Tag Archives: agency contract compliance audits

What Will Come of Digital Agencies?

2 Jun

digital mediaWith the continued growth of digital media as a delivery mechanism for content and a forum for communications between brands and consumers and among consumers isn’t it time the question was asked; “Is there a need for ad agencies specializing in digital?”

 According to Gartner, digital marketing represented an average of 28.5% of global marketing budgets in 2013. As digital has become more an more pervasive virtually every marketing services firm and advertising agency has developed a full compliment of resources and proficiencies for transacting business in a digital world. This dynamic has led to a great deal of overlap on many advertisers’ agency rosters, with multiple firms providing similar services and introduces challenges with regard to coordinating efforts from a multi-channel media delivery, tracking and performance optimization perspective.

 In our agency contract compliance auditing practice it is commonplace to find that multiple agency partners are purchasing digital media, producing digital creative and contracting with ad serving partners to distribute ads on behalf of a given advertiser. Additionally, it is seldom that we find that these activities are coordinated to leverage that advertiser’s full-investment with a given publisher or third party ad-server or to minimize creative development expenses, where digital asset sharing could have resulted in an “adaptation” rather than a customized creative exploration.

 Similarly, agency holding companies must also be evaluating these redundancies in resources and personnel and questioning the need to maintain separate agency brands focused specifically on digital. Eliminating duplicative software licenses, technology platforms and administrative services within their agency network and re-allocating their digital personnel with the goal of boosting utilization could yield significant savings. Realizing the potential for improved operating efficiencies, agencies have already begun to concentrate digital media placement resources within their network trading desk operations and digital production capabilities within agency network centers of excellence. So, in a sense, the move away from separate stand-alone digital agencies has already begun.

 In order to assess their opportunities in this area, rather than simply allow their holding company partners to transition them to a solution of the holding company’s choice, advertisers should begin assessing service delivery models that work best for their operations. Digital asset management, big data and the advent of demand side platform technology create a multitude of options for advertisers both in aligning themselves with the right strategic partners and or in transitioning certain digital advertising functions in-house.

 The question to be asked is: “Do advertisers have the requisite information in terms of agency delivery costs to accurately assess alternatives or build a business case for internalizing select digital activities?” In most instances the direct answer is “No.” Near-term, advertisers would be best served to begin assessing digital media and production workflows, evaluating time-on-task for each facet of the digital creation and delivery chain and benchmarking the rates currently being paid across their agency network for specific functions. This will allow advertisers to engage with their procurement teams and agency partners in meaningful dialog to begin charting solutions in this area with the goal of allowing advertisers to fully optimize their digital investments in a more secure, transparent manner.

 As with so many technology driven process changes, there will be no “industry standard.” Rather, savvy advertisers will work with their agency partners to shape digital delivery models, which are right for their brands and their business based upon the knowledge and resources available today. In the end, both agencies and advertisers have an opportunity to forge stronger relationships, realize efficiencies and be in a position to better leverage the monies being invested by advertisers in the digital arena. In the words of the great American author, Mark Twain:

 “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Interested in learning more about a strategic supplier management for your marketing services agency network? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management, LLC for a complimentary consultation on the topic at ccampeau@aarmusa.com.



Transparency Rules: Not So Clear

18 Mar

digital trading deskThe hot topic thus far at the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) “Transformation” conference in New Orleans has been in and around agency charging practices for their digital trading desk operations.

It would appear as though the panel of agency digital media experts fell into one of two camps:

1) Arbitrage and profiting on the spread between actual inventory cost and client authorized plan costs is an acceptable way for agencies to recoup the investment they make in digital technology support and there is no obligation to share true cost data with clients.

2) Agencies should fully disclose the cost of the original inventory and any fees or commissions charged to clients in association with an agency’s procurement of that media.

Over the course of the last three to five years, virtually every agency holding company has launched a digital media “trading deskoperation focused on the procurement and in some instances re-selling (arbitrage) of online advertising inventory.  Evolved from the early days of demand side platforms, agencies have layered on significant data analytics capabilities that allow the trading desks to select the most appropriate inventory/ audiences for their clients in a real-time-bidding (RTB) auction environment.  No one disputes the value of that capability and its role in securing optimized inventory at the right price.  The questions surface around the transparency into the true cost of that inventory and whether it’s purchased for all the right reasons.

Theoretically, agency holding companies present their trading desk clients with agreements that specify the type of buying practices employed by the trading desk operation and the fees associated with that service.  Practically speaking, in our agency contract compliance audit practice, seldom have we seen separate agreements executed for this service nor have existing letters-of-agreement (LOA) been modified to reflect the terms of engagement for this aspect of an agency’s media buying offering.

Separate from the 4A’s conference, Rob Norman, Global Digital Chief of GroupM presented an interesting perspective in an interview with Ad Age when he referred to their policy on trading desk charging practices as “transparent, but not disclosed.”  In the end, this may be the most practical approach to the debate on this topic.

For savvy advertisers who seek full-disclosure on all aspects of the relationship with their agency partners and 3rd party vendors this is a discussion that they need to have prior to authorizing the agency to engage their trading desk on their behalf.  On the other hand, for advertisers who believe that they are receiving superior online ad inventory pricing and that the results of the effort are consistent with expectations, they may be comfortable forgoing insight into the cost of the original inventory.  The point is, that these are conversations that should be had upfront between the advertiser, agency and trading desk.  Any decisions made with regard to agency/trading desk remuneration, 3rd party vendor disclosures and transparency requirements on behalf of the digital trading desk process and performance should then be incorporated into the LOA.

While it would be convenient if there were published industry guidelines on this issue and others related to contract and compensation topics ranging from the composition of agency overhead rates to standard ranges for fee multipliers and full-time equivalent definitions, the fact is there are no standards.  Thus, advertisers must enter into all agency agreements with their “eyes wide open.”  Caveat emptor.

An agency can best serve the needs of their clients and their proprietary interest by initiating these conversations, sharing the agency’s philosophy on the practice in question and discussing options that are available to the advertiser within the context of that agency offering.  There is nothing to be gained by suppressing dialog on topics such as trading desk charging practices and transparency.  In fact, having these conversations surface after work has been begun can call into question the agency’s trustworthiness and or loyalty.

So if you’re an advertiser that has engaged your agency partner’s expanded service offering whether in the form of digital trading desks, in-house studios, programming procurement or production, poster specialists and or barter, check to make sure that you have a current binding agreement in place that affords you the desired level of protection, control and transparency.

If you would like a complimentary consultation to discuss agency contract “Best Practices,” contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com.

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