Tag Archives: ISBA

Fraud and the Lack of Transparency. What Actions are you Taking?

26 Jan

fraudsterReflecting at the end of 2022 there were two articles that piqued my interest (links below). The articles dealt with two issues that have plagued the ad industry for years now… the monetary impact of ad fraud and the lack of transparency surrounding programmatic digital media. According to Nick Swimer, an Entertainment and Media Partner at Reed Smith, LLP; “The lack of transparency is costing businesses millions and driving false impressions, which in turn is undermining trust in the industry.”

Advertisers, on the whole, currently invest more than half of their budgets in digital media. A high percentage of this activity is purchased programmatically. Based upon a review of these articles, the monetary impact and attendant risks faced by advertisers in this area are eye-opening. This is on the heels of the 2020 study by the ISBA and PwC which found that only 51% of spending in this area made it to publishers. Of the remaining 49% balance, 15% of total advertiser spend could not even be tracked or attributed.

Given the economic climate and the negative impact on marketing budgets, it is natural to wonder why there isn’t a greater proclivity for action on this front among marketers.

Support for industry trade associations such as the ANA, IAB, and their key initiatives (i.e., Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), regulatory outreach and lobbying efforts, etc.) are important steps in this area that will yield results for marketers over the long haul. However, immediate action is required if marketers want to safeguard their investments sooner than later.

Near-term, there are a few key steps that marketers can take to mitigate the negative economic impact that fraud and non-transparency related risks can have on their budgets:

  1. Update media agency contracts to secure comprehensive audit rights, establish a principal-agent relationship and clarify expectations regarding the agency’s fiduciary responsibilities.
  2. Conduct periodic contract compliance, financial management, and performance audits of media agencies.
  3. Assess and tighten media controls including Media Authorization Form language, Buying Guidelines, campaign monitoring and post-buy reporting, agency-generated third-party vendor insertion order language, and client sign-off requirements before using agency affiliates or Inventory Media buys.

Too much time has elapsed since these issues originally surfaced. And while there has been much talk about corrective measures, these trends have continued unabated. It feels as though now is the time for action, not indifference. What do you think?

Ad Industry: Lack of Transparency Limits Trust

5 Dec

dreamstime_s_38659968“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” ~ Stephen Covey

The question often asked of senior marketers by their C-suite peers and in turn by marketers of their agency partners is: “Are we getting optimal value in return for our marketing investment?” A simple question, but one that is not easily answered given the breadth and intricacies of an advertisers marketing communications investment.

Let’s face it, with the pervasiveness of non-transparent fees and AVBs throughout the supply chain along with the number of intermediaries involved in service delivery (often without the advertiser’s knowledge) the strains on working ad dollars are many and can be profound. Combine this with the industry’s “estimated billing” methodology where few if any agencies ever provide third-party vendor invoices to support their billing to clients and it is easy to understand the difficulty advertisers have addressing the question of “did we get what we paid for?”

While the challenges to building trust between advertisers and the myriad of suppliers that touch their business are real, the means of addressing this issue is clear… the industry needs to commit itself to providing full transparency at every level.

Marketers will need to take the first step, reviewing all marketing services agency agreements to ensure that there is adequate language granting them audit rights, establishing record retention criteria and extending these guidelines to not just their agencies, but to third and fourth-party vendors. Further language regulating the appointment and monitoring of “interested parties” by their agency partners and limits to the use of principal-based buys must be incorporated into all agreements. Also, clear reporting and invoicing guidelines must be established with each agency partner to provide advertisers with a clear line of sight into the disposition of their marketing spend at each stage of the investment cycle.

Importantly, marketers will need to invoke their audit rights to conduct periodic reviews of agency compliance with these contract terms as well as each agency’s support of their billings to the client. This is a cost of entry for marketers if they’re truly interested in evaluating the efficacy of their marketing investment.

Consider but one aspect of advertising spend, digital media.

  • Digital media represents more than 50% of client ad spend.
  • Programmatic buying represents better than 90% of all digital display ad buying.
  • Publishers only receive 51% of advertiser programmatic ad spend.
  • Costs such as DSP fees, SSP fees and technology costs represent between 15% and 35% of advertisers spend in this area.
  • An “unknown delta” of one-third* of programmatic supply chain costs could not be identified.

