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The Cost of Feedback is Nominal, the Value Significant.

30 Jun

do advertisers get what they pay for“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” ~ Elon Musk

Chances are, most will agree with Mr. Musk’s sentiments regarding feedback and its link to driving improvements.

What organization wouldn’t aspire to successes achieved by one of the 21st century’s most prolific thinkers? Consider the fact that Tesla, with a market cap of $160 billion, is larger than GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler combined. Or that his fledgling SpaceX organization has been valued at $36 billion after its first successful manned space flight.

As such, it was somewhat of a surprise to read the results of a recent World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) study. Conducted by Decideware, the study surveyed 60 global agency leaders on client-agency performance evaluation practices. Below are some key findings:

  • 7 out of 10 advertisers provide their agencies with feedback on at least an annual basis
  • Only 4 out of 10 advertisers allow for agency feedback as part of the evaluation process
  • 3 out of 10 clients conduct face-to-face meetings to discuss evaluation results
  • Agencies aren’t comfortable providing “honest feedback”
  • 43% cited the lack of honest feedback as the “biggest barrier” to effective evaluations

That so few marketers would invite their ad agencies to provide formal feedback on topics dealing with team performance, workflow, process and the overall relationship is a bit of a mystery; particularly given that anecdotally it has long been believed that strong client-agency relationships yield superior performance.

In our experience, we have found numerous examples of successful marketers that believe in and are utilizing a 360-degree evaluation process with their agency partners. Importantly, that process  incorporates candid, two-way dialog, which serves as a fundamental building block for their agency relationship management efforts.

It would be helpful to understand “why” some marketers have chosen not to invite agency feedback or to review performance evaluation results in face-to-face meetings. Are they simply not interested in what their agencies have to say? Are they too understaffed and time strapped to invest in a robust evaluation process? Are they of the belief that if their agency partners had a point-of-view that they would share their insights, without prompting?

Regardless of the reasons for eschewing this fundamental practice, there are compelling benefits to be gained for marketers by course correcting in this area by implementing two-way evaluation frameworks. At a minimum, eliciting agency feedback on day-to-day workflows, briefings and approval processes, in market results and client-agency relationship management can yield efficiencies that are beneficial to stakeholders on both sides.

Beyond near-term improvements in operations and performance, established communications programs, that encourage ongoing candid feedback, help to build trust and strengthen relationships. It is incumbent upon CMOs and agency CEOs to collaborate on putting the appropriate protocols in place to encourage, understand and act upon the perspective each party generates throughout the year.

 

Budget Reductions Create Opportunity to Fine-Tune Agency Network

28 May

 

Advertising concept: Ad Agency on digital background

For marketers seeking to generate efficiency gains, looking internally to rethink the processes used to manage planning and creative development workflows can yield significant benefit.

As importantly, looking externally at “how” and “where” work is being performed across an organization’s network of marketing services agencies is extremely important. This involves an objective assessment of the current network of agency partners, their resource offerings, capabilities, performance, and the roles and responsibilities assigned to each.

Without periodic assessment, agency networks can become bloated beyond a marketing team’s ability to effectively manage these vital resources. This risk can be compounded in companies where marketing positions are vacant or have been eliminated as a result of a budget reduction decisions – leaving fewer client-side personnel to manage dispersed agency activities.

Reviewing and creating an inventory of roster agency capabilities and the roles assigned is never a bad thing when it comes to identifying unnecessary expenses or opportunities to consolidate resources and protect against redundancy. Amongst other benefits, since the work necessitates a review of each agency agreement and remuneration program tenets, output should include a comparison of agreement terms, conditions, requirements, and bill rates to ensure consistency (where applicable) and reasonableness of agency bill rates and other costs.

This practice is even more apt when marketing budgets are being cut and agency scopes of work reduced. Such assessments form the objective basis for eliminating duplicative activities and or resources, paring specialty agencies that are not being fully utilized, and eliminating unnecessary fees that are putting downward pressure on working dollars.

Consider; How many agencies do you have that are managing influencers? Involved with social media or content production? How many different agencies are being utilized for studio services or broadcast production? How many agency trading desks are being utilized for the placement of programmatic media? Are you utilizing specialist firms that may no longer be required based on changes to the marketing budget (e.g. event management)? It is highly likely that there are opportunities to consolidate work among fewer partners to simplify workflows, improve communications and reduce costs.

