Tag Archives: agency remuneration

Can AI Bots Solve the Agency Remuneration Issue?

21 Mar

Commodorergb1-243x300It was a simpler time in 1864, or so it seems, when the “Commodore,” James Walter Thompson, founded his namesake agency.

As the ad industry grew over the next several decades, a commission based compensation system was the predominant means of remuneration. Simply put, full-service agencies kept 15% of the gross media rate charged by media owners from whom agencies purchased advertising for their clients. At some point in the 1960’s commission based remuneration began to give way to labor-based fees that were predicated on an agency’s direct labor and overhead costs and a reasonable level of profit.

It wasn’t long afterward that the agency “holding company” was born and full-service agencies gave way to agencies that specialized in a particular area such as creative development, media planning and placement and sales promotion. Both of these trends directly impacted “how” and “what” agencies charged clients for their services. As importantly, advertisers became more acutely interested in understanding more finitely the details behind the composition of their agency partners’ fees. This in turn created anxiety and concerns on the part of ad agencies and clients alike. Advertisers sought to reduce the level of fees that they were paying and the agency community sought to protect their profit margins and maintain some level of privacy surrounding their financial operations.

Fast forward to 2017 and the topic of “non-transparent” agency revenue sources such as rebates, kick-backs, float income and media arbitrage has been at the forefront of contract and compensation discussions since the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) completed their landmark “Media Transparency” study in 2016. Rightly or wrongly, many in the industry feel that client procurement tactics, focused on squeezing agency compensation led to the rise in non-transparent revenue. Agencies for their part, feel as though they are overworked and underpaid, while clients continue to sense that they are paying too much for the resources being proffered by their agency partners.

Challenging times to be sure. Add in the shift from traditional media to digital, the attendant impact on workflow and resources, the rise of new competitors to ad agencies that include consultancies, publishers and ad tech providers and the rapidly increasing impact of technology on operational efficiencies and the topic of agency compensation becomes even more vexing.

And while agencies wrestle with their organizational, talent and cultural issues, the industry is poised for a giant leap forward in operational efficiency. Algorithms that can place media and inform resource allocation planning and artificial intelligence bots that can actually create advertiser content and oversee the production of creative materials have the potential to displace agency personnel across multiple functions. The question is: “What is the impact of these technology trends on agency remuneration systems?”

For an industry that has relied on labor-based fees linked to marking-up employee salaries and selling their time to advertisers, the notion of automation and doing more with less can certainly be daunting. As IBM Watson Chief, David Kenny, once said:

“If you are using people to do the work of machines, you are already irrelevant.”

Thus it is time for the ad agency community to rethink both how they organize themselves to deliver client services and how to evolve from labor-based compensation models to outcome based remuneration systems.

Wonder if there is an AI bot that can assist with this transition?

If you’re an advertiser and interested in learning more about how to compensate your ad agency. Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal, AARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on this important topic.

 

 

 

How Well is Your Agency Compensated?

30 Jan

do advertisers get what they pay forThe answer to this oft discussed question is easy; “If you’re an agency CFO, not well enough. If you’re a client-side finance executive the answer is likely too well.” Thus it is no surprise that agency remuneration remains a hot topic as we enter 2017.

Make no mistake, both agencies and advertisers alike want to address this topic in a manner that works for both sides. So why is this such a difficult item to resolve? There are three reasons:

  1. There are no industry norms in this area and haven’t been since the days of a standard 15% commission. The net result of this is that there are few benchmarks for advertisers when establishing remuneration guidelines. No standard commission rate ranges by media type, no normative data on agency overhead rates and no clear standards for assessing agency direct labor rates by position and little insight into agency direct margins. This makes it difficult for advertisers to gain a comfort level into the relevance and competitiveness of the rates that they are paying their agency partners.
  2. While agencies want to be compensated fairly, they remain hesitant to fully disclose the financial dynamics that drive their businesses and impact account profitability. This may have something to do with the contribution of non-transparent revenue sources and or the fact that actual direct labor and overhead costs simply don’t allow agencies to optimize their fee income.
  3. Agencies generate revenue by selling time-of-staff. Assembling a team, calculating utilization rates and full-time equivalent standards and applying a multiplier to direct labor costs to cover overhead and a desired profit margin. Whether these variables are transparent to a client or not, this is the basic approach for the pricing of agency services. It is important to understand this dynamic, because very few, if any, client/ agency relationships are able to directly link remuneration to SOW outputs or deliverables.