*Source: Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), Association of Online Publishers (AOP) and PwC “Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study.” 

While alarming, these statistics may represent a “best case” scenario when one considers the poor visibility that exists into the layers of intermediaries between advertisers and publishers, including but not limited to agencies, DSPs, SSPs, Ad Exchanges and data verification vendors… each charging a fee for their involvement. The Association of National Advertisers (ANA), which earlier this year commissioned a study on programmatic transparency, estimates that of the $200 billion plus in programmatic digital media spend “70% doesn’t reach the end consumer.” Where does it go? According to the ANA “it goes to fraudulent or non-viewable impressions, non-brand-safe placements and unknown allocations, as well as being spent on ad fees.”

Take SSP’s for example, they typically bundle fees with media costs once an auction is won and an impression purchased. Thus, advertiser visibility into SSP take rates, revenue share deals with publishers, margin realization rates and the number of hops is obscured.

We do not want to belabor the point, but similar examples of limited transparency exist across the entirety of the marketing communications supply chain.

In closing, we believe that the notion of trust is certainly attainable, but not until transparency reform becomes a reality for advertisers. Near-term, advertisers have another reason to push for transparency and audit the financial management practices of their agencies… stagnant and or reduced budget are putting pressure on marketers to do more, with less. The knowledge gained, historical dollars recovered and future savings realized from a formal accountability program can help to refuel marketing budgets.

Ad Industry Launches Programmatic Probe

30 Apr

thThe Association of National Advertisers (ANA) recently announced that it will commission a study to identify ways to address the myriad of issues plaguing the programmatic marketplace. Both the ISBA and World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) are supporting the effort.

Citing ongoing concerns regarding “thin transparency, fractured accountability, and mind-numbing complexity” the ANA believes that these issues, combined with the percentage of digital spend going to cover fees charged by ad tech intermediaries, are costing advertisers billions of dollars per year. By their estimate “only 40% to 60% of digital dollars invested by advertisers find their way to publishers.” Of the funds that do reach publishers, a recent study by the ISBA found that “15% of budgets simply disappear without a trace” supporting thin transparency claims.

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For perspective, according to Zenith Media, 65% of U.S. digital media is placed programmatically. For perspective, advertisers spent approximately $139 billion on digital media in the U.S., representing 54% of total media spend.

Unfortunately, the promise of improved efficiency and effectiveness related to programmatic has yet to be realized. With evolving privacy regulation and a higher incidence of fraud (fake traffic) to add to the lack of clear insight into the fees charged, true inventory costs and placement quality, it is difficult to explain the rapid growth of this form of buying. Yet it seems there is no turning back as programmatic buying has become dominant in digital and expanded to other media types as well.

Despite these challenges, many media pundits suggest that traditional metrics for evaluating media success (i.e., impressions, clicks, views, completed views, etc.) are not apropos for assessing the efficacy of programmatic. They argue that in the end, it is all about actions and outcomes. However, a Google Ad Manager study found that an increase in video ad viewability, for instance, from “50% to 90% can result in a revenue uplift of over 80% (averaged across desktop and mobile).” No one would argue that views and outcomes cannot occur without exposure to real people and legitimate human traffic.

Thus, with advertisers continuing to fuel the growth of programmatic buying across media types, the timing could not be better for the ANA’s initiative to investigate this sector of the media marketplace.  As the 1st century BC writer and philosopher, Publilius Syrius once said: “It is better to learn late than never.”

Outdated Client-Agency Agreements Pose Risks to Advertisers

21 Aug

ExpiredWARNING: If the contract between your organization and its advertising agency(s) has an effective date prior to January 1, 2017, you may be at risk.

Not unlike fresh produce, dairy products, meat, medicine or even beer, contract language is perishable. 

