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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

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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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Marketers That Don’t Have Formal Assurance Programs Are At Risk

27 Sep iceberg risk

For most companies, marketing spend can be considered a material expense, often running at 5% or more of annual revenue. Yet, a majority of these organizations have not included marketing in their corporate governance and risk mitigation efforts, conducting limited or no supplier compliance, financial management and performance testing.

Given the complex nature of the marketing and advertising space, the less than ideal levels of transparency and the murkiness of advertiser supply chains, this creates a precarious situation.

It must be noted that this is an industry which is largely predicated on the concept of “estimated billing,” where advertisers are invoiced in advance for approved activity by their agency partners. These funds are then disbursed over time by the agency to third-party vendors or realized as agency revenue in accordance with remuneration agreement terms. An underlying tenet of this billing model is  that estimated costs are “trued up” to reflect actual costs incurred once a job is closed, supplier invoices tallied, and an agency’s time-of-staff investment is fully posted. However, reconciliation efforts do not always occur and approved but unused funds, for which advertisers have been billed, are not always returned in a timely manner or at all.

Many Client/ Agency contracts contain solid control language to protect the advertiser and to provide explicit financial management and reporting guidelines to their agency partners. That said, many agreements are outdated and do not contain the requisite terms and conditions necessary to adequately safeguard an advertiser’s marketing spend. Ironically, good contract or not, too few organizations review supplier compliance with agreement terms or conduct financial and performance reviews of their agency partners… even though most agreements provide advertisers with the right to audit the agency to review the financial documentation that supports the agency’s billings.

In our experience, advertising agencies expect their clients to conduct periodic compliance and performance testing. The fact that more companies are not following through on their audit rights is a mystery. Why should testing be performed? Because periodic compliance reviews drive accountability and improve transparency, addressing questions such as:

  • Did we get what we paid for?
  • Were we charged the appropriate rates for the work performed?
  • Were third-party expenses billed on a pass-through basis, net of any mark-up?
  • Did the agency reconcile fees to reflect its actual time-of-staff investment?
  • Were third-party vendors paid in a fair and timely manner?
  • Were agency and third-party vendor billings accurate?
  • Are future projects being estimated and approved using accurate historical information?

Beyond providing financial management assurance and recoveries, compliance testing identifies gaps in control, yields recommendations for improving contract language and reporting and can drive process enhancements that result in future savings.

In the end, sound Client/ Agency agreements backed by a formal risk mitigation program can protect a company’s marketing investment, converting risk control measures into business growth opportunities. This, while driving accountability and providing company stakeholders with a sense of trust and confidence that its marketing team, agency partners and third-party suppliers are properly stewarding the funds entrusted to them.

Outdated Client-Agency Agreements Pose Risks to Advertisers

21 Aug

ExpiredWARNING: If the contract between your organization and its advertising agency(s) has an effective date prior to January 1, 2017, you may be at risk.

Not unlike fresh produce, dairy products, meat, medicine or even beer, contract language is perishable. 

Seems far-fetched you say. Consider that the ad industry is a dynamic, fast-paced business sector. One only need recall the breadth and rapidity of change brought on by technology advances and increasing levels of regulation in just the last four years:

  • April of 2016 – Europe enacts The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) governing how companies handle consumer data, forcing advertisers, agencies, publishers and intermediaries to implement business rules and guidelines to safeguard personal data and privacy.
  • June of 2016 – The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) publishes its North American Media Transparency study, leading to wholesale changes in contractual controls. As a result, nearly 2/3 of ANA members indicated that they would update their media agency agreements.
  • December of 2016 – The industry’s four largest agency holding companies involved in a Federal bid-rigging probe following allegations by post-production houses on the misleading use of rates they provided to agencies.
  • September of 2018 – The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) goes into effect giving consumers more control over the personal information that businesses, including advertisers, agencies and publishers collect about them.
  • October of 2018 – The Federal Government informs the ANA and its members that the Federal Bureau of Investigation would be investigating potential misleading conduct and or deception between media holding companies and advertisers.
  • June of 2019 – Cybersecurity company, Cheq reports that advertisers will lose over $23 billion to ad fraud in 2019 alone.
  • July of 2020 – Year-to-date the European Union has issued over 300 fines to advertisers and publishers totaling more than $171 million for violating GDPR guidelines.

Each of these occurrences and numerous others has led to the need for advertisers to rethink their contractual controls in order to safeguard their organizations both legally and financially. In turn, this requires language enhancements and the addition of terms and conditions dealing with a range of topics such as privacy protection, data security, intellectual property ownership, transparency, audit rights and indemnification.

All too often, the contracts governing client/ agency relationships are slow to evolve, posing serious risks to advertisers. This in spite of trends such as the growth in the number of intermediaries, agency use of affiliates, expanding agency rosters, murky supply chains, brand safety concerns and the prevalence of ad fraud that pose risks to advertisers.

The thinking on items that were once considered “standard” within the industry, and therefore thought to be sufficiently covered in the context of agreement language can no longer be assumed. Advertiser expectations on topics such as; establishing principal-agent relationships, client-centric audit rights, requirement for full-disclosure in all dealings by the agency with affiliates and third-party vendors and limiting agency revenue to the remuneration described in the agreement and or appropriate SOWs must be reviewed and explicitly defined.

