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What if You Discovered That Your Digital Dollar Netted You a Dime’s Worth of Digital Media?

12 Feb

dreamstime_xs_2601647In 2014, the World Federation of Advertisers conducted a study which demonstrated that “only fifty-four cents of every media dollar in programmatic digital media buying” goes to the publisher, with the balance being divvied up by agency trading desks, DSPs and ad networks.

Fast forward to the spring of 2016 and a study by Technology Business Research (TBR) suggested that “only 40% of digital buys are going to working media.” TBR reported that 29% went to fund agency services and 31% to cover the cost of technology used to process those buys.

Where does the money go? For programmatic digital media, the advertiser’s dollar is spread across the following agents and platforms:

  • Agency campaign management fees
  • Technology fees (DMP, DSP, Adserving)
  • Data/Audience Targeting fees
  • Ad blocking pre/post
  • Verification (target delivery, ad fraud, brand safety)
  • Pre-bid & post-bid evaluation fees

It should be noted that the fees paid to the above providers are exclusive of fees and mark-ups added by SSPs, exchanges or publishers that are blind to both ad agencies and advertisers. What? That is correct. Given the complex nature of the digital ecosystem, impression level costs can be easily camouflaged by DSPs and SSPs. Thus, most advertisers (and their agencies) do not have a line-of-sight into true working media levels…even if they employ a cost-disclosed programmatic buying model (which is rare).

Take for example the fact that a large preponderance of programmatic digital media is placed on a real-time bidding or RTB basis, and a majority of that, is executed using a second-price auction methodology. With second-price auctions, the portion of the transaction that occurs between a buyer’s bid and when the clearing price is executed without advertiser or agency visibility, thus allowing exchanges to apply clearing or bid management fees and mark-ups as they see fit. So for example, if two advertisers place a bid for inventory, one at $20 per thousand and the other at $15 per thousand, the advertiser who placed the higher bid of $20 would win, but the “sale price” would be only one-cent more than the next highest bid, or $15.01. However, advertisers are charged the “cleared price,” (could be as high as $20 in this example) which is determined after the exchange applies clearing or bid management fees. How much you ask? Only the exchanges know and this is information not readily shared.

Earlier this month Digiday ran an article entitled, “We Go Straight to the Publisher: Advertisers Beware of SSPs Arbitraging Media” which profiled a practice used by supply-side platforms (SSPs) that “misrepresent themselves.” How? By “reselling inventory and misstating which publishers they represent.” The net effect of this practice allow the exchanges an opportunity to “repackage and resell inventory” that they don’t actually have access to for publishers that they don’t have a relationship with.

Let’s look beyond programmatic digital media. Consider the findings from a Morgan Stanley analyst, reported in a New York Times article in early 2016 that stated that, “In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook.” What is significant here is that until very recently, these two entities have self-reported their performance, failing to embrace independent, industry accredited resources to verify their audience delivery numbers.  

The pitfalls of publisher self-reporting came to light this past fall when Facebook was found to have vastly overstated video viewing metric to advertisers for a period of two years between 60% and 80%.  

By the time one factors in the impact of fraud and non-human viewing, and or inventory that doesn’t adhere to digital media buying guidelines and viewability standards, it’s easy to understand the real risk to advertisers and the further dilution of their digital working media investment.

Advertisers have every right to wonder what exactly is going on with their digital media spend, why the process is so opaque and why the pace of industry progress to remedy these concerns has seemingly been so slow. Sadly, in spite of the leadership efforts of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), The ISBA, The Association of Canadian Advertisers and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) there is still much work to be done.

The question that we have continually raised is, “With advertisers continuing to allocate an ever increasing level of their media share-of-wallet to digital, where is the impetus for change?” After all, in spite of all of the known risks and the lack of transparency, the inflow of ad dollars has been nothing short of spectacular. According to eMarketer, digital media spend in the U.S. alone for 2016 eclipsed $72 billion and accounted for 37% of total media spending.

There are steps that advertisers can take to both safeguard and optimize their digital media investment. Interested in learn more? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal of AARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation. After all, as Warren Buffett once said:

“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”

Principal-Based Buying: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

29 Apr

dreamstime_xs_36536323Recently, Ad Age ran an article entitled: “Risky Business: Why Media Agencies are Betting on Principal-Based Buying.” To be honest, my first reaction was, what in the world is principal-based buying? It didn’t take long to figure out that it was simply a new descriptor for media arbitrage.

Clever, principal-based buying sounds so much more appealing and less subversive than media arbitrage. However, arbitrage is arbitrage, regardless of what moniker that is placed on the act of purchasing media and reselling said media to advertisers. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of arbitrage is clear:

The nearly simultaneous purchase and sale of something in one place and selling it in another in order to profit from price discrepancies.”