If you are utilizing a “lead” agency to coordinate activities, briefings, production and trafficking across your agency network, it may be worthwhile to solicit their input on potential agency roster moves. Further, once a plan is formulated, collaborating with the lead agency’s account team to affect transitions can be critical to the success of consolidations and the reshuffling of assignments. If you do not employ a lead agency model, the time may be right to consider this approach.

Streamlining external agency networks will improve communication between marketer and agency, enhance business alignment and instill clarity on success metrics. In the wake of current crisis driven budgetary adjustments and uncertainty, companies may want to give serious consideration to such an approach.

“Whatever the dangers of the action we take, the dangers of inaction are far, far greater.”

                                                                                                                   ~ Tony Blair

Supply Chain Optimization: A Concept Whose Time Has Come for Marketers

28 Jan

Supply Chain Management word cloud, made with text only.Much has changed since the diminished role of the full-service agency in the 1980’s. Decoupling and specialization initially swelled the size of marketers’ agency networks, then the meteoric rise of digital and social media further expanded the ranks of specialist agencies and gave birth to the adtech and martech industries. In the end, all served to significantly expand the advertising supply chain, adding complexity and cost.

A biproduct of these events is downward pressure on marketers’ working dollars, as an increasing portion of the budget is funneled to agency fees and underwriting the growing costs of advertising related technology. Thus, a key challenge faced by marketers today is evaluating how to reduce supply chain related fees as part of their efforts to improve efficiencies, drive revenues and build strong brands.

Strategies for addressing this challenge include; consolidating supply chain partners, reducing the number of agencies and intermediaries in the roster, and establishing distinct roles and responsibilities among agency and intermediary partners to eliminate redundancy and clarify deliverable and KPI ownership. Along the way it’s important to seek better alignment between agency remuneration programs, resource allocation needs and business outcomes.

Scrutinizing and monitoring supply chain partner performance, in the context of the client/ agency agreements that govern the relationships, is a necessary ingredient for successful implementation for each of these strategies. Establishing a formal marketing supplier accountability program also mitigates supply chain related risk while providing a foundation for improving supply chain efficiency.

Unfortunately, too often there is no clear organizational “ownership” around marketing supply chain accountability. While marketing clearly serves as the relationship management lead with suppliers, their principal focus is and should be on brand building, customer acquisition and demand generation.  Therefore, it may be unrealistic to expect marketing executives to serve as the “principal in charge” for supplier accountability. This is particularly so considering the number and nature of obligations that comprise an accountability program, including but not limited to the following:

  • Agency contract compliance reviews
  • Agency remuneration reviews
  • Annual agency fee reconciliations
  • Annual marketing supplier billing reconciliations
  • Annual 360-degree supplier performance evaluations
  • Supplier performance reviews
  • Supplier pricing reviews and competitive bidding
  • Supplier contract and SOW reviews

Based on experience, we firmly believe that involvement and support from corporate groups such as; Procurement, Finance and Internal Audit are critical to marketing supply chain optimization. Involving individuals and leadership from these groups to shoulder responsibility for the accountability program is important to drive supply chain efficiency – or at the very least these individuals can support Marketing’s efforts, ease Marketing’s burden, and bring cross-functional perspectives to bear.

At the end of the day, there are two overriding goals for any marketing supply chain optimization program:

  1. Strong supplier relationships
  2. Optimized use of corporate marketing budgets

In a growing, complex, rapidly changing market sector which represents over $1.3 trillion in global marketing and advertising spend (source: PQ Media) the need to embrace supply chain optimization has never more clear, nor the associated benefits more meaningful.

 

 

Are You Overpaying for Convenience?

30 Dec

sign with the words Stop Over PayingMarketers are under a lot of stress with increasing demands on their time, constant pressure to deliver results and the seemingly never-ending challenge to accomplish more with restrained budgets.

In this context, what marketing team wouldn’t be open to turnkey solutions provided by existing agency partners, including the ability to easily access specialized skills and secure additional resources for quick-turn projects – rather than onboarding a new agency partner?

