Tag Archives: internal audit

Does Your Organization View Marketing Spend as a Material Expense?

2 Mar

digital mediaWhile on the surface this seems like a nonsensical question, advertiser indifference toward independent contract compliance, financial management and performance auditing of their agency partners might suggest an answer that would surprise you.

According to The CMO Survey conducted by Deloitte, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the American Marketing Association in February of 2018, companies surveyed spent on average 10.3% of their annual sales on marketing. This would certainly qualify as a “material” expense in our book, particularly when one considers that this investment is being made to build brand equity, establish customer loyalty and to drive demand generation.

So why do so many advertisers take a laissez-faire (French term that translates as “leave alone”) attitude toward basic governance and assurance practices related to their marketing spend?

Is it the belief that a tight client-agency agreement provides the requisite safeguards and controls? Perhaps it is because of an unyielding level of trust in one’s agency partners, intermediaries and third-party vendors exhibited by an organization’s C-suite.

Based upon our experience over two decades of providing contract compliance support to some of the world’s leading advertisers we know that this is not the case. Marketers recognize that the industry is fluid and that the breadth and rapidity of change is such that contract language needs to be reviewed and updated on a frequent basis. Similarly, while advertisers certainly trust their agencies, there is also a core belief in the concept of “trust but verify.”

No, we believe that the reason for the laissez-faire approach to marketing accountability is the fact that no one function “owns” this task organizationally.

In our experience, few marketing departments willingly invite independent scrutiny of their marketing and advertising practices, controls and or the performance of their agency networks. If such examination is not mandated corporately, it will likely not be initiated by marketing. Similarly, the procurement organization is typically focused on screening, vetting and contracting with current and potential marketing vendors. Many procurement teams recognize the value of periodic agency audits, but as “support” departments they rarely have the budget to self-fund such accountability initiatives. The same is true of Internal Audit and their ability to underwrite the cost of audit projects in this area.

In many instances, procurement and internal audit leaders will approach marketing and ask for their participation in and funding for a governance and assurance initiative, but too often this is proffered on a voluntary basis. Unfortunately, this scenario rarely leads to a marketing accountability and transparency review. Thus, in the end, if an organization doesn’t mandate periodic examinations or the ongoing monitoring of its marketing investment or provide funding for such an initiative to its procurement and internal audit team(s) than it may be “flying blind” when it comes to safeguarding its marketing investment.

The irony, as progressive marketing organizations have learned, is that a formal governance and assurance program, which includes marketing, provides financial returns that more than pay for the cost of the attendant independent examinations. Further, the resulting improvements in contract language and process related learnings yield efficiency gains for clients and agencies alike and the resulting transparency gains can serve as the impetus for improving the level of trust and ultimately the relationship between these partners.

With an admitted “pro audit” bias, we can state unequivocally that our experience over the course of two plus decades of providing contract compliance and financial management audit support to advertisers, our belief in the old saying; “In god we trust, all others we audit” has never been stronger.

 

Funding Accountability Initiatives

26 Aug

Accountability FinalThe desire on the part of many advertisers to extend their organization’s accountability initiative to marketing is high. This is due to the fact that marketing is both one of the largest indirect expense categories within an organization and, for those that believe in its ability to drive strategic outcomes, critical in driving brand value and demand generation.

One of the key challenges for Internal Audit and Procurement professionals in implementing accountability programs is that they typically do not have a budget to fund the projects. Rather, they are reliant on their peers in Marketing to “buy in” to the concept and to underwrite the investment associated with analyzing contract compliance, financial management and in-market performance across their agency networks. This dynamic can create a loggerhead that delays or prevents corporate scrutiny into marketing and advertising spending and its resulting business impact.

The irony is that relative to the millions of dollars invested in marketing, the cost of implementing an accountability program for this corporate function is much less than one-percent of total spend. As we know, applying the skills and capabilities of audit and procurement teams and outside consultants typically results in improved controls that mitigate financial and legal risks to the organization. Further, these efforts often uncover historical errors and overbillings, and always generate future savings and improved marketing return-on-investment opportunities that more than offset the cost of the program.

It has always been a mystery as to why more advertisers simply don’t formalize and legislate the marketing accountability program and establish the requisite budget to be administered by the CFO / Finance organization. A minority of our clients operate in this manner, but clearly a “win, win” situation is created where internal audit and procurement provide their support and apply their resources pro-actively and marketing doesn’t feel as though funding is coming at the expense of critical business building programs within their budgets.