We certainly understand the primary allure of media arbitrage to agencies; the potential for higher margins than what traditional remuneration models would allow for. Let’s face it agency holding companies are publicly traded entities with a fiduciary obligation to drive shareowner profitability.

Simply, “principal-based” buying is a practice that is in clear violation of the principal- agent relationship, which has long been the driving concept behind client/ agency relations.

Forget the opacity, which is a hallmark of this buying tactic and the potential risks to advertisers seeking to optimize media value and boost working media ratios. The main issue with agency ownership of media is the potential impact on the objectivity of the advice, which it offers its clients.

Media time and space is a perishable product. It is also speculative in nature when it comes to projecting future value from a relevancy and audience delivery perspective. So what happens in the event an agency, indulging in arbitrage, has a significant ownership position in distressed, dated inventory? Could such a position create internal pressure on the agency’s media staff to move that inventory? In turn, might such pressure result in agency media team’s pushing that inventory off on clients, whether it represents the best fit at the best price?

Assuming that an advertiser knowingly engages their agency partner’s trading desk and believes that this relationship will yield a price advantage over traditional buying practices there are a few questions to consider; “How will you know? What methodology will you apply to vet the quality of the inventory and the price paid? Who will conduct that analysis for you?” In short, is this a proposition whose economic benefit to the advertiser can ever be accurately evaluated?

Sadly, while the agency community may shrug off the notion of ever having committed to a principal-agent relationship with its clients too often we find that agencies, which have embraced media arbitrage, have not disclosed this fact to their clientele… in spite of the position often taken in the trade publications.

In our agency contract compliance practice we find that in most instances there is not a separate letter of agreement between the agency’s trading desk operation and the advertiser, that the language dealing with “related parties” within the contract is inadequate to cover such a scenario and that there are no limitations in place regarding the percentage of an advertiser’s media buy that can be run through the trading desk.

Hopefully, those agencies that intend to engage in and or extend their use of principal-based buying will also commit to fully disclosing this practice and its application to each of their clients, well in advance of implementing this buying approach on those clients’ behalf.

From an advertisers perspective, it is imperative to assess the type of relationship that you desire with your media agency. If a principal-agent relationship predicated on full-disclosure and the fiduciary obligations, which underlie such relationships, are important to your organization, the client/ agency agreement will need to reflect that position. On the other hand, if there is interest in exploring principal-based buying consider contracting directly with the agency trading desk and establishing caps on the percentage of the budget, which can be invested through that operation.

                                   

Advertisers Can Shield Themselves From Digital Ad Fraud… Somewhat

19 Jan

Fraud PuzzleLet’s set the stage, so that we are all clear on the risks faced by advertisers when it comes to digital media in general and programmatic digital media buying in particular. Consider the following quote from Bob Liodice, President and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA):

The level of criminal, non-human traffic literally robbing marketers’ brand-building investments is a travesty. The staggering financial losses and the lack of real, tangible progress at mitigating fraud highlights the importance of the industry’s Trustworthy Accountability Group in fighting this war. It also underscores the need for the entire marketing ecosystem to manage their media investments with far greater discipline and control against a backdrop of increasingly sophisticated fraudsters.”

What prompted Mr. Liodice’s comments? Quite simply, the ANA and White Ops updated their 2015 “BOT Baseline: Fraud in Digital Advertising” study, which suggested that the ad industry would see $6.3 billion in digital ad fraud in 2015. In light of the fact that the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) reported that digital ad revenue surged almost twenty-percent through the first half of last year, can we be surprised by the fact that the level of fraud escalated as well. To what, you ask. According to the ANA report, it is estimated that the level of digital ad fraud will grow to $7.2 billion in 2016.

The challenge for individual advertisers is to determine how best to insulate their organizations from digital ad fraud, while continuing to support industry initiatives focused on the same end.

For many advertisers the question is quite simply; “But where do we begin?” The answer as the late Stephen Covey once intoned is to; “Begin with the end in mind.” So what is the end goal? For most advertisers the aim is to focus digital media investment on media sources that can reliably drive the highest level of effectiveness using the best quality inventory at the lowest possible price.

One important component of this challenge is obviously the continued growth of programmatic digital media buying. It should be noted that of the estimated $60 billion in digital media spend, programmatic will account for $15 billion or 25% of the total spend. However, one must consider that programmatic buying represents a very high percentage of digital ad fraud, up to 90% according to some industry experts.