Put yourself in this situation… your external agency roster is already too broad, budgets are locked, and expanding current agency scopes of work is a challenge. Even if a new agency/ vendor might be desired it is disruptive and time consuming to work through procurement, vet possible candidates, on-board a newly selected vendor, negotiate a new statement of work, and move forward. Sound familiar?

Therefore, out of necessity Marketers in this situation often turn to a current agency partner and seeking to shift dollars from one project to another or increase staffing in order to alleviating pressure. In the process, it wouldn’t be unusual if the agency suggested engaging the services of an in-house studio/ department or an affiliate agency. The suggestion may come with the enticing proposition of being able to self-fund incremental work through savings generated by the affiliate’s involvement, or via the affiliate’s mode of remuneration (e.g. principal based media buying). Best of all, the agency may offer to handle billing for the related party and will offer to treat related party billings as though they were coming from a third-party vendor (as pass-through costs).

Problem solved. Right? Be wary.

“What is right is often forgotten by what is convenient.” ~ Bodie Thoene

Having your agency partner(s) tap an in-house resource or affiliate on your behalf, knowingly or unknowingly, as easy as it may seem, comes with serious financial risk and control issues. What is the mode of remuneration? How much is the affiliate being compensated and by whom? What mix of staff is actually being deploying on your behalf? How many hours or value is being delivered for the fees? What level of transparency do you really have into “actual” versus “estimated” affiliate fees and expenses?

If you cannot readily provide answers to these questions, your organization runs the risk of overpaying for services, and or not understanding “what you are actually buying and receiving.”

As it is, few client/ agency agreements have adequate controls to govern the appointment and utilization by an agency of an in-house, affiliated, or holding-company-owned resource. The lack of contractual guidelines leaves marketers open to negative financial impact that can weigh heavily on working dollars and expectations.

Common risk areas associated with agency use of a related party include:

  • Lack of a formal client notification/ approval requirement
  • No competitive bidding requirement
  • No rate sheet or billable hourly rate detail
  • No time-of-staff reporting
  • No job reconciliations
  • Non-transparent pricing/ margins
  • Application of unauthorized mark-ups

We certainly understand the desire by the agency community to engage their affiliates on client work and appreciate the potential benefits to the advertiser when it comes to tapping these diverse resources.

That said, experience suggests that the practice should be regulated and carefully monitored. Importantly, rules and requirements must be clearly documented in the client/ agency agreement when it comes to agency use of an in-house studio or any other related party or agency. Further, the affiliate must understand that they are subject to the same terms and conditions documented in the agreement.

Once full transparency is guaranteed, remuneration and billing rules are documented and understood, appropriate authorization practices are put in place, then tapping an agency partner’s extended resource network makes good sense.

 

 

Navigating Marketing’s Turbulent Waters

26 Oct

waypointHaving choices can certainly be a good thing. But an overabundance of options carries its own set of challenges. Thom Browne, the American designer once said that: “When people have too many choices, they make bad choices.” 

While an apt description of the $560 billion global advertising industry or not, the expansion and fragmentation of the advertising sector, fueled by rapid advances in technology has complicated things for many of the industry’s stakeholders. Consider the following:

  • In addition to traditional TV, there are over 100 streaming services available in the U.S.
  • According to Internet Live Stats, there are 1.7 billion websites on the worldwide web
  • Fast Company estimates that there are over 525,000 active podcast shows
  • Author Scott Brinker identified 7,040 MarTech solutions in his 2019 Marketing Tech Landscape
  • Agency Spotter indicates that there are 120,000 ad agencies in the U.S., 500,000+ worldwide
  • Inc. Magazine has identified 700,000 consulting firms across business functions globally

As the plethora of options have grown, so has the level of angst and uncertainty among marketing practitioners and suppliers alike. For an industry that has always prided itself on its ability to adapt to change, the current environment is somewhat unsettling.

Complicating things is the consumers growing disdain for advertising, which the New York Times profiled in a recent article entitled: “The Advertising Industry Has a Problem. People Hate Ads” in which it chronicles some of the attitudes and behaviors being exhibited by consumers that could have a profound impact on the industry. In the article, the Times referenced a recent report from Group M, which put forth the proposition that these are “dangerous days for advertisers.”

