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How is Your Media Agency Making Money in 2022?

17 Feb

agency holding company profitsWritten by Oli Orchard, Partner – Fuel Media & Marketinga specialist communications consulting company focused on advising clients in media communications. 

With Publicis and OMG in the news this week (February 2022) with significant revenue increases year-over-year, now would seem a pertinent time to look ‘under the hood’ of the different revenue streams agencies have available to them.

Using the traditional commission method, still prevalent today, it is often thought that a media agency has a disincentive to save clients’ money or indeed manage lower budgets.

Because most media agencies are compensated on a percentage of media spend, if they negotiate the prices down, and potentially reduce total spend, they will earn less money.

In practice, the traditional ATL percentages involved stop this being much of a disincentive.

  • A buy of $10,000 at 3% commission provides the agency with just $300 income.
  • If the agency negotiates 25% discount on the media, the agency will only lose $75.

Obviously, the agencies are doing this at scale, and those $75 discounts start to add up, as a result the agencies have long looked elsewhere to bolster their incomes. So, in 2022, what other revenue streams are open to the agencies?

Agency income takes many forms, and too many to go through here, so we’ll stick to the top ten.

  1. Fees & Commissions – Whether Time and Materials based, or a percentage commission on media spend these should need no introduction to advertisers. At Fuel we hold data on innumerable best practice contracts, and always work with clients and agencies to come to the most appropriate basic remuneration package
  2. Bonus/Malus schemes – These programmes have become synonymous with best-in-class-advertisers, looking to reward their agency beyond the basic remuneration for exemplary work. The Malus scheme has gained more traction in recent years, as agencies look to differentiate themselves from the competition by having some ‘skin-in-the-game’, often putting part of their profit margin at risk
  3. Incremental services outside of Scope of Work – These are often the result of out-of-date contracts, and can commonly comprise things an advertiser might expect to be included in the contract, such as Quarterly Business Reviews, competitive monitoring, dashboards, post-campaign reporting and even out-of-home planning
  4. Deposit Interest on bank accounts – Historically agencies have taken advantage of bank interest rates and been fast to invoice and slow to pay. With rates on the increase again, albeit slowly, advertisers will need to become increasingly aware of this. Agencies deal in vast sums of money, and this revenue stream should not be overlooked
  5. Kickbacks from vendors – AVBs, rebates, Specialist Agency Commissions, the list goes on; kickbacks have many names, and they don’t always take the form of cash. Free Space that can be given to advertisers to bring the CPM down to hit bonus targets, or alternatively sold on to other clients is another common form these shapeshifting kickbacks can take. It is also imperative that the contract encompasses as much of the agency holding group as possible, often kickbacks can be routed through other parts of the group
  6. Unbilled media – It is not uncommon for a media vendor to forget, unintentionally or intentionally, to bill an agency for a media placement that the agency has already billed the client for. The agency should be reporting and returning unbilled media on a regular basis, though clients should be aware of the fiscal statute of limitations, meaning the vendor could invoice the agency within a specified period of time (it is currently 6 years in the UK) and demand payment, which will then be passed on to the client
  7. Agencies acting as the principal (rather than agent) – This is commonly known as inventory media, the agency takes a position on, or buys, a quantity of media directly from a vendor, with no specific client lined up for it. There will be NDAs in place with the vendor preventing the agency from disclosing the actual price paid to clients or auditors. This allows them to mark-up prices, generally by a very significant percentage when selling this space on to clients. The flip side of this is that an advertiser can get a great rate on something they may have bought anyway, though they may also be pushed into a buy that is sub-optimal for their strategy just to meet the agency’s internal need to offload inventory
  8. Subcontracting to related 3rd Parties – Agency holding groups are vast and have many complimentary disciplines. It is not uncommon for a specific task to be subcontracted (attracting an additional fee) within the holding group
  9. OOH commissions – It is worth listing these separately to those above because OOH often has a unique commission structure where both the advertiser and vendor routinely pay the poster buying specialist for placing the media. This is frequently dealt with in agency contracts as an additional ‘Disclosed Commission’ tucked away in a schedule at the back of the document as Specialist Agency Commission
  10. DSP usage – Programmatic has long been the poster child of non-disclosed fee structures further down the digital value chain but there is one significant agency revenue stream that crops up near the top of the chain in non-disclosed White Label mark-ups. The DSPs allow their clients (in this case the agency, not the advertiser) to add an additional CPM into the net media cost, meaning that it doesn’t show up in any of the auditable invoicing trails, and is passed back to the agency
  11. As you can see from above, agencies constantly evolve income streams, seeking out new ways to profit, and let’s not get the intent of this piece wrong, agencies should be able to profit from their great work for clients. However, many advertiser clients are becoming cash cows, based on the agencies’ opaque trading practices.