The range of tactics employed by entities and individuals seeking to profit from the growth of digital spending are many and varied, they include; click-fraud, the use of BOTs, hidden ads and impression laundering. However, the primary source of digital media fraud is in the form of URL masking, which makes it impossible for advertisers or their agencies to know where their digital ads are running. Studies have shown that nearly 45% of transactional digital URLs do not match the URL where the impressions were actually served… a sobering statistic to be sure.

In our experience there are three things that advertisers can do to mitigate the level of risk posed by fraudsters.

First and foremost, advertisers must improve the level of transparency between their programmatic buying partner and their own organization. This can be done by employing contractual language and controls which narrow the transparency gap that more than likely exists today. Too often, agencies simply introduce their trading desk operation to their clients, without amending their current agreement or allowing the advertiser to contract directly with the trading desk entity.

Contract language should provide limitations on the percentage of total digital media spending that can be allocated to programmatic and impart clear “signing authority” guidelines in the event those levels are to be altered. Additionally, the agency should be required to provide a staffing plan, which includes data scientists and data analysts, along with the team’s estimated utilization rates and hours by individual. Complement this by incorporating copies of the media verification and performance tracking reports that will be utilized to monitor impression delivery, ad viewability and fraud detection. Finally, we suggest requiring the agency to separate the costs for media, data and technology licensing from agency fees, each of which should be reconciled to actual.

The second line of defense for advertisers comes in the form of requiring their programmatic media buying partners to utilize a Media Rating Council (MRC) accredited digital technology/ platform provider. Firms such as Integral Ad Science and Double Verify, for example, have a range of tools that can integrate with pre-bid platforms to provide real-time impression authentication to improve the odds that an advertisers impressions will be delivered in a contextually relevant, brand safe and fraud free environment. When nefarious behavior is identified, these tools can block impressions from being delivered there and dynamically blacklist those sites. In addition, there are tech solutions now available, which can assess inventory hygiene within ad networks and exchanges, allowing advertisers to target higher quality impressions.

Finally, advertisers must apply their buy-side leverage and demand that their agency partners and third-party vendors work collaboratively to optimize their digital media investment. Those parties that cannot demonstrate that they are continuously improving their tools, methodologies and compliance monitoring processes should be dropped from consideration set. Voting with one’s dollar has always been and remains one of the best ways to incent the behavior and secure the types of results that diligent advertisers deserve.  

In the words of Samuel Johnson, the celebrated eighteenth century English writer:

What we hope ever to do with ease, we must learn first to do with diligence.”

 

 

 

Programmatic: Promising, but is the Benefit to Advertisers Real?

19 Oct

cautionIn 1997 rock legend David Bowie told his fans at a Madison Square Garden concert; “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” While his comments were a reflection on life after his 50th birthday, they could just as easily be used to describe the future of programmatic media buying.

Put yourself in an advertiser’s position and consider your reaction when your media agency approaches you with this enticing proposition;

Through our proprietary programmatic buying platform we have the ability to deliver quality, targeted inventory to precise segments of your target audience at a time and in an environment when they’re most receptive to your message and at rates that are a fraction of market pricing.” 

For many advertisers, the response to this enticing offer has been “sign us up.”

The programmatic revolution began with digital media, evolved to print and OOH and is now being implemented in the television marketplace. Many industry pundits consider programmatic to be one of the advertising industry’s most prominent developments. This algorithmic based method of connecting media sellers and buyers to conduct inventory transactions in an automated, real-time manner clearly holds much promise.

Benefits to advertisers are said to include; rate efficiencies, advanced targeting, message personalization and enhanced access to premium content. For media sellers the benefits allegedly include the ability to move less desirable remnant inventory and optimize CPMs across their inventory portfolio. Ad tech firms, such as demand side platforms, sell side platforms and ad exchanges, which here-to-for never existed earn transactional fees on programmatic activity and or licensing fees from organizations that utilize their technology tools. Agencies are able to leverage their clients’ “Big Data,” do more with fewer people and when programmatic buys are executed through their trading desk operations, there is incremental revenue to be gained from media arbitrage (buying low, selling high).

Assuming that each stakeholder realized the aforementioned benefits ascribed to this approach, programmatic buying, irrespective of the issues experienced to date in the digital media market, certainly holds the potential to be a win, win scenario for all of the players.

Unfortunately, the underlying technology behind programmatic buying is not fully understood by many in the industry. To be fair, programmatic digital media buying is a highly nuanced and complex process. It greatly impacts digital display ad spending in general and mobile in particular. It can involve real-time-bidding (RTB) or programmatic direct, where advertisers can still secure inventory guarantees, it can be applied in an open exchange or private marketplace and can include traditional banners or non-standard rich media and video.