Let’s face it, there are few “tried and true” approaches that marketers can fall back on to guide their strategic and resource allocation decisions in this environment. Further, given the rate and rapidity of change from a legislative and technology perspective there are simply not that many industry guideposts to assist marketers in effectively charting a course forward or in evaluating progress.

While we believe that there will be a contraction in the supply chain, marked by a consolidation of agency brands, consulting firms, martech solutions providers and media outlets, we don’t believe that this suggests a return to simpler times.

To reduce the level of dissonance, marketers will likely seek to streamline their “world” by rightsizing their agency networks, clarifying roles and responsibilities among their suppliers, transitioning certain work in-house and taking a more considered and cautious approach to the adoption of “shiny new objects” whether related to technology or messaging options.

Given the continued focus by their C-Suite peers on marketing performance, CMOs will maintain a dual focus on driving revenues, while achieving efficiencies across their supply chain to boost working dollars as a percentage of total marketing spend. This is not an either/ or option. Recognizing this “reality” an advertiser’s agency and consulting partners can provide critical support by focusing on the identification of waypoints on the path to performance, rather than pursuing a grandiose focus on future-think outcomes. In the words of 17thcentury Japanese shogun leyasu Tokugawa:

“Let thy step be slow and steady, that thou stumble not.”

 

 

Assessing the Potential for Transitioning Work In-House

24 Jun

Ideas idea success growth creativity creative multi ethnic group of peopleAn increasing number of marketers are transitioning portions of their advertising activities from their external agency partners to in-house teams. A survey conducted by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) in the summer of 2018 revealed the following:

  • 78% of survey respondents indicated that they had an in-house operation of some sort
  • This is up 58% from 2013 and 42% from 2008
  • 90% of marketers with in-house operations have increased their in-house team workloads
  • 70% of marketers have shifted work from external agencies to in-house teams in the last 3 years

Although the ANA survey indicates that some in-house agencies are increasingly handling brand strategy and creative ideation work, most marketers that we serve continue to rely on external creative agencies for this type of work and are initially focusing their in-house efforts on a range of specialty services. This approach can minimize risk and cost, while putting the essential building blocks in place for eventually launching deeper into in-house agency commitments, if desired.

Endeavoring to build out a full-service in-house creative agency is certainly achievable and there are a number of successes that one can point to. Consider Innocean Worldwide which originally began as the in-house agency for Hyundai-Kia and has gone on to acquire clients outside of the Hyundai Motor Company. Innocean’s work has won global recognition for its creative work that includes a Silver at Cannes and an ADFEST Grand Prix in 2019. As well, Innocean has committed to growing its brand and weight in the industry by acquiring noted independent creative agency David & Goliath in late 2017.

However, building out a full-service in-house agency takes time and requires an investment in evolving the culture of the operation, attracting top-notch talent, developing the appropriate processes, and positioning itself to be successful in winning internal client confidence and ultimately the creative development work.

The effort associated with attracting and retaining top-quality creative personnel to ply their wares at an in-house agency can be significant. Providing end-to-end creative services requires an increase in headcount and drives up operational fixed costs. Further, the timeline required to demonstrate in-house agency abilities and to consistently produce fresh ideas and deliver quality work is uncertain. This is particularly so if there isn’t a corporate mandate for brand marketers to utilize the in-house services. Thus, management must build-in enough time and budget to allow for relationships to take hold between the in-house team and the brand management teams, and for the in-house team to “learn” how to successfully compete for and win creative assignments.

Thus, many organizations focus initial in-house efforts on areas where the operations can clearly and immediately add value. Such services may include content curation and creation, digital, print and internal video production and the development of sales promotion and collateral material. Consolidating tasks such as these with an in-house team can improve a marketer’s agility by reducing project turn-around times and costs while improving the caliber of the output.

Many in-house operations begin as shared-services providers, subsidized by the organization and often with mandates for brand marketers to use their specialized services. Which is not a bad way to launch an in-house agency. Over time, some operations may adopt a charge-back model, where they must compete with external resources to win projects from their brand marketing peers.

