one of the world’s largest companies once said; 

“We’re all working together; that’s the secret.” 

In our experience as contract compliance auditors, we have found that the most effective compensation programs link to agency fees to outcomes. We have seen more beneficial results when this is the case compared to fixed retainer fees that have no link to a mutually agreed upon foundation. Typically, these outcomes fall into one of three categories: 

  1. Agency deliverables
  2. Agency time-of-staff investment
  3. Qualitative and quantitative outcomes, those controlled/ influenced by the agency and KPIs tied to the success of the client in-market

It should be noted, that remuneration programs often combine elements from each of the aforementioned categories. In many respects, this is an ideal scenario, particularly in the context of agency-of-record relationships, where the nature of the client/ agency relationship is more akin to a partnership than a buyer/ vendor interaction. 

Regardless of the mode of compensation ultimately selected, value-based, direct-labor driven or performance based, we believe that there are two critical components, which must be negotiated in advance of focusing on the level of remuneration. 

First and foremost is the development of a tight scope-of-work (SOW) collaboratively constructed by the client-side marketing team and the agency account services team. At a minimum, the SOW should explicitly identify all projects, expected outputs, the quantity and timing of those outputs and some indication of whether those items must be created versus modified or adapted. Ideally, the SOW will also address issues with regard to project component complexity and the number of rounds of input/ review per project component to assist the agency in assessing the required time-on-task and to assist the client in establishing project briefing and approval processes which are consistent with desired project outputs. 

Secondly, with a mutually agreed upon SOW, the agency should be asked to provide a detailed staffing plan, one which identifies the names, titles and functional responsibilities of the specific individuals who will work on the business along with their utilization rates. The staffing plan should also identify the base number of hours utilized to calculate a full-time equivalent (i.e. 1,800 hours per year) and at a minimum, a blended hourly rate by department or by function for use in pricing out-of-scope work and or in reconciling fees relative to the agency’s time-of-staff investment if and when necessary. 

The time invested by both parties on the front-end to clearly establish the client’s desired outputs, timing requirements and qualitative expectations and to assess the resource investment required by the agency to deliver on those anticipated outcomes will yield significant dividends. 

Additionally, tracking monthly progress project status and the agency’s time-of-staff investment will allow both parties to stay on track and within budget… while eliminating any surprises. 

In the words of Henry Ford; “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hats Off to the ANA, Patent Trolls Beware

14 Aug

patent infringement defenseAdvertisers now have a viable tool to assist in protecting their organizations against some of the costs associated with defending themselves against frivolous patent troll law suits.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) working in conjunction with Nationwide Insurance’s Scottsdale Insurance division recently unveiled a unique new product called the “ANA Patent Infringement Defense.” According to the ANA, their membership will have two insurance options to select from, “a $500,000 plan and a $1 million plan” which advertisers can access at a “cost between $10,000 and $20,000 per year.”

This innovative approach will allow advertisers to offset a portion of their legal expenses in defending themselves in federal court or in arguing their cases before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

Over the course of the last few years, both advertisers and their agency partners have been targeted by patent trolls who have taken action on those entities’ utilization of technology applications ranging from location finders to QR codes. The cost to the industry has been steep, resulting in millions of dollars in claims and legal expenses for both advertisers and agencies.

In addition to the benefits derived from this new insurance coverage, it will also allow advertisers more comfort when negotiating client/ agency agreements containing contractual indemnification against patent infringement actions. This is sometimes a contentious point during negotiations since it is very difficult to assess and pre-assign responsibility for potential expenses and damages in battling such claims to any one party.

We believe that the leadership exhibited by the ANA on this important issue has been exceptional from the onset. This includes the education of its members, effective lobbying of federal regulators and now with the introduction of the ANA Patent Infringement Defense product being offered. As the noted American businessman, Harold Geneen once said:

Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.”

Hopefully, the 4As can leverage the good work that has been accomplished by the ANA in this area to introduce a similar approach, extending this same type of protection to its agency members.