As an aside, the one collaborated piece of information that we do have specific to compensation relates to acceptable profit margin ranges. The 4A’s and ANA’s compensation surveys have suggested that an acceptable profit margin range to both clients and agencies is between 14% – 17%.

So, without an industry guideline to follow, advertisers and agencies will likely continue to negotiate remuneration schema the same way that they have over the years. Both parties will look at the relevancy of the prior year’s billable rates and SOWs, fine tune those items and adjust the overall fee up or down accordingly.

If both parties are looking for a better balanced, more transparent approach to establishing a remuneration program, we would suggest the following steps:

  • Negotiate a tight, descriptive statement-of-work (SOW) which clearly identifies client expected agency deliverables. An obvious, but oft overlooked component to crafting a fair and balanced remuneration program.
  • Allow the agency to establish a staffing plan, reflecting the resources required to execute the SOW. Review, discuss resource levels in the context of hours by department/ function and the level of experience necessary (junior vs. senior level staffer) based upon the deliverables.
  • Independently review and validate the agency’s direct labor costs for the agreed upon staffing plan. This will give clients confidence in the accuracy of the agency’s labor expense, without divulging employee salaries.
  • Negotiate a definition of overhead and those items that should be included as part of these indirect costs/ charges.
  • On a periodic basis, have the agency’s financial accounting firm verify the overhead charges specifically attributable to the management of the client’s account.
  • Negotiate a profit margin to be applied to the sum of the agency’s direct labor costs plus overhead assessment.
  • Negotiate a bonus/ malus incentive compensation program if desired. The goal should be to maintain a simple, straight forward set of criteria that allows both parties to efficiently track progress against goal attainment.
  • Reconcile fees based upon actual agency direct labor costs at the end of each contract year.

In this context, we believe that advertisers should focus on operating agency account level costs and profitability and not focus on agency holding company financials.

Why? Because at a holding company level, profit represents the difference between agency client revenues (from media commissions, mark-ups, fees or other forms of client compensation) and holding company operating expenses. As we know, the level of centralized support provided to each operating agency will vary from one agency group to another, from one year to the next. Further, agency holding company expenses include items ranging from merger and acquisition expenses to re-branding costs, technology development and business development… categories that don’t directly benefit a client.

In so doing, while it may be difficult for advertisers to assess how “competitive” their agency compensation program is relative to the market, they will have the peace of mind in knowing that they have secured a fair and transparent remuneration program that works for their organization and for their agency partners. As American educator, Michael Pollan once said:

“I think perfect objectivity is an unrealistic goal; fairness, however, is not.”

Do Advertisers Value Their Agencies?

4 Aug

client - agency relationshipsThis question came to mind when reading the results of a recent survey conducted by the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI) dealing with the state of the advertising industry.  One of the survey respondents expressed an opinion that clients were “much more aggressive and much less loyal.” Further, the representative from a creative agency stated that clients were “aggressive on cost and expectation and less committed to supporting their agency in their efforts to deliver excellence.” 

Subjectively speaking, many of us involved in the advertising space would likely answer this question with an unqualified “no, not as much as they once did.” 

The reasons for holding such an opinion may be many and varied, but the evidence manifests itself in the fact that client/ agency relationships simply are not as enduring as they once were.  There have been a number of studies conducted over the last half-dozen years which have pegged the average relationship length in the 3 – 5 year range.  If advertisers truly valued their agencies surely this would manifest it in longer, more productive relationships.  Wouldn’t it? 

Once full-service ad agencies “unbundled” this set the stage for advertisers to expand their agency rosters to address their “specialized” marketing needs.   In turn, this created bench strength and ultimately allowed advertisers to more readily re-allocate brand assignments across their stable of agencies, which certainly accounts for some percentage of client/ agency change.  Over time, the notion of transitioning work from one network partner to another became more acceptable and perhaps led advertisers to view going outside of their current agency rosters as less of an issue. 

Change costs.  Whether measured in terms of the time required to effectively transition an agency or the opportunity costs tied to a “new” agency’s learning curve on the business.  This in turn creates risks with regard to an advertiser’s demand generation and market share accretion efforts.  Yet in spite of the cost of change, advertisers continue to change out agencies at an alarming rate.  

