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Building a Foundation for Trust in Client/ Agency Relationships

27 Feb

dreamstime_s_38659968Perhaps I was fortunate. Perhaps it was a sign of the times. When I began my career at J. Walter Thompson, we took great pride as an organization in the number of client relationships that we had, which were measured in decades. Clients such as Ford Motor Company, Unilever, Kellogg’s, Kimberly-Clark, Kraft Foods, and others were celebrated, revered, and nurtured.

Not unlike today, there were challenges to be faced and pressures to be dealt with, whether market-driven or internal.  So, what allowed those relationships to flourish through good times and bad?

The answer was simple. Trust and a mutual commitment to the partnership combined with alignment on business objectives.

Today it is believed that the average length of client-agency relationships is around 3½ years. Is this reduction in longevity correlated with the fact that there has been a slow, but steady erosion in the level of trust between advertisers and their agencies? Consider that a couple of years back, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) conducted a survey and found that only 29% of its member marketers ranked the “current level of trust between client-side marketers and ad agencies as high.”

A waning level of trust can inhibit communication between stakeholders leading to difficulties that throttle the productivity of the partnership. Conversely, as Stephen Covey once said:

When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.”

Thus, if you believe that stable, long-term strategic partnerships are more conducive to achieving an organization’s business and marketing objectives, then the obvious question is “How can we establish client-agency relationships that endure the test of time?” The answer seems obvious… addressing the issue of trust.

In our experience, there are three fundamental steps that can be taken to build and maintain trust between advertisers and their agency partners.

  1. Contractual agreement predicated on a “Principal-Agent” model – Simply put, in this type of relationship the agency is charged with acting on the client’s behalf and in their best interest. This legally binds the agency to always put the client’s interests first and eliminates their ability to benefit from the relationship at the client’s expense. One of the beneficial outcomes of this type of model is that the client can take solace in knowing that the advice and recommendations of the “Agent” is more likely to be unbiased. In the event that an agency recommends the consideration of principal-based or inventory media buys or the use of or procurement of services/products from a related party of the agency, then the agreement language should require full-disclosure and prior written client approval.
  2. Periodic agency contract compliance and financial management reviews – Having a sound contract in place is a positive step in the right direction. However, if an agency’s compliance with contract terms and conditions is uncertain then achieving the desired level of trust may be elusive. Given industry concerns regarding transparency, all stakeholders will benefit from an independent evaluation of compliance and performance. Further, knowing that there will be an additional layer of oversight inspires stakeholders on both sides of the partnership to uphold the client organization’s desired levels of governance and transparency established within the agreement. This is not a sign of mistrust, but a signal of an advertiser’s commitment to the principle of “assurance.” As the saying goes: “In God we trust, all others we audit.”
  3. Establishing a fair and compelling agency remuneration program – Properly compensating agency partners is fundamental to securing the requisite level of support and bolstering an agency’s commitment to its fiduciary role. Additionally, a well-paid agency is less likely to engage in practices such as the pursuit of vendor kickbacks, the application of non-transparent mark-ups, profiting from the use of client funds, or the unauthorized use of sub-contractors and related parties. Contractual language capping agency revenue to that which is authorized within the agreement and subsequent statements of work will also protect the advertiser from these tactics and help curtail agency temptation to inappropriately supplement its income at the expense of its fiduciary obligations to its clients.

We have seen firsthand the benefits of this proven formula in promoting transparency and bolstering an organization’s trust in its agency partners. Thus, marketers and their agency counterparts should consider embracing this approach to strengthen and reinforce long-term agency-client relationships by ensuring a solid footing.

Can Advertisers Justify the Use of Programmatic Buying?

28 Dec

Programmatic SpendWhich of the following two statements do you find most surprising:

1.  Only 30 cents of every dollar an advertiser invests programmatically reaches the consumer.

2. More than 8 out of every 10 U.S. marketers use programmatic technology to purchase media.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) indicated that global programmatic spending “is on track to exceed $200 billion” this year. Further, it noted that PwC estimated that “more than 70% “of a typical advertiser’s budget “does not result in media that reaches the end consumer.”