Given that programmatic buying is still in its infancy, one might logically assert that a greater level of refinement is required to support programmatic buying’s current share of digital media spending, prior to even considering expansion of programmatic buying to other media. Supporting this perspective are some of the challenges which the industry is grappling with to improve the programmatic experience for digital media:

  • Reducing the level of non-human traffic and fraud
  • Minimizing the % of ad spend accruing to “facilitators” or middle-men
  • Serving up environmentally relevant programmatic creative across devices
  • Improving advertiser transparency

We agree that programmatic media buying holds much potential. However, the industry’s experience to date suggests that advertisers have born the bulk of the risk involved with this emerging technology and its application in the digital market.

So when the talk turns to the expansion of programmatic to other media segments one has to wonder if advertisers are ready to embark upon another investment spend scenario in media segments with much steeper learning curves and higher degrees of risk.

Relative to the digital market sector, television, OOH and print are much more complex when it comes to the variety of non-digital assets, lack of uniform inventory management processes and disparate mainframe environments. Throw in the fact that there are multiple ad tech providers already offering a variety of non-standard platforms/ technologies in an attempt to solve for these considerations and the near-term prospects appear quite challenging.

In a recent article in MediaPost, Joe Mandese shared insights on some of the pioneering work being conducted in programmatic/ addressable TV by Mitch Oscar, Programmatic TV Strategist for US International Media (USIM) and his peers. During the interview, Mr. Oscar shared results from one client’s programmatic TV ad buys, which suggested they had generated “improved results and efficiencies” relative to conventional TV buys.

Compelling to be sure, however, one must pause to consider the observation that the data shared by Mr. Oscar indicated that the “mix of networks and dayparts were all over the place and it was difficult to find meaningful patterns from it.”  Further, when USIM asked the programmatic TV suppliers to document what actually ran, “it generated a report with 163,866 lines of code covering 3,563 pages, something most traditional TV buyers and advertisers might not consider practical to evaluate.”

Hopefully advertisers, agencies and media property owners take a more measured approach to expanding programmatic buying to other media segments to avoid some of the pitfalls currently being experienced in digital media. Perhaps we can all benefit from the words of St. Jerome, the Catholic priest, historian and theologian, who once intoned:

“The scars of others should teach us caution.”

 

What is the True Cost of Opacity? (part 1 of 2)

29 Apr

icebergPart 1 in a two-part look advertiser concerns regarding “transparency” and the impact it is having on client-agency relations.

Ad industry concerns regarding the issue of transparency and the trust which exists between advertisers and their agencies have taken a new, decidedly negative turn over the course of the last month.  What had been largely an “in-house” debate focused on items such as AVBs, programmatic buying, media arbitrage and concerns over digital media viewability was thrust into the limelight as the result of one Wall Street analyst’s recommendation that ad agency holding company investors “sell their shares.”

The recent revelations about the utilization of media rebates or AVBs in the U.S. marketplace and the resulting firestorm in the advertising trade press seems to have been the tipping point that spurred Brian Wieser a Senior Analyst from Pivotal Research Group to downgrade the stocks of IPG, Omnicom, WPP and Publicis and to recommend that investors exit the category. Mr. Wieser’s recommendation provoked an additional round of denials by some holding company CEOs regarding the practice of agencies accepting rebates in the U.S. and spurred some debate amongst the holding companies about the transparency of their revenue realization processes. One notable CEO, Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP reiterated his company’s policy regarding rebates and encouraged WPP’s competitors to be more forthcoming on that front; “We said what the model is in the U.S., the way it’s a non-rebate model. We’ve made that quite clear. I would urge greater transparency in what’s happening to net sales and revenues, then we would have less black box and more open box.”

While the topic of rebates seems to have garnered a lion share of the attention, when it comes to transparency the rebate issue carries with it much less financial risk than the challenges associated with the rapidly evolving digital media landscape. Consider the fact that various research studies have suggested that digital media advertisers may be losing 50% + of their investment to click fraud, bots, piracy and excessive fees related to supply chain complexity.

Given that digital media now ranks second only to television in terms of media spending and that it continues to grow at double-digit rates the potential for Wall Street commentary regarding advertiser investment in this area could be much more problematic. For instance, at the recent ANA conference on “Agency Financial Management,” Peter Stabler, Managing Director, Senior Equities Analyst with Wells Fargo Securities raised concerns about one particular aspect of the digital media space… agency trading desks. Specifically, Mr. Stabler cited the inconsistent manner in which holding companies report on trading desk operations, the potential for the proceeds from trading desks to inflate revenues and create margin dissolution and the potential for conflict-of-interest concerns between advertisers and their agencies.