One cannot place blame for this trend solely on advertisers.  The actions and behaviors which precipitate the termination of a client/ agency relationship both parties have a shared responsibility.  Similarly, clients and agencies each hold the keys to extending both the length and productivity of their relationship.  It begins with a simple, but powerful concept… mutual respect.  After all “respect” is an important proof point of the extent to which one organization values the contributions and support of another. 

Advertisers can take the lead in this area with a series of simple, yet meaningful processes which will demonstrate the extent to which they value their agency partners:  

  • First and foremost, advertisers can and should align agency compensation with desired agency outputs, measured both in terms of detailed statement of work outputs and the resource commitment required by the agency to deliver on those expectations.  
  • Minimizing project reworks and the number of start / stops in the planning and execution phases of creative and or media development will go a long way to demonstrate the regard in which advertisers hold their agency partners.
  • Look for opportunities to improve the briefing process.  Advertisers who can effectively and succinctly prepare their agency partners at the start of a project provide a huge morale boost for their agencies and greatly enhance the odds of producing great work.
  • Reinforce the fact that as a client, you value the input of your agency partners.  Encourage candid, two-way communication among all stakeholders involved in the Client/ Agency relationship.  To be effective, this concept must extend beyond the annual 360° performance review process.
  • Encourage full transparency when it comes to agency reporting and financial management.  Supplement this with periodic (i.e. quarterly) business reviews so that both sides have a clear understanding of where everything stands, both as it relates to budgets/ project completion as well as with the relationship itself. 
  • Consider rewarding successes with incentive programs tied to the efficacy of the agency’s marketing efforts, using brand relevant milestones as the guideposts (i.e. awareness, sales, market share).

As Henry Ford once said: “Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.” 

Taking these proven steps will go a long way toward demonstrating the extent to which advertisers value their agencies, as well as the respect which they have for the art of crafting and delivering effective marketing communications.  In the end, they can also represent an important building block in extending the length and productivity of their agency relationships. 

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.   

 

What is the Right Approach to Agency Compensation?

14 Nov

agency compensationThe topic of effective, mutually beneficial ad agency remuneration methodologies has been discussed ever since the mid-1980’s when full-service agencies and 15% commissions became passé.   

There has been no shortage to the variations on compensation structure that have been explored, adopted and debated over the last thirty years, well before the emergence of procurement in the agency sourcing and contract negotiation mix.  The perception among many industry professionals is that agency compensation is a “zero-sum” proposition… somebody wins and somebody loses.  Further, agency representatives have long alleged that procurement wants one thing, year-over-year rate decreases in spite of the fact that advertisers are asking their agency partners for increasing levels of support. 

Experience has taught all of us who have been participants in constructing agency compensation packages that there is no silver bullet.  The variables which come into play to customize a fair remuneration program which optimizes an advertiser’s return on agency fee investment while properly incenting the agency vary greatly from one relationship to the next.  In our agency contract compliance practice we have reviewed commission only, fee only, base fee plus commission, direct-labor based fees, retainer fees tied to SOWs, flat fees and on and on.  Each has its pros and cons. 

In our opinion, the key to crafting a proper remuneration package comes down to one item, measurement.  It has been said, “If you aren’t measuring, then you are just practicing.”  Time and time again we find that neither the advertiser nor the agency has the requisite inputs to assess and effectively negotiate and or monitor a balanced compensation program.  Ultimately, the way to create a “Win-Win” scenario in this area is for an advertiser to tie agency compensation to agency deliverables.  Unfortunately, advertising is a complex sub-set of the professional services arena and valuing deliverables is a major challenge. 

The good news is that consultants such as Farmer & Company have made inroads in the area of connecting compensation to outputs.  Like most things worthwhile, the initiatives are challenging, but can be tackled.  Farmer & Company takes an in depth, data-driven approach to compile historical project / task level information that many agencies and clients have not maintained.  Why?  They’ve simply never tracked variables such as the effectiveness of the client briefing process, time-on-task, rework levels and or the quality of the outputs.  All are achievable and rewarding, but require a commitment among both client and agency stakeholders to begin capturing this data at the requisite level of detail. 

