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Improving Analysis With Analytics

28 Mar

digital trading deskBy Rich Lanza

In Marketing, with thousands or millions of transactions (especially in digital) occurring each year, analysts have an inherent need to select population samples to draw conclusions and make decisions, or do they? Sampling is performed because it often appears impossible to gather data from the entire population, but what if you the analyst could gather 100% of the requisite data for a given business process?

A good point of reference is evidenced in the movie, Imitation Game. The actors were trying to stop a device named Enigma that changed its code every 20 minutes. There were 159 million, million, million possible Enigma settings, and each one needed to be tried. If 10 people checked one setting a minute for 24 hours, every day, how many days do you think it would take to check each of the settings? Well, it’s not days, its years. 20 million years. To stop Enigma, the team would have had to check 20 million years worth of settings in 20 minutes.

It is mathematically impossible to manually test and provide assurance for every marketing transaction or media buy. Understandably, it may seem easier to simply pick a small sample and rely on statistics to extrapolate trends, ROI and error rates. However as analysts, as in the movie, we measure activity and outcomes and we rely on ongoing computerized assistance. In our current age of “Big Data” and advancement of digital and social marketing, too many still rely on antiquated approaches, sampling and manual reviews. It is almost as if we use sampling as a more simplistic means of testing a business process, even if a better solution is staring us right in the face.

That solution is to analyze as much of the business process data with analytics. This methodology can be generally referred to as 100% auditing (or data mining). Data mining allows the analyst to visualize and understand financial accounts. It is not a far stretch to imagine at least half of the current procedures where sampling is applied could be turned into an analytic. Please note that many times a business process may not have computer readable data but isn’t that an issue unto itself?

100% auditing is utilized by AARM in working with large advertisers and their agency partners. When a client engages a 100% sampling methodology to continually monitor marketing expenditures, the investment pays dividends in all future years.

Once established, analytic-enabled testing is completed in seconds and can be scheduled to run on a recurring basis. This is much faster than any sampling approach and, as in the Imitation Game, requires very little human resource requirement. Rather, the analyst can be focused on the exceptions and interpreting of results to help improve the marketing process. At AARM, years ago this systematic capability was developed, and named AArmor AnalyticsTM. Our clients have embraced 100% auditing to monitor efficiency and effectiveness of their vast array of marketing expenditures and the financial practices.

Interested in learning more about the use of AArmor AnalyticsTM at your company? Contact Don Parsons, Principal at AARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management at dparsons@aarmusa.com for more information.

Accountability Doesn’t Obviate the Need for Governance

12 Jun

It has been ten years since Sarbanes-Oxley was enacted by the United States legislature.  The SOX Act, as it is commonly known, covers a number of issues ranging from corporate governance to internal controls and reporting accuracy.  The law came into being as a result of high profile corporate and financial scandals at Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia and Tyco International.  The monetary impact of these events on investors around the globe was both profound and devastating.

As firms began to grapple with SOX compliance requirements, they implemented processes and procedures designed to enhance transparency and improve governance at all levels of the organization.  In the context of a business, Wikipedia offers this definition of governance: “Governance relates to consistent management, cohesive policies, guidance, processes and decision-rights for a given area of responsibility.”

While it took awhile and in some organizations, a longer period of time than in others, marketing’s turn to go under the microscope has come to pass.  In light of the investment level being made by companies, this is certainly no surprise.  Given the complexity of the marketing-advertising supply chain, the use of agents, independent contractors and 3rd party vendors, and the lack of transparency often afforded advertisers, the only surprise is that it has taken this long for organizations to begin to “peel back the skin of the onion.”

For progressive companies that have created a culture of accountability, increased governance and its impact on marketing spend, and all that it entails, represented few challenges.  However, in many organizations the notion of “governance” was interpreted by client-side marketing and advertising agency representatives to be a full-frontal attack on their integrity.  Further compounding the process was the fact that marketing was, and to some extent remains a bit of a “black box” to corporate finance, audit and procurement departments.  In many instances, these departments simply don’t have the subject matter expertise on-staff to help guide their efforts to understand the nuances and complexities of the marketing area.

What do we mean by “complex?”  From the size of an organization’s marketing agency network which could include dozens of firms (earlier this year PepsiCo pared their agency network from 150+ shops to 50) to the hundreds of statements-of-work and purchase orders issued in a given year to the thousands upon thousands of bill-to-client invoices and 3rd party vendor invoices which are processed.  Remember, these include a staggering number of revisions to the ad industry’s typical modus operandi, an “estimated billing” approach in which the advertiser is billed upfront for all or a portion of the creative and or media activity for a given period.   In an estimated billing scenario, it is the advertiser who fronts the money, not the agencies and not the media sellers that bear the risks for their investment.