If there is a silver lining to this maelstrom, now that the genie is out of the proverbial bottle, perhaps the highly charged nature of these issues can serve as a galvanizing force to bring clients and agencies together to address these issues in an objective manner… without the emotion and finger-pointing which has characterized the discussions to date. Let’s face it, the last thing either party wants is to see their market capitalization rates decline because analysts and investors have concerns about how they transact business and or the state of client-agency relations. 

While the individual issues raised are substantive, many feel that they have taken on additional import as a result of an erosion of trust between clients and agencies. Thus, shoring up the strength of these strategic relationships could yield significant asset value both in the context of issue resolution and the ongoing business of building brands and generating demand. As automotive pioneer Henry Ford once said;

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

In our opinion, the best place to begin is to develop a sound client-agency letter-of-agreement, which clearly articulates both parties expectations and desired behaviors. Further, the agreement should specifically identify the level of disclosure required by the client of the agency, their related parties (i.e. holding companies, sister agencies, trading desk operations, in-house studios, etc…) and their third-party vendors. We believe that this is a critical first step in establishing accountability standards and controls.

Is Agency Ownership of Audience Measurement Providers a Good Idea?

13 Feb

transparencyRecently, WPP indicated that they were planning to take a large equity stake in comScore, one of the world’s largest online campaign measurement providers. This is in addition to WPP’s recent investment in Rentrak, a television audience measurement service, an organization in which WPP is now the largest institutional shareowner.

With WPP’s continued push into the campaign measurement space, advertisers may begin to question the consequences of an agency holding company’s ownership of audience delivery measurement resources. After all, these campaign measurement service providers gather and analyze data and publish ratings which are utilized to assess the efficacy of the agency’s media purchasing efforts on the advertiser’s behalf.

More broadly, based upon the business activities in which the agency holding companies now routinely engage in, one might legitimately question whether or not the designation of “agent” is even an apt description of the role which advertising firms play in support of their clients. Activities such as media arbitrage or reselling if one prefers, joint media and technology ownership deals with publishers, participation in AVB or volume rebate programs offered by media owners to agency holding companies tied to transactions entered into on behalf of their clients, all raise a legitimate question about “Whose” interests agencies are beholden to.

What recourse do advertisers have? After all, there are often distinct advantages to utilizing large agency holding company brands. Independent agencies, which while unencumbered by questions regarding their fiduciary focus, sometimes lack the scale or depth of resources required to perform in certain situations. Enlightened protectionism in the 21st century requires advertisers to aggressively push for enhanced transparency, improved controls and the unimpeachable right to audit their agency’s contract compliance and financial management performance. In the oft quoted words of President Ronald Reagan; “Trust, but verify.”

As a sound first step, it is essential for advertisers to understand their agency partners’ affiliate relationships. Secondly, it is imperative for advertisers to fashion contract language which requires their agencies to provide full disclosure when an agency affiliate is being utilized on their behalf, how that affiliate is compensated and by whom and whether or not the rates charged by that affiliate are competitive with comparable providers in the market. Whether in the context of ad serving, programmatic buying, trading desk operations or campaign measurement, an advertiser has a right to know when their agency has engaged an affiliate firm. This affords client stakeholders the opportunity to raise any questions or concerns they may have regarding such a selection and its impact on the agency’s objectivity. 

Once affiliate firms have been identified, tracking what percentage of an advertiser’s budget is being spent collectively at the agency holding company level can prove enlightening. More importantly, understanding the value of their account to the holding company based upon total revenues enhances an advertiser’s negotiating position when considering agency remuneration options going forward. 

As the ad industry has grown in size, generating approximately $521.6 billion in revenue in 2014 (source: MAGNA GLOBAL), it has also grown in complexity which is due in large to the rate and rapidity of technological change. Thus, it comes as no surprise that relationships among industry stakeholders have evolved, becoming more complex in their own right. The industry has begun to come to terms with the plurality of such relationships where partners may simultaneously be competitors or buyer agents may also function as sellers. However, “coming to terms” doesn’t mean blind acceptance. Rather it requires a new level of discourse and enhanced controls to protect advertisers and their investment.

Interested in learning more about agency network “affiliate management?” Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management, LLC at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on the topic.  

 

Agent and Seller. Can an Ad Agency Serve Both Roles?

2 Sep

digital trading deskThe answer to this question may seem fairly obvious and can be answered most succinctly with another question;

“How can an ad agency fulfill its fiduciary duty to an advertiser when they are not primarily focused on the advertiser’s best interests?”

In the context of digital media, agency trading desk operations are functioning both as media sellers and buying agent.  Perhaps even more vexing is the mode of revenue generation which agency trading desks employ… media arbitrage.  Simply put, agency trading desks purchase digital media inventory at one price and re-sell that inventory to their base of advertisers at a higher price, pocketing the difference.  The higher the spread between the media cost and the rate at which it is sold, the greater the margin of profit which the agency can derive from their trading desk operation. 