At Fuel, we work with the agency and advertiser to produce the optimum contract for the situation, one where transparency around agency income is openly discussed, and the advertiser can make an informed, supported decision about the relationships they forge with their agency partners.

Here’s our checklist for advertisers:

  • Check that your contract is up to date – does it cover the entire scope of business transacted between you and your agency? The very best contracts are reviewed and revised annually to take landscape shifts and revised media strategies into account
  • Make sure that your agency is obliged to ‘call out’ and seek approval for inventory media and use of subsidiaries/sister companies
  • Have a frank discussion with your agency about the non-disclosed White Label mark-up that the DSPs allow them to add into the platform costs, and consider requesting to be part of the conversation around DSP selection
  • Undertake regular audits of performance vs. pitch or year-over-year guarantees, and tie the buying results to a bonus/malus scheme in tandem with service scores and achievement of business objective KPIs 

To find out more on how Fuel can help, contact Oli on +44(0) 7534 129 097 or email [email protected].

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

18 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Are Media Agencies Forgoing Objectivity?

24 Jul

dreamstime_m_35343815Consumer media consumption behavior is ever evolving. And advertisers must select from an expansive array of content venue choices to communicate their messaging. Balancing these two dynamics is the key to optimizing media investment decisions.

Time was when agencies based their media resource allocation recommendations on insights gained from an exhaustive, objective review of media performance and audience delivery data. 

In traditional principal-agent relationships, agencies have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of their clients. This includes providing advertisers with informed recommendations, free of bias or conflicts of interest, that are advantageous to the advertiser. Most advertisers understand that in the twenty-first century, unless the principal-agent relationship is firmly established in the Client/ Agency agreement, all bets are off when it comes to their agency being bound to adhere to principal-agent guidelines.

Over the course of the last decade or so, practices such as “principal-based media buys” and ABVs (rebates) came into vogue. This is where an agency takes ownership of the media inventory and resells that inventory to the advertiser at a non-disclosed mark-up, making a profit on the spread and or receives an incentive based upon its total spend with a media seller. Good Client/ Agency agreements require the agency to secure the client’s written authorization before employing these type of practice and in the case of rebates to remit the advertisers pro-rata share of such rebates.  

Fair enough. Buyer beware. Trust but verify. Got it.

There is another practice that seems to be gathering steam between media sellers and media buyers that raises questions about the objectivity of an agency’s media planning and buying recommendations. Simply stated, media owners, seeking to lock-in a revenue stream from a given agency holding company, are offering to reserve inventory in bulk for that agency to allocate to its client base at some point in the future.

One recent example of this is Omnicom Media Group’s (OMG) commitment earlier this month to spend $20 million of its clients’ media funds to advertise in podcasts distributed by Spotify. Given the nature of the advertisers represented by OMG (McDonalds, AT&T, P&G, PepsiCo, etc.), their total media spend and the fact that 2020 media plans have been completed and buying commitments presumably made perhaps there is little risk of such a deal influencing whether or not an advertiser should commit dollars to Spotify podcasts.