Each model brings with it certain challenges. The charge-back model, with no corporate mandate for use, raises risk for the in-house team who must generate revenue to cover internal staffing, resource and real-estate costs. If the team cannot win work, their very existence may be jeopardized. And during competition for work, the team must address internal client perceptions that the services they provide will be less expensive than an external creative agency. On the other hand, if pricing is comparable to an external resource, brand marketers may question the risk / reward of transitioning work away from an established external specialist creative shop and bringing it in-house.  Additionally, end-user’s want to feel that utilizing their in-house agency “makes their life easier.”

Regardless of the model employed or the scope of services offered, it is imperative to embrace a strong project-management orientation with a comprehensive workflow management toolkit. The need to evaluate potential projects, provide cost and time estimates, log projects, manage projects and secure sign-offs requires a disciplined in-house project management function.

An important part of generating and demonstrating efficiency gains for the organization is the ability to track time-on-task, project gestation and completion rates, rework levels and the like… all of which require a commitment to recording and tracking in-house activities and utilization rates. Such information will also inform management on how and when to expand or contract staff levels and when to tap external resources to augment in-house skill sets.

The need for internal advertising support is real and makes a great deal of sense regardless of the breadth of services an organization seeks to source from an in-house operation. However, the application of the model requires a disciplined pragmatic approach to both set the breadth of service to be offered the team and to efficiently and effectively handle the anticipated volume of work.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertising Delivery Models Are Evolving. How Will the Holding Companies Respond?

12 Jan

dreamstime_xs_127777381When agency holding companies were birthed, they did nothing that directly impacted client businesses. They were corporate entities that owned a number of smaller agencies and the attendant portfolios of real estate, trademarks, copyrights and licenses attached to those agencies. Their primary role was to create shareholder value through structural leveraging.

As time progressed, three things happened that form the basis of the challenge faced by agency holding companies today.

Firstly, aided by low barriers to entry, there was a proliferation in both the number of agencies and the types of functional specialist shops that came to be. In the early days there were “above the line” full-service agencies and “below the line” shops such as sales promotion, direct marketing and PR. Over time, specialists in diversity advertising, shopper marketing and digital media have come into vogue. Highly focused agencies continue to emerge today, as witnessed by the arrival of Amazon “specialist agencies” that assist marketers seeking to do business with or sell goods online via Amazon. Along the way, specialization led to fragmentation and full-service agencies fell by the wayside. Marketers in turn saw their agency networks expand in size as they added specialist firms to their rosters creating a range of agency stewardship and coordination challenges.

Secondly, the holding companies continued to acquire marketing services and advertising agencies. Part of their acquisition strategy involved bringing on specialist firms across a range of competencies to fill out their service offering. Another part of their strategy involved the acquisition of branded agency networks to consolidate activity within select clients (e.g. WPP’s acquisition of Ford agencies J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather and Young & Rubicam) and to create walled silos that would allow them to handle competitive advertising accounts. Financial benefits were realized by consolidating functions and paring expenses in areas such as human resources, legal and finance while allowing the acquired agencies to operate independently in virtually every other area.

Finally, along the way the holding companies began to compete as agencies, creating stand-alone client service entities such as; Enfatico (Dell), Team One (Toyota), GTB (Ford) and We Are Unlimited (McDonald’s). The value proposition with these dedicated agency teams was to provide larger advertisers with scalable, seamless solutions served up by the most talented personnel from across the holding company’s portfolio of agency brands. While the premise was certainly compelling, the holding company model did not readily lend itself to a blended workforce concept and often suffered from the lack of centralized business platforms.

Fast forward to 2019 and advertiser preferences remain unchanged. Advertisers desire breakthrough, transformational business solutions served up on an integrated basis and of course, they want them faster, better and cheaper.

In their search for a better “mousetrap” advertisers have begun to take certain aspects of their advertising in-house and or have engaged non-traditional partners including management and technology consulting firms to augment their traditional agency rosters. Of note, the consulting firms, represented by global monolithic brands, blended workforces, common processes and centralized business platforms have made significant inroads with CMOs. This has raised speculation among many industry pundits with regard to whether or not the consulting firms would supplant advertising agencies. Fueling the speculation has been the management consulting firms’ pursuit of agency acquisitions to round out their marketing/ advertising service offerings, it will be interesting to see how well they fair integrating those acquired firms into their organizations both structurally and culturally.