The good news is that there are a number of competent, highly-regarded, independent agency contract compliance audit firms that can provide capable assistance to an advertiser.  The subject matter expertise which they bring includes insights into most all facets of the marketing supply chain as well as industry “Best Practice” in the area of accountability.  Further, they provide an excellent bridge to enhance communication and further understanding between marketing and their agency network and the governance process championed by finance, audit and procurement.

The time has come that there should be few corporate marketers and fewer marketing agencies that resist an organization’s governance initiatives.  There is no reason, and frankly, no excuse in any quarter for not “stepping up” to enhance transparency and improve the reporting and controls a company has in place to safeguard its marketing investment.  In the words of Stephen Covey:

“Accountability breeds response-ability.” 

Interested in learning more about the role of contract compliance auditing in supporting your company’s governance efforts?  Contact Don Parsons, Partner at Advertising Audit & Risk Management at dparsons@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation.

Agency Agreements Require Adequate Audit Rights

14 Apr

Advertising Audit is an important financial control process – not an optional luxury.

Any large company conducting business with an advertising agency or media buying firm without comprehensive Audit Rights is simply at risk. The marketing supplier may refuse to cooperate with (or significantly restrict) even very reasonable audit requests.

Based on years of experience and observation, it is clear that a sub par or non-existent audit clause often limits an Advertiser’s ability to implement standard compliance testing which therefore limits their opportunity to validate agency billings and gain comfort. Important learning opportunities are also lost – clearly an undesired outcome.

An example of a healthy financial relationship between parties – there are cases to note where even lacking clear audit documentation, the marketing supplier has complied with audit requests, but these cases are few and far between.

Pushback is a “red-flag.” Good financial practices should have nothing to fear from thorough scrutiny. The more pushback the higher the risk meter should rise.

Verification of billing accuracy / support would seem an innate right of any large company spending millions of dollars with a vendor (yes, even in Marketing).

What should you do? (1) in the near term amend the current Client-Agency Agreement to add a Right to Audit clause – and make it retroactive for at least 3 years; (2) add a Right to Audit clause within an ancillary document such as a Statement of Work (SOW) or an annual amendment to the Master Client-Agency Agreement; or (3) create a new document signed by both parties creating a Right to Audit and adding it to the vendor master file.

Ensure the audit clause is
well-defined and comprehensive.
For a guide, contact AARM at info@aarmusa.com

Once Audit Rights are established, a best practice and preventative control measure is to implement periodic and routine testing to deter wasteful practices, to identify errant billing transactions and to monitor key financial metrics. Testing should be performed at least annually, and always in cases where an agency relationship has been terminated (“transition audit”).

The audit concept also applies to systematic (or continuous) monitoring processes. A systematic monitoring program measures agency financial transactions, reporting and timing against a predetermined set of tolerances. Metrics are compiled and delivered at least monthly to stakeholders. Systematic monitoring is generally performed by an independent third-party with specialized software, and the Advertiser often chooses to share results with the agency – to support incentive compensation goals of and or a basis for behavior modification.

Right to Audit is a necessary safeguard in today’s business environment. Determining a schedule, methodology, and defined approach that encompass at some level each vendor in the organization’s marketing network will provide necessary assurance to management that adequate oversight and preventative controls are in place to catch errors, drive efficiencies and enhance ROI.


Survey Reinforces Need for Independent Auditing

18 Jul

calculator and cashIt is widely understood that a coordinated audit program, leveraging the resources of Internal Audit and the strategic use of 3rd party auditors is a smart business practice and represents good corporate governance.  The audit process results in improved transparency and solid control testing, both important elements when attempting to ensure that an organization is securing maximum value for the money spent while incurring the least amount of risk.

Adding fuel to the “pro” audit argument is a global study of 550 accounts payable departments conducted by software provider Basware. The eye-opening results certainly reinforce the need for organizations to periodically review procurement and AP processes and controls and to monitor the performance of both the organization’s own AP department and that of its vendor network.  Perhaps most alarming, the Basware study found that just 40% of invoices generated were based upon purchase orders and where a valid P.O. did exist, many financial departments had trouble reconciling against them.  Further, among the survey respondents, which processed on average 93,000 invoices per year, 7% contained errors.  These errors led delays in paying suppliers among 35% of the respondents and delays in being paid among 24% of the respondents.

In spite of the fact that many vendor agreements contain AP guidelines and even spell out accounts payable criteria related to prompt pay discounts, late fee avoidance, days payable targets, fiscal period reconciliation parameters, etc… too often performance in this area goes unchecked. A parting thought, inspired by the words of Sir Edward Coke, the noted seventeenth-century English jurist;  “Precaution is better than cure.”  Read More.

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