Tag Archives: advertiser

3 Reasons Why Marketing Accountability Matters

1 Jan

AccountabilityAs 2015 has come to a close, many of us who are involved in the marketing and advertising industry will most certainly reflect on some of the challenges faced and lessons learned during the prior year. Rightly so, as future success is often based upon the knowledge gleaned from reviewing past experiences. 

We work in an industry that is dynamic and exciting and yes, at times, trying. The dizzying array of issues which industry practitioners deal with on a daily basis are not for the faint of heart; big data, ad technology, media fragmentation, changes in consumer media consumption behavior, industry consolidation, talent procurement and retention and a myriad of financial oversight challenges ranging from ad agency compensation to optimizing an advertiser’s return-on-marketing-investment (ROMI). 

One of the highlights from this past year is that a significant spotlight was cast upon a handful of seminal issues that have a direct and meaningful impact on the industry. These include conversations on improving transparency, mitigating the risk associated with fraudulent activity, particularly in digital media, and the need to strengthen client/ agency relationships. 

As importantly, we believe that a key takeaway from an advertiser’s perspective in 2015 is that accountability matters, perhaps more now than at any point in the recent past. There are three reasons why we believe that it is important for client organization’s to implement marketing accountability measures in the coming year: 

  1. Marketing expenditures represent one of an organization’s largest SG&A expense line times. As such the dollars spent in this area need to be closely monitored to insure that they are allocated and stewarded in an effective manner.
  2. Optimizing ROMI is the primary responsibility of marketers and their agency partners. This has never been truer than it is today given that CEO’s, CFO’s, CPO’s and Internal Audit are more focused on enterprise wide accountability initiatives than ever before. Further, many of these stakeholders view marketing as an expense to be managed tightly on a line-item basis, rather than an investment.
  3. Client marketing departments are the first and last line of defense when it comes to protecting an advertiser’s fiduciary interests. Gone are the days when ad agencies served as principal-agent for their clients. Ad agencies, ad tech firms, trading desks, publishers and fraudsters are all in competition to increase their respective share-of-wallet, often at an advertiser’s expense. As such, it is imperative that CMO’s work with their C-Suite peers to put in place the appropriate financial management processes and safeguards to protect the dollars entrusted to them. 

Ironically, in spite of these truisms, most advertisers have yet to implement formal accountability initiatives inclusive of agency contract compliance reviews, financial management audits or performance assessment programs to protect their marketing investments and to boost ROMI. 

While the reasons are many and varied, they are immaterial in the context of the current state. The reality is that client organizations which fail to embrace marketing accountability initiatives will be at risk when it comes to insuring that their hard earned budgets are spent in an appropriate and effective manner. In the words of Noreena Hertz, the noted English academic, economist and author: 

Transparency, accountability and sustainability have become the slogans of the market leaders.” 

There are many within the industry, including both client-side marketers and agency executives, who would argue that the move to improve advertiser controls takes time away from the business of creating and executing ad campaigns. 

Quite the contrary, in our experience, we have seen the implementation of accountability initiatives within the marketing area actually improve work flow, project briefing and approval processes; enhance client/ agency alignment, boost clarity around roles and responsibilities, provide rationale to upgrade marketing ops and clearly establish the expectations of both stakeholder groups. In the end, this can improve efficiencies, freeing up time for client facing activities and can help solidify the client/ agency relationship, all while enhancing transparency and controls. 

The primary reason for this is that accountability initiatives are predicated on enhanced levels of communications between clients and their agency partners and they ultimately drive understanding and trusts among C-Suite personnel at the advertiser in their agency partners. 

It is for these reasons that we believe that marketing accountability is a practice whose time has come. The stakes are too high for advertisers not to implement improved controls in 2016. Further, we know from experience that what is inspected is respected and respect is not a bad foundation on which to base a relationship. 

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

4 Common LOA Oversights

2 Dec

client agency contractsWithout question, the single most important relationship management instrument for both advertisers and agencies alike is the letter-of-agreement (LOA).  At its most basic level, the LOA establishes the ground rules for each party along with their respective responsibilities during the relationship and afterwards, identifies agency deliverables and staffing commitments and spells out how the advertiser will compensate and evaluate the agency.

From an advertiser’s perspective, the LOA establishes critical legal and financial controls. These controls are designed to provide a level of protection and transparency required to assist the advertiser in effectively monitoring the agency’s stewardship of their advertising investment.  However, in spite of the importance of LOAs in safeguarding advertiser interests it is an area in which many advertisers fall short when it comes to securing their rights and protecting their interests.  The reasons for this range from insufficient industry specific experience among an advertiser’s legal and procurement team to the lack of an advertiser-centric agency contract template for utilization across an advertiser’s agency network.

In our agency contract compliance audit practice we have had the opportunity to review several hundred client-agency contracts including those that incorporate industry “Best Practice” language and others that limit an advertiser’s rights and leave them legally and financially exposed.  Over the course of this experience we have identified four common LOA oversights that advertisers should be mindful of when negotiating their agency agreements:

  1. Lack of a viable “Right to Audit” clause
  2. Failure to require the agency to track and report on their time investment and to reconcile fees
  3. Inadequate definitions surrounding agency remuneration models
  4. Failure to legally extend the agency’s obligations under the agreement to their affiliates

Without a comprehensive Right to Audit clause an advertiser is forgoing the single most important control mechanism available to protect and monitor their interest.  Advertisers would be well served to heed the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson;

“All promise outruns performance.”