This dynamic would suggest that an agency’s profit motives could overshadow their obligation to provide reliable independent counsel to their clients and to secure the highest quality media inventory at the best possible rate for those advertisers.

Further skewing transparency concerns over this practice are the non-disclosure agreements which most trading desks ask their clients to sign.  These agreements greatly limit advertiser insight into the true cost of the media, data analytics and technology costs and as importantly the percentage gain being realized by their agency partners. In the words of the noted twentieth century essayist, Erich Heller:

“Be careful how you interpret the world: It is like that.”

From our perspective, the trading desk operation model currently being employed by agencies is not serving advertisers best interests.  Forgetting cost transparency, how can it when there are real questions regarding the quality of the inventory being sold to an advertiser; “

  • Was this truly the best audience for my brand’s message or was it simply the best inventory which the agency owned?
  • Was it even the best inventory which the agency owned or was that sold to another of their clients with a comparable target audience?”

No one is challenging the potential benefits of deploying technology which matches available inventory to an advertiser’s target audience within the timeframe and environment that has been identified as optimal for delivering that advertiser’s message.  The concept of leveraging advertiser data, sophisticated analytical tools and engagement models to further enhance the targeting process in a real-time automated bidding process makes a great deal of sense. 

The question to be asked is simply one of “Who” should be driving the bus.  Perhaps that is why larger advertisers have begun to assess the potential for transitioning this activity in-house.  In those instances where advertisers assume control of that portion of their digital media buying currently being handled by an agency trading desk it is logical to consider whether or not there is any role for the agency to play on a pre-bid or post-buy analysis basis.

Concerns over advertisers migrating programmatic operations in-house was at least partially responsible for WPP’s decision to re-evaluate its trading model and to consider a more “flexible” approach.  In an interview with Ad Age, Rob Norman, Chief Digital Officer for WPP stated that; “Agencies need to retain their place in the value chain as new channels emerge. If we don’t do that, there’s the temptation for clients to take more of those [buys] in-house…”  Interestingly, WPP is apparently not re-assessing their role as a media re-seller given Mr. Norman’s suggestion that their moves are in part driven by a desire “for clients to test Xaxis inventory in the open market against other inventory sources.” 

To the extent that a greater number of advertisers would prefer a truly independent agency partner, WPP’s consideration of a more “flexible” approach may fall short of the market’s expectations.  On the other hand, agency holding companies that look to leverage the investment which they have made in the technology, analytical processes and operational support required to deploy and maintain a trading desk could find an accepting market for monetizing that experience and those resources… without being involved in media arbitrage.

 

 

What Will Come of Digital Agencies?

2 Jun

digital mediaWith the continued growth of digital media as a delivery mechanism for content and a forum for communications between brands and consumers and among consumers isn’t it time the question was asked; “Is there a need for ad agencies specializing in digital?”

 According to Gartner, digital marketing represented an average of 28.5% of global marketing budgets in 2013. As digital has become more an more pervasive virtually every marketing services firm and advertising agency has developed a full compliment of resources and proficiencies for transacting business in a digital world. This dynamic has led to a great deal of overlap on many advertisers’ agency rosters, with multiple firms providing similar services and introduces challenges with regard to coordinating efforts from a multi-channel media delivery, tracking and performance optimization perspective.

 In our agency contract compliance auditing practice it is commonplace to find that multiple agency partners are purchasing digital media, producing digital creative and contracting with ad serving partners to distribute ads on behalf of a given advertiser. Additionally, it is seldom that we find that these activities are coordinated to leverage that advertiser’s full-investment with a given publisher or third party ad-server or to minimize creative development expenses, where digital asset sharing could have resulted in an “adaptation” rather than a customized creative exploration.

 Similarly, agency holding companies must also be evaluating these redundancies in resources and personnel and questioning the need to maintain separate agency brands focused specifically on digital. Eliminating duplicative software licenses, technology platforms and administrative services within their agency network and re-allocating their digital personnel with the goal of boosting utilization could yield significant savings. Realizing the potential for improved operating efficiencies, agencies have already begun to concentrate digital media placement resources within their network trading desk operations and digital production capabilities within agency network centers of excellence. So, in a sense, the move away from separate stand-alone digital agencies has already begun.

 In order to assess their opportunities in this area, rather than simply allow their holding company partners to transition them to a solution of the holding company’s choice, advertisers should begin assessing service delivery models that work best for their operations. Digital asset management, big data and the advent of demand side platform technology create a multitude of options for advertisers both in aligning themselves with the right strategic partners and or in transitioning certain digital advertising functions in-house.