Separately, it was recently reported by Digiday that TV networks and agencies, in an effort to jump-start the annual upfront marketplace, were considering share of spend deals to “address advertiser commitment issues.”  In this scenario, an agency holding company would commit to spend a percentage of its clients’ aggregate upfront budgets with select network groups. However, client budgets are in flux and there are multiple questions surrounding the traditional upfront marketplace. Thus, the commitments being made by agencies are being done in advance of any client media authorization process. It would be natural for one to ask; “What incentives are being offered by the network groups to facilitate such deals? And How are such benefits distributed to an agency’s clients?”

The primary concern with this type of approach is the potential for these buying commitments to bias an agencies recommendations to its client base. As the author of the Digiday article points out if aggregate spend projections come up short, the holding company may find itself in a position where it may “need to push clients to spend their money” with a given network group.

Practices such as these are fraught with risks. When an agency has already committed to a pool of inventory on a network group based upon hypothetical aggregate spend levels across its client base objectivity is lost.

We are simply not fans of this practice, believing that agencies have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients to make media recommendations, based upon an unbiased fact base, that are in the best interest of the advertiser.

 

 

Accenture Exiting the Media Auditing Space Creates an Accountability Gap

17 Feb

Acc_Logo_Black_Purple_RGBIt was a move many industry pundits saw coming. With a focus on expanding its interactive marketing services business, which accounted for $10 billion in revenue in 2019, Accenture made the announcement that it was going to “ramp down” its media auditing, price benchmarking and pitch management business by the end of August.

Advertising agencies and competitors within the media audit space were quick to celebrate the news, for differing reasons.

Agencies for their part have long felt that as Accenture grew its interactive marketing services practice, their audit services represented a conflict of interest. Afterall, how could a marketer trust the objectivity of the advice of an audit firm reviewing an incumbent digital agency, when the parent company offered services that were competitive to the incumbent? One fear among agencies was that Accenture could leverage the information taken in on the audit side and generate competitive insights that would yield an unfair advantage when pitching their digital capabilities to advertisers.

Media audit firms, which stand to gain business as Accenture winds down media audit activity, point out that Accenture’s approach to auditing, pitch management and media rate analysis, which relies on its proprietary rate benchmarking pool was dated and less relevant than in the past.

While there may be merit to both group’s perspectives, Accenture’s decision creates a major resource gap when it comes to global media accountability and transparency.

Make no mistake, there are a number of experienced, highly reputable independent media audit firms that will help to fill the void left by Accenture. That said, most lack the scale and or depth of resources to truly backfill this resource gap. This perspective was echoed by Rob Rakowitz of the World Federation of Advertisers’ (WFA) Global Alliance for Responsible Media, who stated that at a time when the “media supply chain needs more clarity” Accenture’s decision to exit the audit space “creates a hole” when it comes to independent oversight.

Interestingly, the holding companies have focused their commentary in the wake of Accenture’s announcement on the “competitive conflict” aspect of the discussion. However, some holding company financial executives, who know full well the impact of independent oversight on their media agency bottom lines, are likely breathing a sigh of relief. Since the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) 2016 report on media transparency, scrutiny of media agency practices and the resulting downward pressure on margins tied to curtailing some of the non-transparent agency revenue practices cited in the ANA’s report have been costly to agencies.

The good news is that there has been progress since the issuance of the ANA report four short years ago. Client/ Agency agreement language has improved, more advertisers have conducted contract compliance and performance audits and media supply chain transparency initiatives have gained traction. The global fraternity of contract compliance and media performance auditors, along with advertiser trade associations such as the ANA, WFA and ISBA have all played an important role in ushering in reforms tied to improved accountability and transparency practices.

Now is not the time for less oversight and one can only hope that the loss of Accenture Media Management and the $40 billion of annual global media spend coverage it represented will not impede industry media accountability efforts. Advertisers can ill afford further reductions in their working media.