Many in the industry are waiting for the revelation of a new “agency model” that will emerge to magically address advertiser desires and resolve agency holding company challenges. It is our belief that these pundits will likely be waiting for some time.

Advertisers, for their part, will continue to seek out and retain responsive, agile marketing partners that can provide breakthrough, scalable business enhancing solutions. While the idea of an integrated, end-to-end provider is intriguing, it is likely not feasible. Rather, assembling a team of specialists, albeit narrower marketing agency networks, with the advertiser serving as strategist and integrator across the “marketing ecosystem” as Martin Sorrell, Chairman of S4 Capital refers to it is the most likely solution.

As for agency holding companies, we believe that Arthur Sadoun, Chairman of Publicis Groupe got it right when he stated that “the old holding company model is dead” in April of 2018. Advertisers will not embrace a one-stop solution from any of the holding companies. Thus, the holding companies will likely continue their recent focus on right-sizing their networks through the consolidation of both brands and functions and the divestiture of redundant and non-core entities. After all, how many agencies that place or distribute digital media or in-house studios does a holding company need? There may also be a subtle shift from a focus on cost reductions to enhancing the holding company’s ability to cost efficiently scale operations. This could include an expansion of the old “shared services” model, looking beyond HR, Finance and Legal to create centers of excellence around functions such as Data Sciences, Technology, Media Procurement and Production to provide clients across their network with faster, better and cheaper solutions in these areas.

While many lament the decline of the agency holding company, other than the world’s top advertisers, most organizations hire agency brands. While some of the agencies they hire may be owned by the same holding company, more often they are not. Thus the challenge of finding “integrated” solutions for the development of relevant, quick, agile and engaging solutions has been the purview of marketers… at least since the days when the full-service agency model was the standard. As such, the evolution of the advertising delivery model will more than likely be driven by advertisers and less so by agency holding companies.

 

 

 

Agencies vs. Consultants: What Does the Future Hold for Marketers?

24 Nov

pro vs conHave you formed an opinion yet on the battle between traditional advertising agencies and management consulting firms for marketing and advertising supremacy?

Many have, citing profound differences between these two types of professional services providers. The basis for the beliefs are centered on a range of characteristics attributed to each type of firm, including; company culture, strategic focus, business processes, talent pools, breadth of capabilities and ability to provide integrated solutions.

The question to be asked, as management consultants continue to push into ad agency territory (largely through acquisition) is; “Are the differences between these entities meaningful?” Or will the blending of these two types of firms ultimately result in a level playing field among the large agency holding companies and international consultancies?

Most pundits suggest that the differences are very real, with consultants largely grounded in a strategic focus on how to boost a company’s performance, and agency services centered on building brands by leveraging traditional media channels and touchpoints. Clearly both perspectives are valuable in their own right. Along with these differences, other complicating factors are at play that will determine the ultimate outcome.

  1. Marketers seem to be increasingly focused on improving in-market performance, which is becoming the principal means of validating the efficacy of their advertising programs. Metrics such as awareness, consideration and brand purchase intent are all well-and-good, but at the end of the day organizations are more interested in topline growth, market share expansion and bottom-line profits.
  2. There have been profound shifts in consumer purchase behavior and questions raised about the validity of the traditional purchase funnel used by marketers to map a consumer’s progression from awareness to action. In today’s digital-centric world of transacting business the path to purchase is not as linear as it once was.
  3. Research among younger shoppers suggests that marketers can no longer pre-suppose that brands matter. Certainly not to the extent that they once did. In an industry where it is projected that companies will spend in excess of $1.0 trillion on marketing services in 2017 (source: GroupM, 2016 “Global Ad Expenditures Forecast”) this is quite alarming. According to Havas Worldwide’s 2015 annual index of “Meaningful Brands” it was determined that “only 5% of brands would truly be missed by consumers U.S. consumers.” Driving this trend has been the emergence of the 75 million plus U.S. millennial target segment, whose trust in brands has been eroded as have their perceptions of genuineness and brand authenticity.

These trends may point to a larger shift, where consumer purchase behavior is more readily shaped by relationships, peer input and social influences rather than by branding. Thus the ad industry’s model of pushing brand messaging through a variety of media channels as a way of creating awareness and consideration in the hope of driving purchase intent may not yield the results it once did. It is likely that this traditional approach will be supplanted by social engagement and social selling as consumers take control of the pre-purchase learning and competitive evaluation portion of the purchase decision making process.

