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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.

 

 

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.”

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.”

 

 

Does Anyone Care About Media?

12 Apr

Coaching Mentoring Education Business Training Development E-learning ConceptMcKinsey estimated that companies across the globe could spend in excess of $2.0 trillion on media in 2019.

A big number to be sure, and for most advertisers the media component of their marketing spend, which runs between 10.4% – 14.0% of annual revenue is a material SG&A expense (Source: The CMO Study, from Deloitte, AMA, Fuqua School of Business at Duke University).

Thus it was surprising to read the results of advertising and media consultant ID Comms recent survey assessing advertiser interest in media training. Seventy-one percent of the respondents indicated that the “investment in media training” by advertisers was “unsatisfactory or entirely unsatisfactory.”

Given that in aggregate, the survey respondents firms spend “in excess of $20 billion” on media globally, one might say that their response was stunning. This is particularly so given the scrutiny that has been given to media advertising in the wake of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) 2016 study on “Media Transparency” that brought to light some of the financial risks faced by advertisers in this area.

So why haven’t advertisers stepped up their investment in building media competency? It would seem that advertisers the world over would place a much higher level of priority on the recruitment and training of media personnel to help them steward their media agencies to safeguard and optimize their media spend.

Media savvy marketing professionals understand that the cost: benefit proposition for staffing and training corporate media departments is quite compelling. In fact, the ID Comms survey went on to point out that nearly all of the survey respondents agreed that “brands can gain a competitive advantage in marketing” by elevating their firm’s media capabilities.

Companies have plenty of Chiefs, ranging from Chief Executive Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Chief Financial Officers and Chief Marketing Officers to Chief Risk Officers, Chief Procurement Officers, Chief Technology Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Revenue Officers and more.

Okay, so perhaps there is no room left in the C-Suite for a Chief Media Officer. No worries, build out the corporate media function within the marketing pyramid. No money in the HR budget to hire a seasoned media professional? No worries, bring on a fractional Corporate Media Director to assist in staffing and training the department.

The need is real.

What advertiser wouldn’t benefit from investing in the ongoing training and education of their marketing and or corporate media staffs? Honing capabilities related to setting media strategy, establishing KPIs, crafting a compelling media brief, reviewing media plans, evaluating media performance, building an understanding of the adtech sector and managing a diverse roster of media agencies would yield both near and long-term financial returns.

With the desire to improve “working media” in an increasingly complex marketplace companies would benefit mightily from building their corporate media proficiencies.

“Hire for passion and intensity; there is training for everything else.” ~ Nolan Bushnell

 

 

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

 

Advertisers Beware: Agency Margin Optimization Efforts

19 Apr

Traffic LightIt was with great interest that I read an article on Digiday dealing with “key issues” facing ad agencies and, ostensibly, the “agency model” ranging from transparency to in-housing.

Masked behind the author’s perspective that transparency comes at a high cost was the reality that marketers remain at risk to the predatory non-transparent revenue practices applied by certain agencies.

Why? With marketers demanding more transparent ad buying practices and transitioning certain tasks and or ownership of elements of the tech stack in-house, agency gross margins are under pressure. In turn, this has created an environment where agencies attempt to make up for the margin shortfall from clients that don’t actively monitor agency contract compliance, financial management or media performance.

Of note, one anonymous agency executive went so far as to suggest that some agencies use a “traffic-light system to determine how knowledgeable the procurement teams at clients are.” This guidepost allows the agencies to assess how much margin they can make on a given account.

This certainly reinforces the reality of the old adage; “Where there is mystery, there is margin” and signals the importance for all marketers to get up to speed on both the potential benefits and the pitfalls related to their digital and other advertising investments. For client organizations, most of which do not have the bandwidth or subject matter expertise in-house, engaging an independent contract compliance or media performance auditor or consultant could greatly help to mitigate risks in this area.

In spite of the potential for efficiencies that fueled the rise of programmatic media buying, what we have all come to realize is that the costs related to algorithmic, machine-to-machine buying have far outweighed these efficiencies. One dynamic, which drives costs is the number of agent firms involved in a typical programmatic digital media buy and the fees that each charge for their role. Below is an overview of typical fees or mark-ups that are charged by those on the demand-side of a programmatic transaction.

Digital Dollar

Source: Industry Experts

As is readily apparent, the dollar dissipation that occurs between the advertiser’s initial investment and the money that actually ends up with the publisher is significant. Industry studies have consistently shown that less than forty cents of each digital dollar invested makes its way to the publisher.

To combat this trend, rightly or wrongly, marketers have focused on reducing the number of intermediaries and the fees charged by each, with the goal of improving working media ratios and ultimately the performance of their digital campaigns. Thus, the agency margin squeeze.

That said, the agency practice described in the aforementioned Digiday.com article of taking advantage of unsuspecting, less knowledgeable clients to make up for the margin lost on those that have moved to transparent buying models, is neither appropriate nor sustainable. Agencies conducting themselves in this manner may want to reflect on the words of the renowned physicist, Stephen Hawking:

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”

This is particularly true given the competitive inroads being made by the management consultant and tech consultancies that are focusing on the digital media segment of the market. The best path forward for agencies is to actively engage their clients in an open dialog about mutually beneficial remuneration methodologies.