Recently, I came across an article written for Procurement Leaders by Danny Ertel a partner with Vantage Partners entitled: “Complex Services: Alternative Pricing Models.”  The article addressed the topic of service purchasers achieving their “budgetary concerns with pricing models that do a better job of aligning incentives.”  Importantly, marketers and agencies alike can take solace in the balanced approach proposed by Mr. Ertel for a more “strategic” approach to negotiation, rather than focusing on “trading volume for discounts.”  To quote noted actor and martial artist David Carradine: 

There’s an alternative.  There’s always a third way, and it’s not a combination of the other two ways.  It’s a different way. 

If you’re interested in learning more about balancing risks and outcomes, you will find the article to be thought provoking.  Separately, if you’re interested in discussing how to lay the groundwork for valuing outcomes on this important topic, contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at AARM at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation.

There Must Be a Reason Agencies Do What They Do…

14 Oct

deliverables based compensationI just finished reading an excellent AdAge article entitled;How Much Longer Can Agencies Afford to Undersell Themselvesby Syracuse University Associate Professor of Advertising, Brian Sheehan a long-time advertising agency executive which deals with the notion of basing agency remuneration on “deliverable units.”  Of note, I wholeheartedly agree with the Mr. Sheehan’s premise regarding the efficacy of this approach and its ability to strike the requisite creativity/ profitability balance so often referenced in the context of agency compensation discussions.

The core issue, however, is less about the path forward and more about the reasons for agency resistance to this concept, which also serves as the root cause of the challenge with valuing agency delivery… the lack of systematic controls, processes and a disciplined commitment to accurately tracking time-of-staff investment and agency outputs in a timely and transparent manner to enable all parties to correlate agency resource investments to delivery.

Let’s be fair.  No agency ever signed a contract it didn’t choose to.  While client procurement teams may be wired to push for advantageous terms and pricing, agency-side negotiators are no less clever or determined in their approach to insuring their profitability when sitting down at the negotiating table.  The issue isn’t what is negotiated into the letter-of-agreement (LOA), but how (or whether) the agency delivers against the statement of work and or staffing plan agreements.  To be sure, this is necessary for clients to have confidence in the agency’s performance vis-à-vis the LOA.  However, it is even more important to the agency in assessing its return on their resource investment.

As Mr. Sheehan rightly points out, “other” professional services providers, such as management consultants have been able to bridge this gap.  Thus, the issue appears to be rooted in culture rather than a technology or methodology.  Agency holding groups, which represent a disproportionately high share of sector revenues, are publicly traded organizations, run by some of the most astute management and financial executives in the business.  That being said, there must be a reason for agencies “deep aversion to regular tracking of their scope of work” as the author suggests.  This can be evidenced by the fact that there has been little movement to change current charging practices and begin attaching value to agency deliverables. 

Part of the reason, I believe, is that agencies have done an excellent job of integrating technology into their work processes to enhance efficiencies which have boosted outputs per salary dollar invested.  When combined with guaranteed profit levels of between 12% – 15% (which are typical of most LOAs), incremental intercompany revenue yields on core client business, the non-transparent revenue generation opportunities being realized and the agency community’s unquenchable thirst for new business, one might assume that agency bottom-lines aren’t under stress at all. 

With regard to agencies being rewarded for the “value” of their work and or their ability to “completely transform business performance,” how are they any different than other professional services providers such as management consultants?  It can easily be argued that the technological, logistical, financial and marketing strategies which emanate from a management consultant are no less transformative than the creative ideas generated by the advertising community.  Too often we forget that for every “Aflac Duck” success, at the other end of the spectrum, there is a Schlitz beer, a Lisa computer or an Edsel automobile.  Advertisers are the ones who are financing these brands and incurring the risks associated with the marketing and advertising campaigns which support them.  When there are successes, today’s LOAs provide incentive compensation opportunities which reward agencies for their contribution.  And let’s not forget the most important financial reward of all… the opportunity to continue working with an advertiser to insure a future revenue stream.

Agency Charging Practices Questioned

9 Sep

ad agency charging practicesEarlier this week Digiday, a media company serving digital media, marketing and advertising professionals ran an interesting article regarding agency compensation and the “tricks” played by agencies to boost their bottom lines. 

In short, the article asserts that; “For ad agencies, it’s harder than ever to get paid. Their services are becoming increasingly commoditized, and their margins are getting squeezed as a result.”  According to the author, Jack Marshall, this in turn is “driving some to get creative with the ways they bill clients, as they exploit loopholes and tricks in an attempt to maximize their rewards.”  Examples of the bad practices employed by some agencies in this particular area include:

  • Artificially inflating the salaries of their employees when developing compensation programs
  • Double-charging clients by including items such as medical expenses in both salary costs and overhead calculations
  • Slow rolling projects and or throwing more people at a project than is required to boost billable hours

Andrew Teman, one of the agency executives interviewed by Digiday for the article suggested that;

“The problem with big agencies is they don’t make money being efficient; they make money billing more hours.”