This could allow management consultancies to curry favor among marketers under pressure to drive performance in the short-term. The consultancies ability to offer integrated end-to-end solutions including; organizational design, transformational strategy development, user experience design, data analytics, technology support and increasingly branding and marketing expertise is considered to be quite compelling to many Chief Marketing Officers.

With so much at stake, it is certain that the agency holding companies and global consulting organizations will continue to invest in transforming their businesses to better serve marketers seeking to evolve their approach to achieving in-market success. In the words of Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon:

“We expect all our businesses to have a positive impact on our top and bottom lines, Profitability is very important to us or we wouldn’t be in this business.”

The Ad Industry is Metamorphosing

30 Jun

dreamstime_xs_83082522It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…” Most of us are familiar with the opening line from Charles Dickens in his epic work A Tale of Two Cities. Many marketers may even consider it an apt description of both the current state of the advertising industry and the challenges that they face in sustaining brand relevance and driving growth.

Phoenix risingSo, who will marketers count on to assist them with the tasks of deepening brand engagement with core target segments, revitalizing sales and profits in a low-growth environment and in differentiating their brands for competitive advantage?

Over the course of the last few years, many have opined on the viability of the ad agency model and what it portends for advertiser/ agency relationships going forward. And with good reason. Concerns cited include threats from non-traditional competitors such as management consulting and technology firms encroaching on their turf, talent recruitment and retention challenges and margin compression due to downward pressure on fees and expanded scopes of services.

It may be as some predict that management consulting firms will leverage their capabilities in the area of strategy and integration to pirate work from ad agencies and that ad-tech providers will enable marketers to take certain tasks in-house. The question remains, how will marketers adjust to this dynamic and the evolution of their agency networks to potentially include consulting, data and ad-tech firms? There are already very real challenges related to agency stewardship today due to under-resourced client marketing staffs.

The aforementioned challenges, combined with the rate of digitization and the emerging role of artificial intelligence occurring within the ad industry, certainly pose challenges for advertising agencies and could serve to lessen their stranglehold on the marketing and advertising sector. In a recent McKinsey article entitled; “The Global Forces Inspiring a New Narrative of Progress” the authors note that “disruption is accelerating.” They opine that this dynamic is raising serious concerns for many organizations relating to the question, “How long can their traditional sources of competitive advantage survive in the face of technological shifts?”

That said, in spite of these risk factors and other marketplace developments, ad agencies are doing just fine:

  • Agency holding companies have continued their aggressive acquisition drives, supporting both their horizontal and vertical integration strategies. While overall M&A activity is down from 2016 levels, WPP and Dentsu have consummated twenty acquisitions with a combined value of $700 million through the first 4 months of 2017. (Source: R3’s “State of Agency M&A report” for January – April, 2017).
  • While down from 2016’s 5.7% growth rate, global ad spending is projected to grow 3.6% in 2017 (Source: Magna Global, June, 2017). Of note, this is higher than the International Monetary Fund’s projected increase for global GDP growth.
  • Even though 1Q17 Advertising Industry gross margins fell to 44.15%, the industry itself is healthy. For instance, within the services sector, the Advertising Industry achieved the highest gross margins, net margins, EBITDA margins and pre-tax margins for the quarter (Source: CSIMarket.com).
  • Some 86% of mid-sized ad agencies are confident that this year will be better than last in terms of profitable growth (Source: Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA) survey).

Importantly, since the demise of the “good ole days” of full-service agencies and the fifteen-percent commission remuneration model, agencies have demonstrated a unique ability to not only keep up with industry changes, but to take the lead from both a thought leadership and innovation perspective. They have been able to scale, attracting more clients and deeper talent pools, they have invested in emerging technologies to deal with increasingly complicated, data driven processes and to pioneer the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence to efficiently execute deliverables ranging from digital media investment to creative adaptations… all while dealing with evolving client expectations.