 

Haven’t We Seen This Picture Before?

20 Dec

Frame movie, clapperboard blue neon icon. Simple thin line, outline vector of cinema icons for ui and ux, website or mobile applicationAs you are likely aware, over-the-top (OTT) television expenditures are rising incredibly fast. According to Magna Global, OTT grew at a rate of 39% this year with advertisers spending $3.2 billion in this sector of the TV marketplace. Further, Magna is projecting spend levels of $5.0 billion in 2020.

As consumer demand for viewing video content via the internet on devices such as smart TVs, gaming consoles, laptops, tablets and smart phones continues to escalate, advertisers are jumping at the opportunity to reach these so called “cord cutters.” However, while advertising demand is strong the supply of OTT impressions or inventory is limited.

This scenario has created an opportunity for fraudsters that attempt to fool advertisers into buying OTT inventory that doesn’t actually exist. eMarketer estimated that in 2018 fully 1 out of 5 OTT impressions were invalid due to “a combination of fraud and ad serving measurement errors.” Compounding this issue is the fact that approximately 40% of OTT ad impressions are served via server-side ad insertion (source: AdLedger, 2019) thus rendering traditional fraud detection services, which rely on Java script, ineffective.

One cannot help but view this scenario and its similarities to the challenges and risks associated with programmatic digital media and real-time bidding. Sadly, the ad industry’s demonstrated willingness to latch on to “shiny new objects” comes with real risks and at a significant cost. Worse, once the proverbial genie is out of the bottle, the industry has demonstrated an inability to marshal its resources in a timely, efficient manner to create standardized measurement and tracking solutions to combat fraud and safeguard advertiser funds.

And, as with the meteoric growth of digital advertising, advertisers are all too willing to jump in, versus testing the waters or forgoing investing in these emerging channels while fraud prevention controls are introduced, tested and rolled out. The net result is that advertisers must spend more money spent on ad tech, fraud detection and viewability services, while the downward pressure on working media dollars multiplies.

Earlier this spring, Forbes published an article on ad fraud and the OTT market, in which it interviewed Adam Helfgott, CEO of MadHive. Mr. Helfgott identified a range of ways in which OTT ad fraud can manifest itself. These included fraudulent arbitragers misrepresenting where an advertiser’s impressions actually ran and app-based or device-based fraud which report uncharacteristically high activity levels, not reflective of human consumption patterns.

While Mr. Helfgott believes that OTT ad fraud can be combatted using blockchain-based technology, he suggested that the first step in the process is for industry stakeholders to acknowledge that OTT ad fraud can and is occurring. That said, it is scary to think that there are those who would believe otherwise.

If knowledge truly is the key to success, then perhaps the ad industry would benefit from Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s words of wisdom:

“Knowledge is in the end is based on acknowledgement.”

Who Says Advertisers Don’t Want Transparency?

26 Nov

transparency“No one wants full transparency.”

It was alleged that this intriguing pull quote echoed the sentiments of agency buyers at a gathering of agency executives dealing with the topic of “Transparency in Media Buying.” The event, hosted by Digiday in London, provided participants with complete anonymity with regard to their name and or company affiliation in order to encourage an open exchange of information on the topic. Understood.

Participants shared a range of thoughts as to why advertisers weren’t truly interested in media transparency. The ideas proffered by this group included:

  • A belief that advertisers were concerned about the costs associated with revamping how digital media is purchased.
  • Advertiser concern related to the impact of “overhauling how much” they spend on media.
  • A general lack of advertiser interest in the “mechanical” detail that underlies the media acquisition and delivery process.

There are two major problems with this perspective.