Thus, advertisers should secure their right to review any facet of the agency’s compliance to the LOA and or their stewardship of the client’s advertising investment.  This would include, but not be limited to; fees/ commissions paid to the agency, the accuracy of agency time-of-staff reporting, assessing the accuracy and timeliness of third party vendor billing activities or reviewing the agency’s compliance with competitive bidding requirements.  Importantly, the Right to Audit clause should survive the termination of the relationship for a period of two to three years.    

Regardless of whether an agency is compensated based upon staffing investment levels, retainer fees tied to a statement-of-work (SOW), project fees or commissions it is imperative that the advertiser require the agency to track their time.  Ideally, time should be tracked by person, by day in quarter-hour increments by project/ task and reported back to the advertiser on a monthly basis.  This allows both client and agency the opportunity to assess the efficiency of the processes that are in place to guide project workflow and to identify means to refine and improve those processes.  Similarly, whether the remuneration is tied to an agency’s direct-labor investment or commissions tied to advertising spend the LOA should require that the fees/ commissions paid be reconciled on a quarterly basis.  Further, the LOA should specify how differences in planned activity or resource levels (over or under) will be squared up at the time of the quarterly reconciliation.

As agency compensation models have evolved over the years, so to have the number of components that go into the calculation of agency remuneration.  Of note, none of these components have standardized definitions.  Thus it is critical to clarify client-agency intent and understanding within the LOA by specifying what constitutes a full-time equivalent, what comprises direct labor or indirect overhead, is the commission rate established off of a gross or net base, etc…  Additionally, when and where possible, incorporate the use of examples to show the method to be utilized to calculate specific outcomes.

Finally, with the proliferation of agency holding companies and the myriad of mainstream agency and specialty services providers which they own it is likely that an advertiser is being served by many of those firms, with or without their knowledge.  Beyond creative, media, and digital resources these could include research firms, barter companies, production companies and trading desks.  The LOA should require that an agency fully disclose all intra-company transactions and assert that the LOA terms and conditions apply to and bind each of those affiliate companies as well as the agency-of-record.  This will insure full transparency for the advertiser while enhancing financial controls.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you might improve your agency contracts or the benefits of advertising agency contract compliance audits contact Cliff Campeau, Principal with Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for your complimentary consultation.   

 

An Advertisers Right to Audit

11 Feb

Virtually all client-agency agreements contain a “Right to Audit” clause, yet few advertisers are committed to conducting contract compliance or performance audits. Which raises an interesting question; “Why negotiate this clause into an agreement if the organization doesn’t intend to conduct an audit?”

Auditing a supplier’s compliance or performance is good practice, not a negative reflection on the supplier or the strength of the relationship with the client. Auditing in a post Sarbanes-Oxley world is a corporate governance best practice, part of an organization’s fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders. Further, the marketing budget often represents a major portion of the organization’s selling, general and administrative expense. Auditing enhances transparency, improves processes and controls and insures that the legal and financial safeguards established by the advertiser in the contract are being adhered to. Further, audits provide substantive benchmarks on performance that form the basis for a mutual commitment to “continued improvement.”

So if the process is a positive one, the question remains; “Why do so few advertisers audit their marketing suppliers?” Unfortunately, U.S. based client-side marketing professionals and the agencies that make up their marketing vendor network don’t always take the view of audits as a positive, albeit necessary process to properly steward a firm’s marketing investment. The premise is simple, “trust but verify.”  The winners when a client conducts regular, audits of their vendor network are the groups that fear it the most… marketing and their agency partners. Ironically, even in the context of a dissolution of a vendor relationship, client organizations often forgo their right (if not responsibility) to conduct an audit. Exit audits can yield valuable insights, yield process improvements, insure that all billing and fees have been properly reconciled and that all intellectual property rights and assets have been properly transitioned.

The following quote from an anonymous source may best sum up the premise behind an audit; “In God we trust, all others we virus scan.” An effective audit process does not single out a particular supplier and pursue them in a vindictive manner. Rather, it determines a schedule, methodology and defines an approach that encompasses all members of an organizations marketing vendor network in a fair, even-handed manner.

Time for Marketers to “Take Charge” of Their Agency Networks

28 Mar

time for marketers to take controlGreat article.  In particular, the recommendations for laying the foundation for your “agency house” were very thought provoking.

The examples cited of Honda and HSBC Bank reinforce the need for client side CMO’s to own the strategy and execution oversight for developing, implementing and assessing the performance of integrated marketing campaigns.  Further, the trend cited by Forrester of agencies trying to “re-bundle” their services is fraught with risks to the advertiser.

In a fast moving market, with emerging technologies and the explosion in social media, the case could be made for companies to consider specialized “Best in Class” providers, rather than generalist shops. Of course this type of model will likely require an investment in internal resources to help shore up Marketing resources and capabilities.

In light of the risks associated with waiting on solutions to emanate from within the “agency house,” perhaps this is an investment worth making … Read More

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