For practitioners within advertising industry, the aforementioned revelations are not newsworthy.  Attempts to game the system have been ever present and serve as a reminder of the decades long struggle clients and agencies have had in structuring mutually beneficial agency remuneration programs in a post “15% commission” world. 

Ironically, advertisers and agencies want the same thing… a fair and efficient compensation program which incents extraordinary performance, good behavior among the stakeholders and which leads to a solid client-agency relationship.  To that end, neither party’s needs are being effectively served by the games and subterfuge described in the Digiday article.  The solution to the issue, which seems elusive, is actually rather straightforward: 

  1. Development of detailed scope(s) of work (SOW) to serve as the basis for agency resource investment modeling.  This is an important first step, since it is the SOW which will drive agency staffing and the resulting schedule of charging practices.
  2. Completion of a comprehensive agency staffing plan, with personnel names, titles, functions, utilization percentages and billing rates.
  3. Implementation of an agency remuneration program which aligns the client’s goals with the agency’s resource investment.  Of note, there should be full transparency into the various cost elements used to calculate agency fees, overhead and profit levels.
  4. Reporting and control mechanisms to monitor agency time-of-staff investment, performance and outputs to protect the financial interests of both clients and agencies. 

Unfortunately, as straightforward as the solution may appear, few clients and or agencies have effectively implemented the four steps suggested above at a sufficient level of detail as part of their continuous relationship management processes. 

Some would suggest that the real challenge has been in effectively scoping the work required on behalf of an agency.  According to Michael Farmer, Principal of Farmer & Company which specializes in assisting advertisers and agencies in developing and implementing accurate, effective Scope of Work practices and tools, “New metrics are required to track and measure workloads, prices and resource productivity. That’s the only way agencies can evaluate and negotiate changes in the fees they are paid in today’s marketplace — and halt the erosion in agency operational health.” 

We would suggest that putting in place an effective monitoring program in this area is long overdue at most advertisers.  If not addressed, the institutionalization of the bad behavior referenced in the Digiday article sets a dangerous precedent for treating relationship ailments with trickery rather than frank dialog between clients and agencies.  

 

 

Do You Know if You’re Getting What You Paid For?

1 Jul

The Problem with Focusing on Payment Terms

24 Jun

agency floatNever one to forgo an opportunity to harangue client-side Procurement and Finance professionals, Sir Martin Sorrell couldn’t help but single out those two groups during a session at the Cannes Lions International Festival.  While the topic was client payment terms, Mr. Sorrell suggested that their influence on marketing decisions is putting pressure on the system and the supply chain.

For the record, I am not an advocate of marketers extending payment terms.  The reason is simple, the savings are illusory as those costs simply get factored into the “cost of doing business,” it incents bad behavior and the trickle-down effect of such policies negatively impacts a range of marketing suppliers in the creative, production and media sectors. 

However, for the agency community in general, and Mr. Sorrell in particular, to rail on the client-side procurement and finance teams for the actions of a handful of advertisers who have extended payment terms to their agencies seems disingenuous.  Why?  For years agency holding companies, such as WPP have exerted their influence which is a bi-product of their increased size and clout to arbitrarily extend their payment terms to 3rd party vendors.  The difference between advertisers such as P&G, Mondelez, AB-InBev and Johnson & Johnson and their counterparts in the agency community is that they at least went public with their policies. 

Agency income from float, the interest earned on the agency’s  between the time a vendor invoice is due and when funds are actually dispersed by the agency to pay that vendor, can be significant.  As part of our contract compliance auditing practice, AARM conducts billing reconciliation and days-payable-outstanding analysis pertaining to agency payments to 3rd party vendors.  It is not uncommon to see average day’s payable levels in excess of 75 to 90 days.  When one considers that most agencies bill their clients upfront, on an estimated basis, the interest income that can be 

earned by agency holding companies on their use of client funds is rarely, if ever, openly discussed or factored into agency remuneration.  Unfortunately, save for a small number of large multi-media conglomerates, suppliers downstream simply have no recourse when agencies extend their days-payable-outstanding.  