Where does the money go you ask? According to the ANA the shortfall “factors in ad fees, fraud, non-viewable impressions, non-brand-safe placements and unknown allocations.”

These findings should do little to inspire confidence within the C-suite of any advertiser organization. The alarm bells should be going off when one considers that more than 50% of an advertiser’s spending goes to digital media and that the majority of that is purchased programmatically. Add in the growing percentage of TV, radio and out-of-home advertising being purchased programmatically and the level of working media for most advertisers is seriously compromised.

Thus, while we applaud the ANA’s recently announced initiative to engage PwC, Kroll, and Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) to conduct an in-depth study of the “programmatic buying ecosystem” we continue to have reservations.

The reason for our apprehension? The lack of meaningful progress that followed the findings of the ANA’s 2016 study of “Media Transparency in the U.S. Advertising Industry.” This combined with the fact that advertisers continue to allocate a greater share of their ad budget to sectors of the media marketplace that are fraught with non-transparency and brand safety challenges, fraudulent activity and where intermediaries tack on fees that seriously dilute an advertiser’s investment.

We understand that the advertising marketplace is complex and rapidly changing. But there is no rationale for money being siphoned away from delivering an advertiser’s message to consumers.

It is our belief that the quickest way to address these challenges is for advertisers to publicly announce that they will be curtailing their programmatic ad spending until the requisite safety measures and processes are in place that safeguards their investment. Then and only then will media ownership groups, ad technology providers and media service agencies get serious about eliminating waste and improving efficiencies. In the words of the 18th century French writer, Voltaire:

“When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.”

At a minimum, as good measure to vouch for the funds already invested, advertisers may want to seriously consider a combination of financial and media performance audits to fully understand how their advertising investments are being managed.

One Good Reason to Audit Your Advertising Spending

31 Oct

contract compliance auditingExperience from his early days in accounts payable brought home an important lesson…

I was recently talking with a friend, who retired as a senior financial executive for one of the large global airline companies. During our conversation he began to probe on AARM and our agency contract compliance and financial management audit service. While most finance professionals today came into the business long after electronic data processing (EDP) and payment systems came into vogue, this finance executive did not.

After we talked for a while about the nuances of agency compliance and financial auditing, he shared a remembrance from his starting position in the accounts payable department in the early ‘70s… prior to EDP. He recounted processing invoices from the company’s ad agency and the “stacks of paper” that accompanied their invoices. One of the nagging concerns that the finance team always had was whether the agency was reviewing the third-party vendor invoicing for both accuracy and to validate performance or simply passing along the documents. As a result, they implemented a policy that no invoice would be processed until the marketing team had reviewed and signed off on the billing detail. The goal was to encourage both the marketing team and the agency to examine the billing support for accuracy, rather than simply processing for payment. 

The estimated billing approach employed by most ad agencies used to be a paper-intensive process. Billing records not only had to be reviewed but stored and retained for at least 3 years. Thus, most advertisers waived the requirement for agencies to provide third-party vendor billing support with their bill-to-client invoices. Even with the advent of EDP and the digitization of records, advertisers were content to require their agency partners to retain the billing support and to make those records available for review if an advertiser chose to audit those documents. Today, if an agency invoice has been reviewed by a marketing representative and the dollar amount falls within the approved purchase order amount/balance the agency invoices are processed for payment.

Despite the size and material nature of marketing and advertising budgets, most organizations do not invoke their contractual audit rights to validate their agency billing support.

This reality evoked an interesting observation from my friend: “Processing payment, without a review of the supporting third-party vendor documentation is one thing, but to forgo periodically auditing those records is a classic example of blind faith.” His words, in turn, reminded me of a quote from rock legend Bruce Springsteen: “Blind faith in your leaders, or in anything, will get you killed.”