Further, it bears noting that the publicly traded holding companies; WPP, Omnicom Group, Publicis Groupe, Interpublic Group of Cos. and Dentsu, had combined estimated worldwide 2016 revenue levels of $60.7 billion (Source: Advertising Age, June 2017). When one considers the pre-dominance of the estimated billing process and agency remuneration schema that includes direct labor and overhead cost reimbursement plus guaranteed profit margins of 14% to 17% or more, one must also respect the financial clout that these publicly traded entities wield.

Is there a need for near-term belt tightening to offset softer 2017 ad spending levels? Yes. Do the holding companies need to consolidate agency brands and realign capabilities to boost the efficacy of their service delivery models and generate much needed efficiencies? Yes. Will agencies need to improve their talent recruitment and retention practices, across a diverse range of specialties? Yes. But no business is immune from these challenges, including management consultants, ad-tech platforms and publishers.

The big question the industry in general and marketers will need to assess is related to whether these players will be able to boldly transform their current business models, repositioning their firms to deliver integrated, multi-specialist services in a nimble, cost efficient, on-demand manner.

Broadly speaking, all participants are facing challenges as the ad industry undergoes its current metamorphoses. We believe that it is too early to predict winners and losers or to suggest that marketers adapt an attitude of empathy toward any of their marketing supply chain partners. After all, it is their marketing spend that has built this sector into a $457.4 billion global machine in 2017 (Source: Statista, 2017). And they must vigilantly safeguard and optimize that investment.

Below is one of the closing lines from A Tale of Two Cities, one that many may not be as familiar with:

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…”

With this parting thought, Dickens’ suggests that the main character in his novel and the city of France will be resurrected, rising above their present strife and “made illustrious.”

Here’s hoping that the ad industry achieves similar transformative success.

 

 

Funding Accountability Initiatives

26 Aug

Accountability FinalThe desire on the part of many advertisers to extend their organization’s accountability initiative to marketing is high. This is due to the fact that marketing is both one of the largest indirect expense categories within an organization and, for those that believe in its ability to drive strategic outcomes, critical in driving brand value and demand generation.

One of the key challenges for Internal Audit and Procurement professionals in implementing accountability programs is that they typically do not have a budget to fund the projects. Rather, they are reliant on their peers in Marketing to “buy in” to the concept and to underwrite the investment associated with analyzing contract compliance, financial management and in-market performance across their agency networks. This dynamic can create a loggerhead that delays or prevents corporate scrutiny into marketing and advertising spending and its resulting business impact.

The irony is that relative to the millions of dollars invested in marketing, the cost of implementing an accountability program for this corporate function is much less than one-percent of total spend. As we know, applying the skills and capabilities of audit and procurement teams and outside consultants typically results in improved controls that mitigate financial and legal risks to the organization. Further, these efforts often uncover historical errors and overbillings, and always generate future savings and improved marketing return-on-investment opportunities that more than offset the cost of the program.

It has always been a mystery as to why more advertisers simply don’t formalize and legislate the marketing accountability program and establish the requisite budget to be administered by the CFO / Finance organization. A minority of our clients operate in this manner, but clearly a “win, win” situation is created where internal audit and procurement provide their support and apply their resources pro-actively and marketing doesn’t feel as though funding is coming at the expense of critical business building programs within their budgets.

From our perspective, the source of funding for extending a corporate accountability initiative to marketing is the last hurdle. The reason is that we have seen marketing’s appreciation for accountability support grow along with their respect for the audit and procurement functions and a recognition that such programs can improve the efficiency and efficacy of the organization’s marketing spend.

The advertising industry is a complex; rapidly changing, technology-driven sector fraught with opacity challenges and risks such as digital media fraud and non-transparent revenue practices employed by agencies, ad tech providers, ad exchanges and media sellers. In light of these dynamics, organizations truly understand the benefit of monitoring the disposition of their marketing investment and the performance of their advertising agencies and third-party vendors.

It has been over 140 years since Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker offered the following perspective on his ad spend:

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Yet, with the passage of time it would be difficult for the industry to suggest that much has changed with regard to a marketers ability to accurately assess the efficacy of their advertising spend.

There is no time like the present to proactively develop; implement and fund transformative accountability programs that can optimize planned business outcomes, while safeguarding marketing spend at every level of the advertising investment cycle.

Interested in learning more about marketing accountability programs? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management| AARM at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on the topic.

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