From our perspective, the source of funding for extending a corporate accountability initiative to marketing is the last hurdle. The reason is that we have seen marketing’s appreciation for accountability support grow along with their respect for the audit and procurement functions and a recognition that such programs can improve the efficiency and efficacy of the organization’s marketing spend.

The advertising industry is a complex; rapidly changing, technology-driven sector fraught with opacity challenges and risks such as digital media fraud and non-transparent revenue practices employed by agencies, ad tech providers, ad exchanges and media sellers. In light of these dynamics, organizations truly understand the benefit of monitoring the disposition of their marketing investment and the performance of their advertising agencies and third-party vendors.

It has been over 140 years since Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker offered the following perspective on his ad spend:

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Yet, with the passage of time it would be difficult for the industry to suggest that much has changed with regard to a marketers ability to accurately assess the efficacy of their advertising spend.

There is no time like the present to proactively develop; implement and fund transformative accountability programs that can optimize planned business outcomes, while safeguarding marketing spend at every level of the advertising investment cycle.

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

Advertisers, Did You Get What You Paid For?

2 Dec

contract compliance auditingGiven the complexity and opacity of the advertising ecosystem, at least from a billing and reconciliation perspective, it can be very difficult for an advertiser to assess if their organization received full value for their advertising investment.

Consider that most agency billing to clients is done on an estimated basis, that supporting invoice detail is often limited and that seldom is 3rd party vendor invoice documentation contained with an agency’s billing to the advertiser. Not to mention the fact that production jobs can take several months to close, that media post-buy analyses typically occur three to six months after a campaign’s initial month-of-service billing or that agency time-of-staff summaries may only be provided semi-annually or at year end… if at all. 

Many advertiser/ agency agreements provide guidelines to help mitigate some of the concerns that may arise with regard to the notion of receiving full budgetary value.  Document retention clauses, expense billing detail requirements, accounts payable timing parameters and audit rights language are examples of the terms and conditions which are negotiated into agreements to safeguard advertisers. Ironically, very few advertisers take advantage of these contractual protections to conduct detailed reviews of the billing and financial stewardship portion of their respective agency partners’ performance.

However, pressure has begun to mount from stakeholder groups within client organizations that are not directly involved in the agency relationship management loop to provide a higher level of accountability when it comes to the disposition of their marketing funds.  Further, functions such as finance, internal audit and procurement have even stepped up to provide funding and or personnel support to help their counterparts in marketing implement billing, financial management and contract compliance reviews of their agency networks.

This type of testing and analysis should be welcomed with open arms by both the Marketing Team and an advertiser’s agency partners. Let’s face it, marketing teams, which are often resource constrained, have their hands full with their primary responsibility… demand generation. Further, some of the competencies and experience which best lend themselves to conducting financial testing may not be represented on staff within the marketing group. Similarly, agency finance teams have become both accustomed to and quite adept at entertaining advertisers and or their audit partners in conducting billing reconciliations and contract compliance reviews.

If such support is not forthcoming, marketers may want to actively solicit the involvement of their corporate services peers to implement a marketing accountability initiative. Inviting this type of internal scrutiny has more benefits than negatives. Consider the words of Edward Coke, the noted English barrister, judge and politician:

“Certainty is the mother of quiet and repose, and uncertainty the cause of variance and contentions.”

Removing any uncertainty regarding the organization’s advertising investment and the efficacy of each agencies billing and reconciliation processes has asset value for marketers which extends well beyond answering the basic question; “Did we get what we paid for?”

 

 

Auditor Compensation Should be Aligned With Client Objectives

15 May

audit compensationAt the recent ANA “Agency Financial Management” conference in Boca Raton, FL there was much conversation around the topic of “contingency” auditors and the relevancy of recovery based compensation models for media and contract compliance audit firms.  This perspective was largely fueled by presenters representing fee-based firms and associations.   Whether their perspective was driven by a desire to pander to their association members, the agency representatives at the conference or somehow believing that being a fee-based auditor was somehow the lesser of two evils is unclear.

In our opinion, this is a largely irrelevant, self-serving position that masks the true benefits of third-party independent marketing audits and reviews.  Our position is that audit compensation models should be treated no differently than those of other professional services firms… including advertising agencies.  Compensation should be tied directly to a scope of services.  These deliverables drive the value of the audit including; contract compliance, process improvement, agency performance assessments, improved reporting/ transparency and or financial reconciliation.  The notion that compensation methodologies somehow skew audit results is a direct affront to the integrity of the advertiser.  The fact is that it is the historical agency billings/ advertiser payments and their basis that determines whether or not the advertiser is entitled to a financial true-up, not the manner in which an auditor is compensated.