It’s Time to Address the Biggest Risk to Your Ad Budget

26 Oct

iceberg risk

As year-end draws near, many organizations are hard at work on 2022 planning

Significant effort will be invested in preparing next year’s internal audit plans, financial plans, operational plans, and marketing plans / budgets. The question is “Will any of these initiatives address the biggest risk to an organization’s advertising spend?”

When annual planning commences, representatives from internal audit, finance, procurement, and marketing are all proactively evaluating different mechanisms for driving performance and profitability, while mitigating risks to the organization.

Yet we know from experience that one of the best tools for doing just that, on behalf of a significant P&L line item, is likely not being considered.

Which P&L line item are we referring to? Advertising Expense. And the tool that simply is highly effective at mitigating risks and returning significant financial value is advertising/ media agency financial contract compliance audits.

The “Right to Audit” clause is a cornerstone control & financial protection in all client/ agency agreements. Further, organizations such as the Association of National Advertisers, World Federation of Advertisers and the ISBA strongly recommend that advertisers routinely perform compliance reviews to maintain transparency and safeguard their marketing investment. 

When a company’s control environment does not include detailed testing of advertising agency billings and costs – there are real risks that come into play for a few reasons. For one, client marketing teams are forward looking, focused on building brands and driving demand. Testing past financial activity is not necessarily on their radar. Secondly, agency finance teams are hyper-focused on their own profitability. And finally, the estimated billing process employed by ad agencies, takes client money upfront based upon projected expenses. In turn, these expenses are to be reconciled to actual costs once a job is closed. The long lag times for when this final accounting takes place and the lack of detailed billing support that is typically shared with the client creates risks for the advertiser.

The good news is that advertisers can proactively address these concerns and establish a compliance testing audit program that is cost effective, respectful of the agency’s time, and yields material near and long-term benefits, including: 

  • Identification of past overbillings and financial non-compliance for remedy.
  • New contract language including industry best practice & agency reporting guidelines.
  • Financial efficiencies and cost savings tied to process improvements.  
  • Comfort in knowing that the organization has a full understanding and strong controls in place to manage one of its largest expenses.

Most importantly, the work helps to build an organization’s level of trust in each of its agency partners and an appreciation for the role that the agency plays.

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We Know We Should Audit, But…

30 Mar
Hesitation

We’ve all seen the look on the face of an anxious toddler as they prepare to jump into the waiting arms of a parent in a pool.

The child wants to leap, knows there is little risk, trusts their parent and knows that the feeling of satisfaction related to their action will far outweigh their apprehension, yet they hesitate to take the plunge. This scenario can be analogous to organization’s considering an independent contract compliance audit of an advertising agency partner.

Managers’ go through a series of considerations when weighing whether or not to conduct an agency compliance and financial management review, including:

  • It’s not that we don’t trust our ad agency partners
  • It’s not that we don’t believe our agencies are putting forth their “best efforts” to safeguard our marketing investment
  • It’s not that we don’t have confidence that our marketing team is effectively safeguarding our marketing budget

But…

  • We have never audited this aspect of our SG&A
  • Marketing spend is a material expense
  • Our C-suite executives are asking questions regarding risks and controls
  • Over time, our agency roster has grown and spending has increased
  • We read the trade press and are concerned about fraud, brand safety, adherence to fiduciary standards and the like

In the end, Finance, Procurement and or Internal Audit leadership know they should undertake this important risk reducing work. They also realize that an outside specialists provides valuable industry expertise. Yet, they often cannot get to “yes.” 

Why the hesitation? The reasons are many; Marketing indicates that the timing is not right, we don’t have the budget, we’ve conducted internal reviews ourselves, our agency is a trusted partner, we’re considering transitioning agencies… and the list goes on.

The good news is that all rationale cited for not moving forward with comprehensive testing of  ad agency partner billings, costs and contract compliance can be readily addressed. The audit process is not time consuming, poses no relationship risk, is allowed for in the client-agency agreement, and most importantly the benefits far outweigh the cost / risk of the audit not proceeding.