Why Contract Definitions and Demonstrations are Important

1 Feb

contract complianceFor as long as there have been advertisers and agencies, there have been Client-Agency agreements. Contractual instruments, which are often referred to as “terms of divorce.” This is likely because one of their primary roles is to spell out the guidelines governing how each party must conduct themselves and identifying their respective obligations in the event a relationship is terminated.

The fact of the matter is, a contract is much more than that. It is a binding agreement between advertisers and their agencies which should identify the terms and conditions that will govern all facets of the relationship, ranging from how an agency is to be compensated to the level of staffing that an agency will deploy on a client’s behalf, to the scope of work to be undertaken by the agency. An effective contract also asserts both parties expectations for how they will conduct themselves while providing a mutual understanding for how the agency will steward a client’s marketing investment from a performance, financial and legal perspective.

Unfortunately, when it comes to contracts, there are too few “industry standards” within the advertising marketplace, varied definitions for descriptive terms and too often a lack of clarity around what is being represented by certain aspects of the agreement language. These gaps create gray areas which are seldom understood, much less agreed to by both parties. Unchecked, these gaps can be costly, particularly to advertisers that aren’t supported by knowledgeable industry experts and attorneys with solid industry experience.

As contract compliance auditors we have reviewed hundreds of Client-Agency agreements and have sat across the table from advertisers and agencies to help mediate gaps in understanding over even the most basic terms or representations. Examples include the definition of “Gross Media,” the assumption that individuals listed in an agency “Staffing Plan” are full-time employees of the agency (rather than contractors or part-timers) and or whether or not the awarding of work to agency affiliates is allowed, let alone how that activity is to be billed.

Let’s examine the financial impact of one of these items. Hypothetically, an advertiser with a $100 million media budget engages a media buying agency. The agreement indicates that media is to be placed on a net basis and that the agency will be paid a commission of 2% on that activity. This appears to be a relatively straightforward description. So the question is; “How much commission should the agency earn?”

  1. $2,000,000
  2. $2,040,000
  3. $2,353,000

It would not be unusual for a lay legal or procurement advisor assisting an advertiser in drafting or reviewing contract language to assume that the answer was 1) $2,000,000. Their assumption in this instance is that the agency’s commission would be calculated by multiplying the net media spend by the agreed upon commission rate.

On the other hand, a seasoned agency finance executive would advocate that the correct answer is 3) $2,353,000. How did they arrive at this figure, which is $353,000 higher than the prior scenario? By “grossing up” the net media spend by 17.65% and then multiplying that total by the agreed upon commission rate. Why would they do this? The answer would likely be; “that is the standard methodology used in the industry.”

This view has its roots in the golden days of advertising, when agencies delivered “full-service” and earned a 15% commission on their clients’ gross advertising investment. In that era, a biller would have to mark-up a net expenditure by 17.65 % in order to account for the 15% commission rate:

  • 15% divided by (100% – 15%) or 85% = .1765
  • If the net expenditure was $85, the total cost would be calculated by multiplying or “grossing up” the net amount by 1.1765 to arrive at a total cost to the advertiser of $100.
  • On the $100 gross expenditure the agency would earn $15 or 15%.

One might legitimately question why an agency would gross up a net expense by 17.65%? After all, it has been many years since full-service agencies were compensated at that rate. Should not the mark-up amount be specific to the negotiated commission rate? Using this approach for the 2% commission example could suggest that the correct answer to the aforementioned question would be 2) $2,040,000:

  • 2% divided by (100% – 2%) or 98% = .0204
  • $100,000,000 net media “grossed up” would be calculated by multiplying the net amount by 1.0204 to arrive at a gross amount of $102,040,000.
  • The agency’s commission on the grossed up media total would be $2,040,000

So which methodology represents the proper approach for calculating an agency’s commission in this example? Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer. This is a classic case where had a term such as “Commission” or “Gross Amount” included an example of how such formulas were to be applied, it would have clarified the intended agency remuneration, staving off a potentially difficult conversation between client and agency long after the ink on the agreement had dried. We can all learn from the words of the 18th century Scottish philosopher, Thomas Reid:

There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words.

 Interested in a securing a second-opinion regarding the clarity and soundness of your organization’s agency agreements? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal of AARM at ccampeau@aarmusa.com.

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