Thus when the chairman of one of the world’s largest agency holding companies intones that client-agency relationships are  “in danger of being eroded” due to a handful of advertisers extending payment terms it rings shallow.

Regardless of whether an advertiser views their ad agency suppliers as “partners” or “vendors” is immaterial in the context of this discussion.  One thing everyone should agree on is that the ad agency should never be put in the role of “banker.”  Clients should structure payment terms so that their funds are on hand for the agency to pay 3rd party vendors when those invoices come due.  To extend this concept further, client-agency agreements should contain language requiring agencies to promptly reconcile all 3rd party vendor activity and to process payment to that community within a pre-determined timeframe.

There are numerous opportunities for advertisers to improve treasury management practices when it comes to the handling of their marketing investments.  However, issuing edicts to extend agency payment terms is short-sighted and belies the ripple effect that this practice can have on inflating the cost of doing business for those advertisers.  It is time for advertisers and their agencies to deal with the issue of payment terms; client to agency and agency to 3rd party vendors, in a constructive and transparent manner.  The fact that either side would look to achieve a financial edge at the other’s expense when it comes to the disbursement of funds is not where the focus should be.  As Voltaire, the noted French philosopher once said;

“When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.” 

The focus, lest we forget should be on leveraging that marketing investment to build brands and drive consumer demand for the client’s product and service offering.

Interested in learning more about improved treasury management practices when it comes to agency stewardship and 3rd party vendor payment processing?  Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at AARM at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation.

Contract Compliance Matters

3 Jun

contract compliance auditingAs an agency contract compliance auditor too often we see client-agency agreements that are one-sided, lack the requisite terms and conditions and generally fail to provide the advertiser with the controls, reporting and transparency necessary to effectively monitor their advertising investment.  Surprisingly, in many instances the agreements are not even executed by both parties. 

Ironically, when we do come across well written agreements which contain the detail, clarity and exhibits required for both the client and agency to protect their legal and financial interests and to promote a health relationship it is rare that those rights and controls are enforced.  There are many reasons for this oversight, none of which are valid and each can create risks for the advertiser. 

In our experience, the chief barrier for advertisers in negotiating a letter-of-agreement (LOA) that integrates the language, terms and conditions that ultimately protect their interests is that an advertiser’s in-house counsel and or procurement team often does not have deep experience in or knowledge of the marketing services space and industry “Best Practices.” 

On the contract compliance front, once an LOA has been executed it is not atypical for that agreement to find its way to an obscure “Legal” file in “someone’s” office without the instrument having been properly socialized with representatives from Marketing, Finance and Internal Audit.  Layer in employee turnover, transfers and office moves and the LOA and its relationship governance framework are often lost and or forgotten about.  As a result, the reporting, controls and behaviors required as part of the LOA go unmonitored and, in the worst case, aren’t complied with. 

A structured marketing services agency contract compliance program can assist clients in addressing these issues, mitigating the potential risks to their organizations and in optimizing the performance of their agency networks.  The benefits of such a program to an advertiser begin with the contract formulation stage of engaging an agency partner and can encompass a range of activities including: 

  1. Implementation of contract and agency remuneration system “Best Practices” 
  2. Standardization of a Marketing Services agency LOA template
  3. Transparency enhancing control, reporting and reconciliation clauses in LOA
  4. Periodic independent agency contract compliance audits
  5. Ongoing contract compliance monitoring and performance assessments
  6. Financial reconciliations (i.e. agency fee, agency billing, 3rd party vendor billing)
  7. Agency transition audit support

Given the number of agencies which often comprise an advertiser’s marketing services supplier network, and the level of the marketing investment being managed by those agencies, “contract compliance” should be considered an essential element of an advertiser’s strategic relationship management effort. 

“Knowledge is the true organ of sight, not the eyes.” ~ Panchatantra 

Timely, thorough contract compliance and performance monitoring is an excellent means of incenting positive behavior both within an advertiser’s organization and across its agency partners.  The net result can be stronger client-agency relationships built on a foundation of trust and aligned expectations.  In turn, an engaged and motivated supplier network can help client organizations increase their return-on-marketing-investment.     

Do you know where your agency LOA’s are?  If you would like to discuss the potential benefits of agency contract compliance, feel free to contact Cliff Campeau, Principal of Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation.

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