Audit results yield a combination of historical financial recoveries tied to billing errors, unauthorized mark-up, unreconciled jobs, and outstanding credits.  Financial true-ups and learning far outpace the initial audit investment. And most importantly, the work yields forward looking process improvement, contract language improvement, financial refinement, and risk mitigation opportunities to generate cost savings and peace of mind.

With proper oversight, we have seen concerns regarding agency accountability replaced with a sense of trust and confidence. Key benefits in a market sector noted for its lack of transparency, murky supply-chains and lack of trust.

Where does your organization stand on this important accountability practice? Perhaps the words of Daniel Wagner, a widely published author on current affairs and risk management, can embolden organizations to take the prudent action:

“Some risks that are thought to be unknown, are not unknown. With some foresight and critical thought, some risks that at first glance may seem unforeseen, can in fact be foreseen. Armed with the right set of tools, procedures, knowledge and insight, light can be shed on variables that lead to risk, allowing us to manage them.” 

Freelancers Are Not Employees – How Is Your Ad Agency Billing Them Out?

24 Mar

dreamstime_xs_36536323

Why state the obvious? Because many agencies bill freelance and temporary labor to their clients at fully-loaded contract rates, rather than on a pass-through basis, net of any mark-up.

This is simply not an appropriate practice, unless the client is fully aware and understands the cost differential between a full-time employee and an independent resource.

There are no issues with using freelancers and temps to flex agency staffing to meet fluctuating work levels, backfill for an employee on an extended absence or to access someone with a specific skill set. This is a common and acceptable practice which makes good sense. However, it is also an area often marked by a lack of transparency and, dependent upon agency/client agreement language, the application of unauthorized mark-ups by agency financial teams.

In many, if not most instances, agencies do not inform their clients as to which service team members are freelancers or temps. Our experiences show rather than being identified as freelancers, they are often assigned agency job titles and classified as full-time employees in time tracking reports and fee reconciliations.

Unfortunately, what tends to happen, particularly with direct-labor-based remuneration agreements, is that these individuals are routinely billed out at negotiated contract rates, just the same as the agency’s full-time employees would be.

Without performing comprehensive contract compliance and financial management audits or diligently validating adherence to agreement language already in place, this practice is typically left unabated. Our viewpoint is that unless specifically authorized by a client, billings for freelance and temporary employees should reflect the actual net cost invoiced to the agency. Even if costs are billed at net, agencies are still being compensated for the additional time incurred by full-time employees to procure, educate and supervise these non-employees.

Further support for this position is that agencies simply do not incur the same costs for freelancers and temps as they do for full-time employees. For example,

  • Freelancers do not participate in agency benefit plans such as health insurance, profit sharing or 401K matching. Nor are they paid for holidays, personal comp or vacation time.
  • Agencies seldomly provide onsite workspace at their offices.
  • Agencies bear no cost in training and or career development.

Net, net, freelancers and temps are third-party suppliers. Inferences that charging freelance at full contract rates is an “Industry Standard” or should be considered “fair” is simply not supportable. 

This is a profitable endeavor for agencies, one that can yield extraordinary margins. Consider a scenario where an agency pays a freelancer $100 per hour for their services, then charges that time at a contract rate of $150 per hour. This practice would net the agency a 50% mark-up!

Over the years, we have not had a single client who knowingly allowed subcontractors, of any type, to be charged in this manner. Contract language often dictates and or clients usually expect that these charges are being billed on a pass-through basis. At times, we have seen instances where an allowance has been granted for a modest mark-up on freelance cost (e.g. 10% to 15%) to offset the administrative cost of engaging such individuals or for processing them through their payroll system to cover costs such as FICA. Beyond this, agencies really don’t have a basis for applying fully-loaded rates.

For advertisers, this is a worthwhile conversation to have with their agency partners to determine current practices and to reinforce expectations on a go-forward basis.