The first is the belief among digital media supply chain participants that advertisers should bear the financial burden related to the poor decisions made by agencies, ad tech vendors and publishers with regard to how media buys were executed, tracked and reported on. For years these intermediaries knowingly shirked their fiduciary responsibility to serve the advertiser’s best interest and to safeguard their media investment. To come back now and suggest that if advertisers want a return to normalcy it will cost them more in fees and the actual rates paid for media inventory is preposterous. Did these firms reduce their fees and costs to advertisers while they were participating in media arbitrage and purchasing low quality, high risk inventory (often without the advertiser’s knowledge)? Of course not. They padded their respective bottom lines at the expense of advertisers.

Secondly, the notion that advertisers aren’t interested in the mechanics and science behind the planning, buying, stewardship and performance analysis of media buys seems to be misguided. Or at the very least, not representative of the views held by a majority of advertisers, many who have cited media transparency as one of their most important concerns in industry survey after industry survey. Additionally, Gartner Research recently released the results of its “CMO Spend” survey and noted that chief marketing officers at advertiser organizations in the U.S. and UK were focused on areas such as email marketing, online media management and digital analytics as their top tech priorities. This further underscores advertiser interest in leveraging technology to improve transparency and drive media performance.

Perhaps the clients represented by the agency personnel at the Digiday event are different than those with whom we interact with on a regular basis or those who participate in industry surveys.

Or perhaps the more accurate sentiment is that no one on the agency, ad tech or publisher side wants full transparency. Either way, if the media supply chain doesn’t recognize and begin to address client concerns and the corrective actions that advertisers are already taking the risk of revenue contraction and ultimately disintermediation is real.

One only needs to read the Association of National Advertiser’s (ANA) October, 2018 study; “The Continued Rise of the In-House Agency” to understand the cost to intermediaries of not taking advertisers’ best interest to heart:

  • 78% of ANA members surveyed had an in-house agency in 2018 versus 58% in 2013 and 42% in 2008.
  • 90% of the survey respondents indicated that the workload of their in-house agencies had increased in the past year, including 65% for whom the workload had increased significantly.

Media supply chain stakeholders may want to heed the words of 20th century Russian-American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand:

“We can ignore reality, but we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.”

 

Programmatic Digital Media Reforms. Too Little, Too Late?

23 Oct

toolittletoolate

There was an interesting announcement earlier this month, regarding the potential for introducing much needed reforms to the programmatic digital media marketplace.  Specifically, several of the top exchanges announced that they had reached out to the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) for help in cleaning up some of the non-toward practices that have plagued digital advertisers. 

As part of the group’s efforts, these exchanges have agreed to not charge hidden fees or offer rebates that unduly influence agency holding companies. Further, they have pledged to notify buyers in advance if they change auction dynamics, to clearly mark first-price and second-price auctions and to not bid cache without notice.

Translation, the exchanges have been employing these practices all along to the detriment of advertisers as a means of shoring up their bottom lines. Step in the right direction or affirmation of the ongoing murkiness associated with programmatic digital? Advertisers will have to decide, or have they already weighed in on this initiative.

Coincidentally, findings from an important research study and a forecast on digital marketing were also released earlier this month. The results of these efforts may very well shed some light on how advertisers are viewing the ongoing malaise within the digital media marketplace.

In the first study from the In-House Agency Forum (IHAF) and Forrester Research called “The State of In-House Agencies” it was revealed that 64% of corporate America have in-house agencies, which is up 50% from 2008. Interestingly, of those firms with in-house agencies, 38% have digital capabilities. The second piece of information came from an eMarketer forecast “Flight to Quality” which predicted that by 2020 open exchanges will see a declining share as programmatic money goes direct.” eMarketer is predicting that $4 of every $5 will go to private marketplaces. For reference, today, approximately 58% of all programmatic display spend, which totals $27 billion goes to private marketplaces.

The reasons for the move to programmatic direct are clear and compelling and have been at the root of advertiser concern for several years:

  • A desire to minimize the risk of digital ad fraud
  • The need to improve brand safety
  • A concerted effort to move away from low-quality, non-viewable inventory
  • Interest in a greater level of transparency (both as it relates to pricing/ fees and the content/ sites where their ads are placed)

Thus, it would appear that while the announcement by top exchanges to engage TAG to assist with reforming the practices employed by the exchanges may be a little too little, too late.