In our contract compliance practice, we have identified 3 key “triggers,” which if present, should incent advertisers to review and revise their agency agreements:

  1. The “effective date” of the current Client/ Agency agreement is more than 2 years old.
  2. If the parties utilized the Agency’s contract template as the basis for the agreement. These documents contain language that reflect the agency’s interest, not necessarily those of the advertiser.
  3. If an advertiser has “evergreen” agreements in place, but updates Statements of Work annually. Too often, while clients update the SOW, reviewing the contract for necessary updates is forgone.

The good news is that both the ANA and the ISBA have issued solid guidance in the form of framework agreements for use as a starting place to construct media and creative agency contracts. It’s important to note that while these broad-based agreements are an excellent resource, every relationship has nuances with new evolving risks that should be weaved into new advertising agreements.

Current, comprehensive supplier agreements leads to solid controls, improved transparency and stronger agency relationships. Integrate periodic contract compliance and financial management auditing and advertisers can rest easier knowing that they have successfully extended their governance and risk management framework to this important area.

“The essence of risk management lies in maximizing the areas where we have some control of the outcome, while minimizing the areas where we have absolutely no control of the outcome.” ~ Peter Bernstein

Compliance Programs Can Transform Marketing

24 Jun

compliance-rulesCompliance is a cost of doing business, and companies invest appropriately in compliance and risk management programs and policies. Many have even been successful at elevating compliance to “cultural ethic” status.

That said, few organizations have risk-management frameworks in place for their marketing and advertising spend. Why?

Consider that the marketing and advertising expenses are material to the financial statements. Further, marketing represents a critical link to building brands and driving revenue. If not managed properly, dollars invested are lost to fraud and non-transparent advertising supply-chain practices, lowering working dollars and leading to declines in marketing efficiency. These factors help to underscore the necessity for compliance risk mitigation coverage in this area.

Allaying risks aside, we have been fortunate enough to witness the transformative power of compliance audit work and financial management oversight programs for advertisers. Benefits have included financial recoveries, cost reductions, improved efficiencies and enhanced revenue generation.

Best of all, technology advancements combined with sound compliance frameworks and proven audit work processes afford organizations the opportunity to efficiently conduct comprehensive, periodic reviews of their marketing services agency network. In our experience this is readily achieved without disruption to client-agency workflows or performance.

Aside from the financial benefits, a structured marketing and advertising compliance program can instill a sense of confidence among all stakeholders that advertising related risks are being monitored and continuously mitigated. Additionally, concerns, questions and the unknown regarding a marketer’s ad agency network, are replaced with a sense of trust and confidence. This is a compelling outcome given the important role that an advertiser’s agency partners play.

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, marketers will face a myriad of challenges in meeting their organization’s performance expectations. The combination of an uncertain future regarding the consumers’ return to “normal” consumption patterns and behaviors and budget reductions will require a disciplined approach to planning and resource allocation efforts… not to mention the need for flawless execution.

Embracing compliance and extending enterprise initiatives in this area to include marketing and advertising will mitigate risks and boost the return on marketing investment. In the words of former U.S. Navy Seal and NY Times bestselling author, Brandon Webb:

“Being a Navy SEAL and sniper taught me all about risk management. Take away all the risk variables under your control and reduce it to an acceptable level. The same fundamentals apply in business.”

 

Impossible: 1 + 1 Can’t = 3

23 Mar

dreamstime_xs_6452736Late last week a group of marketers filed an amended lawsuit against Facebook alleging that it knowingly overestimated audience reach levels.

Court papers filed in the suit indicate that:

“Facebook’s internal documents show that Facebook personnel knew for years that the Potential Reach metric that it provides to Facebook advertisers on its advertisement purchasing interfaces (including on Ads Manager and Power Editor) was inflated and misleading.”

The evidence for these actions was identified in the original complaint and was based upon analysis conducted by independent groups, including the Video Advertising Bureau. In their 2017 report, the Video Advertising Bureau found that Facebook’s purported reach in every state in the U.S. exceeded their populations. A red flag to be sure.

Not excusing Facebook’s alleged behavior, one would think that an observant marketer or agency media buyer would question reach levels that are greater than the population of a given market(s) and raise questions, long before such revelations are made in relation to a lawsuit.

The irony is that reach estimates apparently were not questioned by agency planners or clients during the media planning process, nor at the time of post-campaign performance summary meetings. The seminal question is, “Why not?” Further, if and when suspicions were raised, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect media buyers to exclude any publisher suspected of inflating reach levels from consideration to begin with, and cease allocating client media funds to that entity moving forward? The answer is obviously “no.”

When one sees examples of this type of lackluster media stewardship, it is easy to understand why the C-Suite might question the efficacy of their organization’s advertising investments.

The fact of the matter is that Facebook has seen its annual global ad revenues grow from $1.8 billion in 2010 to over $69.5 billion in 2019 (source: Statista, 2020). Along the way, there have been publicly aired concerns about the accuracy of Facebook’s user base, culminating with the platform’s acknowledged purges of 3.3 billion “fake” accounts in 2018 and another 5.4 billion in 2019.

Certainly, as part of the heralded duopoly, media professionals have been keenly aware of the share of digital ad spend which Google and Facebook have accounted for as part of the digital media sector’s meteoric growth. eMarketer estimates that the duo represented 56.3% of total U.S. digital ad spend in 2019, with Facebook accounting for 19.2% of the total.

During this period of increased digital ad spend, advertisers paid their digital agency partners plenty in the way of fees and commissions to provide consultation, planning support, buy stewardship and oversight. So why did it take so long to identify the fact that a media seller’s reach exceeded the audience universe?

“The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it simply.” ~ Khalil Gibran

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