 The question to be asked is: “Do advertisers have the requisite information in terms of agency delivery costs to accurately assess alternatives or build a business case for internalizing select digital activities?” In most instances the direct answer is “No.” Near-term, advertisers would be best served to begin assessing digital media and production workflows, evaluating time-on-task for each facet of the digital creation and delivery chain and benchmarking the rates currently being paid across their agency network for specific functions. This will allow advertisers to engage with their procurement teams and agency partners in meaningful dialog to begin charting solutions in this area with the goal of allowing advertisers to fully optimize their digital investments in a more secure, transparent manner.

 As with so many technology driven process changes, there will be no “industry standard.” Rather, savvy advertisers will work with their agency partners to shape digital delivery models, which are right for their brands and their business based upon the knowledge and resources available today. In the end, both agencies and advertisers have an opportunity to forge stronger relationships, realize efficiencies and be in a position to better leverage the monies being invested by advertisers in the digital arena. In the words of the great American author, Mark Twain:

 “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Interested in learning more about a strategic supplier management for your marketing services agency network? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management, LLC for a complimentary consultation on the topic at ccampeau@aarmusa.com.

 

 

Is Legacy Thinking Impeding Your Progress?

7 May

ana agency financial management conferenceEmerging media, rapidly expanding technologies, a changing tax and regulatory environment, talent shortages and a global paradigm shift where marketing is being “outsourced” to the end user. These were just some of the topics addressed by Marketers and Agencies alike at the ANA’s annual “Agency Financial Management” conference in Naples, Florida in early May.

While there may be significant issues to be faced in the near future, the marketing industry remains a significant component of the global economy whose rate of growth outstrips that of most developed countries GDP growth.  That said there are changes required of the industry’s stakeholders to better prepare their organizations’ to successfully navigate a complex landscape fraught with both risks and opportunity.

This dynamic will require a fresh approach by clients and agencies alike along with a willingness to shed the bonds of legacy thinking, which has retarded industry progress on a number of key fronts in recent years.

One of the themes to emerge from the conference is that marketing is difficult, expensive and challenging.  When combined with talent, resource and education restraints being faced by many marketing organizations there is a belief that marketers are leaving dollars on the table.  Contributing factors range from digital media value erosion to a lack of transparency into certain aspects of the supply chain such as trading desks to the absence of industry governance on the issue of cross platform audience delivery measurement.

Underlying these challenges is the fact that client-side marketers, procurement professionals and marketing service agencies are still working on evolving their relationships and gaining better alignment on how best to optimize the advertisers’ return on marketing investment (ROMI).  Central to the success of this collaborative effort is the need to build trust and mutual respect among these stakeholders.

Interestingly, marketers expressed a strong, almost universal need for the introduction of uniform controls, competitive fee structures, tighter statements of work and the use of agency performance incentives to assist in positively driving change.  One aspect of boosting ROMI is the elimination of “waste.”  Based upon our experience in the area of agency financial management consulting, we have found that an excellent starting point for marketers in this area is to clarify the roles and responsibilities of their agency partners, minimizing redundancies and identifying those agencies that are considered strategic partners versus those that provide project-based support.  This provides a solid starting point for determining  “where” to begin in terms of initiating change and inviting those select partners to be part of the process.

On the “good news” front it was clear from the results of a recent survey conducted by the ANA and presented at the conference, that the trend toward an increased level of collaboration between marketing, finance and procurement is taking seed.  Further, as evidenced by findings from a separate survey conducted by the 4A’s, the agency community has clearly begun to accept procurement’s role in the agency sourcing and contract negotiation process.

There is one area however, which has the potential to seriously disrupt marketers’ efforts to optimize their ROMI… transparency, or more specifically, the lack of transparency that permeates the industry.  This was reflected in the results of survey data from the ANA, WFA, ISBA and ACA where “transparency” was identified by advertisers as one of, if not their top concern.  The lack of clarity and in some instances, honesty surrounding issues such as data integrity, audience delivery, trading desks, reporting and financial reconciliations creates financial risks for advertisers and undermines attempts to improve trust levels between clients, agencies and media sellers.  As Mike Thyen, Director of Global Procurement for emerging markets at Eli Lilly and Company so aptly stated:

“Where there is mystery, there’s margin.”

Examples of the potential for financial leakage related to a lack of transparency included the results from the aforementioned WFA study, cited by ANA President and CEO Bob Liodice, which found that for every dollar invested by advertisers in digital media, only fifty-five cents on the dollar flowed through to the publisher.  Inherent in this single example is the lack of transparency surrounding programmatic media buying, agency trading desks and the lack of auditable outcomes in terms of audience delivery, media rates paid and trading desk margins.