The time to take action to safeguard advertisers’ digital media investments and address advertiser concerns may have come and gone, at least as it relates to the open exchanges. Rebuilding advertiser trust and confidence was an excellent strategy… in 2016 at the height of the U.S. media market’s “Transparency Crisis.”

Unfortunately, as results from the aforementioned studies suggest, many agencies, adtech firms, and exchanges may have waited too long to remedy the woes that led to the epic level of waste that has negatively impacted advertisers’ programmatic digital media spend.

In the words of Og Mandino, the late 20th century American author:

There is an immeasurable distance between late and too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will Programmatic Ever Address Advertiser Transparency Concerns?

20 Aug

dreamstime_m_35343815It has been two years since the Association of National Advertisers released its study on media transparency issues impacting advertisers within the U.S. media marketplace.

While much has changed, there remain reasons for concern. Most perplexing is the fact that with all of the intermediaries in place between advertiser and publisher, few seem to be looking out for the advertisers’ best interests.

The reasons for this lack of an advertiser-centric perspective are many and include greed, a lack of knowledge, insufficient oversight processes and often times indifference up and down the programmatic digital media supply chain.

Thus, it was with great interest that I read a recent article on Adexchanger.com entitled; “Index Exchange Called Out for Tweaking Its Auction.” In short, the article dealt with the fact that Index Exchange had altered its auction processes, without notifying advertisers, ad agencies or DSPs. Ostensibly, the exchange’s motivations for this move was to boost its market share, although in fairness, they claimed that they believed their approach reflected “industry practice.”

Of note, Index Exchange made the aforementioned change more than one year ago, employing a technique referred to as bid caching. In short, bid caching is where the exchange retains losing bids in an effort to run advertiser content on subsequent content viewed by the consumer. From an advertiser perspective there are a number of issues with this practice, as detailed by author Sarah Sluis of the aforementioned article on Adexchanger:

  1. Buyers will bid higher prices for the first page in a user session. Thus, if the losing bid is retained and the ad is served deeper into a user session, the buyer will have overpaid for that inventory.
  2. Any delay between the initial bid and the ad actually being served, using a bid caching methodology, increases the chance that the DSP will have found the user elsewhere, resulting in the campaign exceeding the pre-determined frequency caps.
  3. Brand safety definitely comes into play, because even though the ad is served on the same domain, it is on a different page than what was intended.

What is truly remarkable about this scenario is that buyers just learned of this practice and, according to Adexchanger, “not from Index Exchange.”

How many advertisers were negatively impacted by Index Exchange’s unannounced move? What were their agency and adtech partners doing in the placement and stewardship of their buys that an exchange’s shift in auction approaches went undetected for more than one year? Unsettling to be sure.

Ironically, this exchange had implemented a similar move previously, adopting a first-price auction approach, which was known to publishers but not announced to buyers.

Advertisers would be right to raise questions about the current state of programmatic affairs; exchanges not notifying the public of shifts in auction methodology, agency buyers and DSPs unable to detect these shifts to adjust their bid strategies, ad tech firms not catching the shift to safeguard brand ad placements, and publishers that were aware, but settled for the higher CPMs resulting from the shift, rather than informing the buy-side.

This is disheartening news, particularly when one considers the percentage of an advertiser’s dollar that goes to fund each of their intermediaries (at the expense of working media). Yet, advertiser fueled growth in programmatic digital media continues unabated.

Clearly a case of buyer beware. Advertisers that have not already reviewed their supplier contracts or enacted the “right to audit” clauses of their agency and adtech supplier agreements may want to make plans to do so as they begin finalize their 2019 digital media budgets. As the old saying goes:

The buyer needs a hundred eyes, the seller but one.”