If Your Media Buy Dictates the Media Plan, Do You Have a Plan?

26 Feb

Flying BlindA recent “Global Media Trading Report” released by ID Comms found that 38% of those surveyed believe “the media buy dictates the plan.” Further, many respondents suggested that “channel and or vendor biases” dictate buying decisions, rather than strategic planning.

Regardless of the context of the survey questions and or media type (i.e. traditional, digital, programmatic, connected, etc.) these findings are startling to say the least.

Call us traditionalists, but we cannot think of a sound rationale for investing one’s media dollars, absent a plan that is linked directly to the organization’s marketing goals and business objectives.

However, given the number of folks that believe media buys drive planning decisions mindset, one must assume that this practice is occurring on an all too frequent basis. A reality that is difficult to fathom in light of the complex, highly fragmented nature of the media marketplace.

The notion that resource-allocation decisions would be made on the basis of channel bias rather than sound analysis such as holistic media mix review, target audience media consumption patterns, coverage/reach/frequency modeling, competitive activity and editorial environment is concerning.

In our advertising assurance practice, we sometimes come across examples of inadequate media planning processes or insufficient resources being deployed in the execution of a plan. The tip-off almost always being when the “Plan” more closely represents an Excel worksheet recapping a proposed media schedule, rather than a formal media plan document with the requisite components. But never have we encountered an advertiser that would accept the premise of media buys or channel biases driving planning decisions.

Far be it for us to challenge such widely held beliefs.

The question to be posed to advertisers is simply, “Which approach do you espouse?” For our money, when it comes to media resource allocation decisions channel biases be damned, we would follow the guidance of 19th century scientist and inventor Alexander Graham Bell: “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

Agency Audits: An Advertiser “Right” Not Yet a Standard Practice

26 Jan

dreamstime_xs_7828625For most organizations, the “Right-to-Audit” is a staple in their advertising agency agreements. Worded properly, this important contract language provides the company an opportunity to periodically check ad agency compliance with contract terms, review financial support that should agree to agency billings and to otherwise evaluate various performance metrics.

Yet despite the inclusion of this vital risk management clause and the rights that it confers, far too few organizations actually follow through to perform the testing which would otherwise provide stakeholders with comfort that agency billings are accurate and true.

So, why don’t advertisers audit their agency partners?

One might logically deduce that all clients would periodically review agency compliance, financial management and performance given:

  • The materiality of spend levels.
  • Limited insight to whether agencies are accurately reconciling estimated invoices to actual costs.
  • The complex, multi-layered supply chains, especially in digital media.
  • The well-publicized news of the ad industry’s ongoing challenges with transparency and fraud.

Aside from mitigating financial risk that could be eroding marketing expense effectiveness, another benefit of agency compliance testing is that it can help allay client-side stakeholder (marketing, finance, internal audit, procurement) concern and further build trust. Trust is crucial, particularly clients are relying on agency partners to fulfill their fiduciary and legal responsibilities in stewarding their advertising funds.

In addition, the level of trust between advertisers and their agency partners has been under siege. Consider ID Comms 2018 Global Media Transparency Survey where only one in ten respondents indicated that their “relationship with their agency or advertising client was trusting.” Further, 40% of respondents believed that trust levels were “average” compared to 52% in ID Comms 2016 survey.

We see first-hand where contract compliance and financial management audits identify and address gaps in understanding, controls and reporting that negatively affect client spend effectiveness and erode agency margins. Whether financial definitions, billing basis, fee calculations, project briefing, the approval process, rework levels, custom reporting requests, and or payment timing issues, audits can provide a prescriptive for positive change to benefit all stakeholders.

In our practice we see three principal reasons why the right-to-audit is not employed often enough – and therefore has become much less effective as a control than necessary:

  1. No clear ownership who is responsible for the Audit function in the context of marketing.
  2. Lack of a formal budget allocation process for assurance and risk mitigation for marketing and advertising spend.
  3. Limited organizational understanding of risks related to the advertising category.