Changing times require firms to evolve and innovate in order to remain relevant with their customers and to improve their operations.  When it comes to marketing, the rate and rapidity of technology driven change is such that viewing today’s opportunities through an “old school” prism is certain to create risks and limit marketers’ ability to fully leverage their investment.   Keeping an open mind, forging strong relationships between marketing and procurement, implementing controls and reporting to enhance transparency and investing in one’s agency partnerships represent key actions to be considered to successfully face the changes which are underway.

Technology Companies Are the New Media Owners

1 Apr

technology firms as media ownersBy Oliver Orchard, Senior Client Director – EMM International 

This week I was fortunate to attend a debate in the British Parliament, The House of Commons.  The debate was hosted by the International Advertising Association (IAA) and organised by The Debating Group.   The IAA was formed in the 1930’s to help advertisers who were moving more and more towards export trade to understand the complexities of the different global ad markets. EMM’s staff are encouraged to take an interest in the work of the IAA, and we put many people through the residential training courses, with some of our senior staff holding committee positions.  The remit today is very much about helping to develop the client and agency heavyweights of the future, through networking, training and support.  The Debating Group has been holding debates in the House of Commons since 1975, and they regularly bring politicians, journalists and marketers together to discuss the political issues that surround marketing; and together they host a number of debates annually for the industry to participate in. 

The motion “Technology Companies are the new media owners” was supported by Rory Sutherland, Executive Creative Director and Vice Chairman of O&M and seconded by Anjali Ramachandran, Head of Innovation at PHD.  It was opposed by Hugo Rifkind of the Times and Chad Wollen, Group Head of Innovation and Commercial Futures at Vodafone. 

Rory and Anjali focused on the idea that ever since the Caxton Press printed the first secular work technology has always been the new media owner; whilst Hugo and Chad focused on the idea that media owners display some sort of moral conscience, or in some way better the world, through editorial.  Naturally, with Hugo’s work as a journalist this focused on print media and the role of Twitter and Google in events such as the Arab spring; though what sort of conscience media owners such CBS Outdoor, Exterion or Decaux demonstrate was conveniently overlooked.  Chad explored the idea that the message is separate to the medium; which as any junior planner will tell you is exactly why they have a job. 

The panel spoke eloquently for 40 minutes, and ultimately the motion was defeated. I voted against it myself, though with a different line of argument I feel the result would have been very different. 

The proposers missed a trick by ignoring media agency trading desks, DSPs, SSPs, RTB and inventory wholesaling.  Media agencies are the new technology companies, they are also the new media owners.  This situation is becoming more and more apparent to advertisers.  Many are scrambling to change their contracts in order to maximise their returns on the ‘good’ output of these technologies (the fantastic targeting and pricing), whilst seeking to limit the ‘negatives’  (unaccountable placements, lack of evidence of genuine exposures and the opaque margins anecdotally between 20% and 80% depending on quality of placement as one rather inebriated global head of a big five DSP network let slip to me recently). 

These technologies are increasingly supplanting the traditional agency/vendor relationship and are replacing transparency with opaqueness in an unprecedented way.  The share of digital on the schedule grows every year, the number of clients with a DSP clause in their contract grows weekly and every day traditional media channels become more and more digitalised.

Clients are often under-informed about these developments and contractually deficient when it comes to agency scopes. So what can you do? 

  1. Make sure that your contract with the agency is updated every year to cover all new technologies that might emerge – mobile advertising, RTB and interactive TV were all unthinkable until quite recently.
  2. Employ a specialist with a broad helicopter view of the market to ensure you are giving and receiving best practise in your process and relationships with the agencies for traditional and new media.
  3. Ensure you understand fully what the benefits and limitations are of new technologies.  With a recent study showing that just 8% to 15% of impressions online are actually “real” does that CPM deal really offer the best value?
  4. Understand which data is relevant and which is not.  Don Peppers, the social media guru, once said “trying to extract relevant data from digital is like putting a fire hose in your mouth when you’re thirsty” – it’s easy to be blinded by numbers, but in reality very few of them are important.
  5. Don’t go it alone, a market specialist can save you time and money by getting to the point, training your staff, and sitting on your shoulder during important future strategic discussion with the agency. Once you understand the game, ask the right questions, and make informed decisions, increased effectiveness will follow.

Some technology companies are the new media owners, they also happen to be your media agency.

To learn more about EMM International and how media accountability can drive advertiser value, contact guest blogger Oliver Orchard at Oli.Orchard@emminternational.comMr. Orchard is a Senior Client Director for EMM International and a key contributor to the company’s digital media accountability practice.  EMM is a provider of international media auditing and media optimization consulting services.  The company is based in London, England.   

 

 

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