 

Try This Quick Programmatic Digital “Transparency” Test

16 Aug

exam resultsIf you’re like most marketers, your organization is spending considerably more of its media budget on programmatic digital media today than it did last year and certainly more than it did five years ago. The question is, “Are you getting value for that shift in media spend?

While agencies and ad tech firms have clearly benefited from the rapid growth of programmatic digital media many marketers have seen their working media levels languish due to the third-party costs and intermediary fees associated with programmatic media.

As marketers know all too well, every dollar invested programmatically is subject to what has been referred to as the “tech tax,” which according to David Kohl, CEO and President of TrustX this can account for over fifty cents of every dollar invested. In his article; “The High Cost of Low CPMs” written for AdExchanger, Mr. Kohl points out that “whether or not the ad reaches its target audience and whether or not it is served into the viewable window or below the fold, DSPs, SSPs, data providers, viewability and verification providers, tag managers, re-targeters and others all take their few cents.”

The question to be asked is; “To what extent is this happening to my organization?” Fortunately, there is a quick, three-step method for testing your risk profile when it comes to programmatic digital media.

Step 1 – Ask your accounts payable department to provide you with a few examples of the digital media invoices that comprise the billing from your digital media agency partners. Check if they have a description of the services provided and the type and level of media inventory purchased. The objective of this exercise is to determine whether the invoices are highly descriptive or general in nature and if a non-media reviewer would be able to ascertain the breakdown of “what” was actually provided for the amount being billed.

Step 2 – Review the third-party vendor invoices that accompany the billing from your agency. If supporting vendor documentation is not provided, ask your agency to provide detail for a handful of invoices. This detail should include the invoices from the actual media sellers, not the agency’s trading desk or an affiliate. Apply the same filter to your review of these invoices as you did for the agency’s billing, with regard to the adequacy of the descriptions breaking out the media purchased and all of the attendant costs (i.e. net media expense, agency campaign management fees, ad tech and data fees, etc.).

Step 3 – Evaluate both sets of invoices, agency and vendor, for an itemized list of the fees being charged such as:

  • Agency campaign management fees
  • Data fees
  • Pre-bid decision making/ targeting fees
  • Ad tech/ DSP fees
  • Publisher discrepancy fees
  • Ad verification fees
  • Bid clearing fees
  • Ad serving fees

If you find that invoice descriptions are less specific than you would like or that third-party vendor invoices don’t contain an itemized list of fees being charged, it is time to have a conversation with your agency partners.

The first topic to be discussed is establishing your position and preference for “How” your programmatic media buys are to be structured when your agency goes to market on your behalf. If it is transparency that you seek, they should be executing your programmatic buys on a “cost-disclosed” rather than a “non-disclosed” basis. This is the only way that you will be able to identify the net costs being assessed for the media inventory purchased and to calculate what percentage of your buys are going toward working media. Fraud and viewability concerns aside, advertisers have found that after fees are subtracted, they’re lucky if 50¢ of a dollar spent on programmatic digital media actually makes it to the publisher to fund the media that your consumers see.

Once you and your agency have agreed on the desired level of disclosure, conversation must necessarily turn to the need for updating client-agency agreements, statements-of-work and each of the media control documents utilized by the agency (i.e. media authorization form, electronic RFI templates, digital insertion orders, etc.). In spite of the ad industry’s efforts to reform what remains a murky digital media supply chain fraught with bad actors, questionable practices and a lack of transparency, advertisers remain at risk. Therefore, it is imperative to ensure all parties are held accountable that they employ the appropriate descriptive invoice detail, reporting requirements and itemized cost breakdowns mandated by the advertiser.

Testing the current state of your programmatic buys’ level of transparency is a necessary first step to stripping away the opacity that can surround digital media buying. In turn, the results of this self-examination will assist advertisers in both safeguarding and improving the return on their digital media investments. In the words of David Ogilvy:

“Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”

Will the Media Industry Find Its Way?