If an audit determines that an agency owes their client money due to billing errors, earned but unprocessed credits, rebates and discounts or time-of-staff under-delivery, the findings have nothing to do with how the advertiser has funded an audit.  Like performance based compensation systems espoused by agencies, a combination fee plus performance incentive compensation approach is equally valid and viable for auditors.  The key is to align auditor compensation with the advertiser’s business objectives and culture.  Encouraging their professional services partners to have “skin in the game” as it relates to the financial efficacy of the audit, whether based upon recoveries or future savings is a standard, professional approach for advertisers to employ.

Importantly, performance based compensation systems provide the requisite incentive for audit firms to look beyond the time-capped limitations of fee-based approaches to ensure a thorough assessment based on a comprehensive data review rather than sampling.  Further, the need to audit, whether part of an enterprise accountability initiative, tied to marketing agency turnover or simply following best practices related to enterprise-wide financial risk management protocol, often requires financial flexibility when it comes to funding the initiative.  Thus, a blended compensation system which includes a base fee and performance incentive can enable the advertiser to advance their audit program within the current budget year, without jeopardizing Procurement’s, Internal Audit’s or Marketing’s other initiatives.

During the aforementioned ANA conference, it was suggested by one client-side marketer that “those types of audits,” referring to contingency audits, are frequently initiated by procurement, not by marketing.  Let’s be honest, virtually all third-party audit activity emanates from finance, internal audit or procurement.  Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that an organization’s marketing spend represents one of the largest components of an advertiser’s selling and general administrative expense, U.S. marketing executives have yet to fully embrace their organization’s accountability initiatives.  Focusing on auditor compensation is simply a misguided attempt to further delay any third-party scrutiny.  And if this is not the case, ask those marketing executives to underwrite the cost of a fee-based audit and gauge their reaction to the request.  In the words of noted American author, Katherine Brush:

“Most passport pictures are good likenesses, it is time we faced it.”

At AARM we conduct contract compliance and agency performance audits for a broad-range of multi-national advertisers, many that are represented on AdAge’s “Top 100” advertisers list.  For the record, we are compensation agnostic.  Our goal is simple – to structure a compensation approach that aligns our efforts with the client’s business objectives, culture and audit deliverables.  Of note, in AARM’s process all audit observations are vetted with the agency prior to being shared with the client.  Therefore, if there exists any erroneous findings or the agency feels as though they can share additional information to clarify the findings represented in the audit, the opportunity exists for the agency to address those items before the audit report is published.  In the end, the facts are the facts, regardless of the manner in which an audit firm is compensated.  If an advertiser doesn’t feel as though they can trust the results of the audit, then we would suggest the real issue was the screening process employed on the front-end to select the audit partner, not the compensation program.

Survey Reinforces Need for Independent Auditing

18 Jul

calculator and cashIt is widely understood that a coordinated audit program, leveraging the resources of Internal Audit and the strategic use of 3rd party auditors is a smart business practice and represents good corporate governance.  The audit process results in improved transparency and solid control testing, both important elements when attempting to ensure that an organization is securing maximum value for the money spent while incurring the least amount of risk.

Adding fuel to the “pro” audit argument is a global study of 550 accounts payable departments conducted by software provider Basware. The eye-opening results certainly reinforce the need for organizations to periodically review procurement and AP processes and controls and to monitor the performance of both the organization’s own AP department and that of its vendor network.  Perhaps most alarming, the Basware study found that just 40% of invoices generated were based upon purchase orders and where a valid P.O. did exist, many financial departments had trouble reconciling against them.  Further, among the survey respondents, which processed on average 93,000 invoices per year, 7% contained errors.  These errors led delays in paying suppliers among 35% of the respondents and delays in being paid among 24% of the respondents.

In spite of the fact that many vendor agreements contain AP guidelines and even spell out accounts payable criteria related to prompt pay discounts, late fee avoidance, days payable targets, fiscal period reconciliation parameters, etc… too often performance in this area goes unchecked. A parting thought, inspired by the words of Sir Edward Coke, the noted seventeenth-century English jurist;  “Precaution is better than cure.”  Read More.

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