As a result, clients continue to invest billions of dollars annually through their agency partners in spite of never verifying whether there are proper controls and regulations to safeguard those funds and optimize the efficacy of their investment. The need is real. Building effective verification and monitoring tools into client-agency relationships cannot be viewed as an option, but rather a prerequisite.

Fortunately, if the will is there on the part of client organizations, the solution is relatively straight-forward.

  • Responsibility for the checking agency financial compliance cannot rest solely with the marketing team. Finance, internal audit and procurement each have a role to play in the process.
  • Setting up a rotational audit program for each of the organization’s audit partners is paramount. Funding the effort through marketing, finance or internal audit budgets can ensure that the program will be executed as designed.
  • Establishing direct relationships between client-side finance and agency finance personnel greatly enhances an advertiser’s line-of-sight into the disposition of their funds at each phase of the advertising investment cycle.
  • Develop a relationship with a co-source supplier with deep marketing audit expertise.

Enhancing an advertisers control framework to include the regular review of their agency partners’ client accounting practices and controls along with their contract compliance to contract terms will inevitably mitigate risks and lead to better management of this important investment. In the words of Simon Mainwaring, brand futurist and businessman:

“The keys to brand success are self-definition, transparency, authenticity and accountability.”

2021 Resolution for Advertisers: Drop Estimated Billing Approach

30 Dec marketing accountability resolution

It is time for marketers’ treasury management teams to turn their attention and scrutiny to the ad industry practice of “estimated” billing. 

Why now?  The long-standing practice of “estimated billing” is a relic of a bygone era and one that EDI technology has rendered as obsolete. 

Toward what end? Simply put, to improve the management of marketing funds, a material expense, to mitigate financial risks and improve controls in and around the disbursement of cash to marketing vendors.

The fact of the matter is that most client organizations do not have a clear line of sight into the disposition of their funds at each stage of the advertising investment cycle. With estimated billing, once marketing budgets are approved, purchase orders issued, agency billing generated and those invoices paid, advertiser controls are insufficient to monitor their funds once the agency has been paid.  This is largely because advertiser funds are now under the control of “other” parties (i.e. ad agencies, media sellers, production resources, etc.) who take the responsibility for closing jobs and trueing up estimated costs to “actual” in a timely manner. 

Unfortunately, the process for reconciling media campaigns, production jobs and agency fees can extend weeks and months after the attendant activities and or timelines have lapsed. Sadly, there is little incentive for agencies to expedite this process and issue the requisite credit adjustments, discounts and rebates. This is largely because they are in possession of client funds and as long as job/ campaign costs have not exceeded client-issued P.O.’s clients aren’t clamoring for a final accounting of advertising activity.

Billing based upon “final” costs provides an incentive to agencies and third-party vendors alike to quickly and accurately reconcile activities and process invoices for payment. The other to advertiser accounts payable teams is the reduction of paperwork in the form of multiple adjusting invoices associated with the estimated billing approach.

In our advertising assurance consulting and audit practice we have observed first-hand the efficiency of actual (in-arrears) versus estimated (in advance) billing methodologies. One of the key commitments required of advertisers to make this work is to establish accounts payable guidelines for its agency partners that ensure the timely disbursement of the funds necessary to settle third-party vendor obligations in a timely manner. Fundamentally, advertising agencies are not banks and should never be asked to settle vendor obligations made on behalf of clients, with their own funds. Conversely, they should not be earning profit from floating client funds either.

That said, many clients and agencies have cash neutrality clauses in their agreements, which prohibit this type of activity. For those agreements that don’t address this issue, we believe that it is simply not appropriate for an agency to make money on the use of client funds. Period. Disallowing estimate billings and requiring the agency to bill only after expenses have been incurred and actual costs known, is a proven way to minimize non-transparent agency profits. After all, allowing the agency to unfairly benefit was never the intent of the estimated billing process to begin with.