27 Apr

agencies as media ownersThere was a time when ad agencies represented an advertiser’s interest when interacting with media sellers to secure time and or space for the conveyance of the advertiser’s messaging. The media supply chain was uncluttered, machine-to-machine buying was not even a distant thought and the roles of the various players were understood by all parties.

As the media industry has evolved, the complexities of the supply chain and the clarity of “what” each intermediary does, what they are responsible for and what they earn have sown confusion, limited advertiser transparency and eroded stakeholder trust.

One of the key drivers of supply chain complexity, and all that comes with it, has been the rapid growth of digital media in general and specifically the expansion of programmatic buying. Thus, there may be no better barometer of this dynamic than the “Marketing Technology Landscape” prepared annually by Scott Brinker. Mr. Brinker’s landscape chart incorporates the logos of each available advertising, marketing and search solution. This year’s version contains logos for over 6,800 solutions, up from 150 in 2011. That is a staggering number of ad tech and mar tech solutions vying for a slice of an advertiser’s digital media dollar.

In spite of the dramatic increase in the number of marketing technology solutions and the exponential increase in the level of data available to inform practitioners media decisions, the industry is still grappling with issues that negatively impact media performance. Issues that include ongoing limitations in attribution modeling, difficulties with omnichannel measurement, a lack of standardization in assessing audience delivery and continued concerns regarding ad viewability, fraud, ad blocking and privacy.

Many would agree that the current state of affairs is not healthy for the global media industry which totaled $500 billion in 2017 (source: MAGNA Global Advertising Forecast, December, 2017).

Marketers, who are under increasing pressure to improve performance, are clearly not satisfied with the status quo within the media supply chain, which many describe as “murky” and “inefficient.” These marketers are committed to seeking out new partners, processes, tools and solutions that can improve working media and increase the chance that each dollar they invest in media has the opportunity to positively impact business outcomes.

Media agencies, for their part are increasingly being challenged to improve both transparency and the cost effectiveness of their clients’ media spend. Sadly, many agencies have taken the stance that there is a cost to be paid for improved transparency, enhanced viewability and brand safety and believe that these costs should be borne by the advertiser. Advertisers rightly disagree with this position.

Let’s be clear. When agencies strayed from a singular focus on their fiduciary responsibility to their clients, they did so at their own risk. Their pursuit of principal based media buys, non-disclosed relationships with other commercial entities in the media supply chain (including their own affiliates) and the myriad of unauthorized, non-transparent revenue generation practices employed by some agencies netted them significant profit gains… in the short-term.

However, as advertisers became aware of these practices and began to understand the negative impact on their business this created a crisis in confidence among advertisers and lessened the level trust that they had in their agency partners. In turn, this has created opportunities for management and technology consultants to make inroads with CMO’s as it relates to their media business and incented many advertisers to begin looking at taking control over portions of their media business, including bringing work in-house.

These trends coupled with the corresponding reduction in non-sanctioned revenue opportunities resulting from greater levels of advertiser transparency have constrained agency margins. How agencies positon themselves for the future in light of the evolving competitive set, while rethinking their service offerings and charging practices remains to be seen, but will be of critical importance.

As for the ad tech sector, there will surely be a shakeout that will result in a reduction in the number of vendors (over 6,200 in 2018) providing solutions. This will be driven in part by consolidation due to the convergence of ad tech and mar tech solutions and the dominance of large players, such as Google, Facebook and Amazon. In addition, the emergence of consumer privacy protection regulatory actions and the eventual emergence of blockchain technology within the media market has the potential for significant disruption.

Clearly, there are uncertainties and challenges facing the media industry and the myriad of supply chain participants. That said, while continued change will be the norm and course corrections required, there will be winners that are able to navigate these turbulent times and position their organizations for future success.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” ~ Charles Darwin

 

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