In our opinion, it is right and just to eliminate the potential for media arbitrage, non-disclosed fees, no charge media weight and volume-based rebates that often accrue to agencies, and much of the time without the advertiser’s knowledge. Further, we also don’t believe that clients are obligated to make up the gap in lost agency revenue tied to transparency reforms. That said, we are fully supportive of an agency’s right to earn a fair and reasonable profit and to have the potential for incremental gains tied to extraordinary performance.

Near-term, the best way to balance an advertiser’s quest for transparency and an agency’s ability to generate a reasonable profit will likely be a compensation schema that incorporates a base fee using a direct-labor or cost-plus methodology with an outcome-based performance incentive. This approach is particularly apropos for advertisers that are leaning toward a managed-service model. With this approach, ownership of the tech stack and or tech platform licensing agreements transition from agency to advertiser; and the agency is then engaged to oversee the digital planning, buying and ad operations chores associated with programmatic media.

Try This Quick Programmatic Digital “Transparency” Test

26 Feb

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.”

Advertisers: Buying Guidelines Matter

25 Jan

compliance-rulesAdvertisers and their media agency partners spend countless hours, invest significant energy and apply a wealth of creativity in crafting their initial media plans and updating those plans to address internal issues, marketplace opportunities and or competitor moves over the course of a budget year.

The question is: “Do advertisers and their media agency partners spend enough time ensuring that those plans are actually executed to their fullest during the investment phase of the media buying cycle?”

In our experience, the direct answer is “No.” The hand-off from media planning to media buying and the accompanying media process controls, forms and reporting are often inadequate as is the level of oversight applied on a post plan approval basis.

Advertisers, if you’re wondering whether or not this is the case with your organization, it may be worth reviewing the following processes, forms and reports for their thoroughness and the extent to which they are reviewed and monitored over the course of a media campaign:

  • Buying Guidelines – When was the last time you reviewed your organization’s buying guidelines? Did you approve them? Are they current? Are they comprehensive enough to safeguard your interests and optimize your message reach? Have they been created for each media channel purchased or for TV only? How are these guidelines communicated to media sellers? Does your agency monitor and or report on buying guideline adherence? What are the consequences to the agency and or the media sellers if these guidelines are not complied with? Too often we find that this important communication bridge between media planning and media buying has not been satisfactorily completed or is so lacking in detail and or coverage across media that it is ineffectual. This is a critical mistake. Buying guidelines represent the explicit instructions from the agency planning team to their associates in buying and ultimately to the media sellers for how the client-approved plan is to be executed, stewarded and its performance assessed. Shortfalls in this area negatively impact media delivery and marketing ROI in a very direct manner.
  • Request for Proposals (RFPs) – Whether sent manually or digitally by the agency to media sellers, this process is often fraught with shortcomings. These include insufficient time afforded publishers to effectively respond to the RFP requests; and not enough information provided on the advertiser and or their specific goals to facilitate the publisher to tailor their proposal to the advertiser’s needs. From an advertiser’s perspective, often times these documents fail to ask for feedback on important issues such as whether or not digital publishers employ third-party vendors for website traffic sourcing. In other instances, RFPs fail to communicate critical performance standards such as viewability standards for digital media or in establishing the advertiser’s position on whether or not they will pay for non-human or fraudulent traffic. It would be a worthwhile practice for Advertisers to periodically review the level of detail contained in their media agency’s RFP templates and review completed RFPs to understand the basis for why certain RFPs were accepted or acted upon and others rejected.
  • Insertion Orders & Buy Confirmation Letters – The primary focus with these important control documents is to establish the specific tenets of the deal (i.e. audience delivery, performance guidelines, basis for evaluating performance, make good policies, etc.). Unfortunately, in our media agency compliance audit practice, we regularly discover incomplete documentation in this area that fails to establish enforceable delivery thresholds or basic qualitative standards to safeguard an advertiser’s media investment. In this era of “Big Data,” it is important for agencies to assert their clients’ data access and ownership rights. This relates generally to the audience modeling and transactional data generated as part of their media investment, and in the case of programmatic media buys, specifically to items such as winning bid log files and the associated meta data from all suppliers, including DSPs. Ensuring these types of data access and ownership rights are essential for advertisers if they want to have a clear line-of-sight into impression level pricing prior to the addition of the myriad number of fees and mark-ups charged by third-party suppliers. These documents also present an excellent opportunity for agencies to reinforce the agreed upon advertiser data protection guidelines such as how an advertiser’s data will be siloed, how long it will be stored and the extent to which the suppliers will limit other advertisers and third-parties access to such data.
  • Post-Buy Performance Reporting – There are three primary concerns in this area, aside from whether or not performance reporting is even being conducted. First, how are media buys monitored and stewarded while underway? What is the agency doing to monitor campaign delivery and to optimize performance in-flight? Second, is the agency monitoring performance across all media? More often than not we find agencies conducting television post-buys or digital media performance analysis, but totally ignoring other media elements altogether. Third, are the post-performance reports provided in a timely manner and include the level of detail necessary to hold media sellers accountable and provide meaningful insights that shape future media plans and buys?

Without a solid media stewardship process that incorporates sound control documents, continuous monitoring and comprehensive post-performance analysis, even the most thoughtful and compelling media plans will fall short of their potential. Advertisers could well benefit from conducting periodic reviews of their media agencies approach and performance during this phase of the media investment cycle. In the words of W.B. Sebald, twentieth-century German academic and author:

“Tiny details imperceptible to us decide everything!”

 Interested in learning more about the role of media buying guidelines and controls in safeguarding your media investment? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at AARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for your complimentary consultation on this topic. 

 

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