For marketers, transitioning to an “actual billing” process in 2021 makes good sense from both a risk mitigation and control perspective. Further, it is more efficient, can reduce payment processing costs and can potentially improve days payable outstanding performance for the agencies and third-party vendors. In the words of the 20th century American poet, Richard Armour: “That money talks, I’ll not deny, I heard it once: It said, ‘Goodbye’.”

Client-Side CFOs Should Take Note… Your Ad Investment is Being Held Hostage

18 Dec

The news of this past week should be of concern to CFOs of companies that have invested in National TV over the course of the last two years.

On December 18th, MediaPost reported that “TV season-to-date” ratings declined between “20% to 30%,” which in turn created a “probable make-good inventory shortage and possible rare TV network cash-back payments to marketers.” Similarly, Digiday reported that “TV networks are overdue on their bills to advertisers” and that some advertisers “are still owed for ad buys placed one to two years ago.”

In short, TV viewing declines have resulted in guaranteed audience delivery shortfalls by the networks. Thus, the networks owe advertisers compensatory media weight or cash-back to make up for that underdelivery. Unfortunately, many of the networks don’t have inventory available to make good on their obligations to advertisers. Complicating matters is the fact that advertiser demand has driven up scatter market CPMs, which makes it less attractive for the networks to offer make-good weight, when they can sell their inventory at a premium, rather than honor upfront market commitments.

Okay. We understand. Audience delivery shortfalls are a fact of life. That said, we cannot think of a good reason why an advertiser would allow a network to take them out one to two years on their guarantees or why their media agency partners would not take a more aggressive stance with regard to securing ADUs (make-good weight) or cash-back.

A guarantee is a guarantee… period. If a media seller cannot deliver on its commitment within the contract parameters, then restitution should be tendered immediately.

So what’s the problem? The answer, and what should alarm CFOs, was the perspective shared by both publications that network and media agency personnel believe that advertisers weren’t “all that interested” in cash-back offers because they “have nowhere to put it.”

Too bad that advertiser CFOs weren’t interviewed by these publications for their point-of-view. From our experience, we have never met a CFO that would rather cede control of any portion of their organization’s ad investment to an agency or a media seller, rather than manage those funds themselves. Who would? If the networks can’t or won’t provide make-good inventory, most CFOs would prefer a check to cover the dollar value of the audience delivery guarantee shortfall. This scenario eliminates any uncertainty regarding the disposition of their funds and reduces the risks of leaving their organization’s pre-paid media funds in the hands of third-parties and perhaps losing track of them altogether.

Advertiser concerns should not be limited to the networks. Media agency National TV buyers have a responsibility to monitor audience delivery, while a campaign is running and to secure in-flight ADUs to cover rating shortfalls when possible. Daypart specific underdelivery is supposed to be tracked by quarter, with make-good weight secured and applied per the terms of the upfront guarantee, which they negotiated on the advertiser’s behalf. Given declining viewership trends, agencies should understand the importance of this aspect of their media stewardship responsibilities and take extra precautions to safeguard their clients’ National TV investments.

The irony… while waiting for their clients to be made whole on prior-year upfront guarantees, media agencies, more often than not, continue to invest additional advertiser funds with the same networks that owe those clients make-good weight and or cash-back refunds.

Our auditing experience repeatedly shows that few CFOs are aware of the important benefits that can be gained by meeting with their marketing team to undertake a formal review of their organization’s National TV media buying and performance monitoring controls including, but not limited to:

  • National TV Upfront Guarantee Letters/Terms
  • Media Authorization Form Language
  • National TV Media Buying Guidelines
  • Agency Weekly Audience Delivery Tracking Reports
  • Agency Quarterly Post-Buy Performance Reporting
  • Agency Quarterly ADU Tracking Reports

The situation described by MediaPost and Digiday poses financial risks for advertisers in general and specifically for those organizations that are not actively managing their National TV media investments.

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