Seems far-fetched you say. Consider that the ad industry is a dynamic, fast-paced business sector. One only need recall the breadth and rapidity of change brought on by technology advances and increasing levels of regulation in just the last four years:

  • April of 2016 – Europe enacts The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) governing how companies handle consumer data, forcing advertisers, agencies, publishers and intermediaries to implement business rules and guidelines to safeguard personal data and privacy.
  • June of 2016 – The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) publishes its North American Media Transparency study, leading to wholesale changes in contractual controls. As a result, nearly 2/3 of ANA members indicated that they would update their media agency agreements.
  • December of 2016 – The industry’s four largest agency holding companies involved in a Federal bid-rigging probe following allegations by post-production houses on the misleading use of rates they provided to agencies.
  • September of 2018 – The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) goes into effect giving consumers more control over the personal information that businesses, including advertisers, agencies and publishers collect about them.
  • October of 2018 – The Federal Government informs the ANA and its members that the Federal Bureau of Investigation would be investigating potential misleading conduct and or deception between media holding companies and advertisers.
  • June of 2019 – Cybersecurity company, Cheq reports that advertisers will lose over $23 billion to ad fraud in 2019 alone.
  • July of 2020 – Year-to-date the European Union has issued over 300 fines to advertisers and publishers totaling more than $171 million for violating GDPR guidelines.

Each of these occurrences and numerous others has led to the need for advertisers to rethink their contractual controls in order to safeguard their organizations both legally and financially. In turn, this requires language enhancements and the addition of terms and conditions dealing with a range of topics such as privacy protection, data security, intellectual property ownership, transparency, audit rights and indemnification.

All too often, the contracts governing client/ agency relationships are slow to evolve, posing serious risks to advertisers. This in spite of trends such as the growth in the number of intermediaries, agency use of affiliates, expanding agency rosters, murky supply chains, brand safety concerns and the prevalence of ad fraud that pose risks to advertisers.

The thinking on items that were once considered “standard” within the industry, and therefore thought to be sufficiently covered in the context of agreement language can no longer be assumed. Advertiser expectations on topics such as; establishing principal-agent relationships, client-centric audit rights, requirement for full-disclosure in all dealings by the agency with affiliates and third-party vendors and limiting agency revenue to the remuneration described in the agreement and or appropriate SOWs must be reviewed and explicitly defined.

In our contract compliance practice, we have identified 3 key “triggers,” which if present, should incent advertisers to review and revise their agency agreements:

  1. The “effective date” of the current Client/ Agency agreement is more than 2 years old.
  2. If the parties utilized the Agency’s contract template as the basis for the agreement. These documents contain language that reflect the agency’s interest, not necessarily those of the advertiser.
  3. If an advertiser has “evergreen” agreements in place, but updates Statements of Work annually. Too often, while clients update the SOW, reviewing the contract for necessary updates is forgone.

The good news is that both the ANA and the ISBA have issued solid guidance in the form of framework agreements for use as a starting place to construct media and creative agency contracts. It’s important to note that while these broad-based agreements are an excellent resource, every relationship has nuances with new evolving risks that should be weaved into new advertising agreements.

Current, comprehensive supplier agreements leads to solid controls, improved transparency and stronger agency relationships. Integrate periodic contract compliance and financial management auditing and advertisers can rest easier knowing that they have successfully extended their governance and risk management framework to this important area.

“The essence of risk management lies in maximizing the areas where we have some control of the outcome, while minimizing the areas where we have absolutely no control of the outcome.” ~ Peter Bernstein

Accenture Exiting the Media Auditing Space Creates an Accountability Gap

17 Feb

Acc_Logo_Black_Purple_RGBIt was a move many industry pundits saw coming. With a focus on expanding its interactive marketing services business, which accounted for $10 billion in revenue in 2019, Accenture made the announcement that it was going to “ramp down” its media auditing, price benchmarking and pitch management business by the end of August.

Advertising agencies and competitors within the media audit space were quick to celebrate the news, for differing reasons.

Agencies for their part have long felt that as Accenture grew its interactive marketing services practice, their audit services represented a conflict of interest. Afterall, how could a marketer trust the objectivity of the advice of an audit firm reviewing an incumbent digital agency, when the parent company offered services that were competitive to the incumbent? One fear among agencies was that Accenture could leverage the information taken in on the audit side and generate competitive insights that would yield an unfair advantage when pitching their digital capabilities to advertisers.

Media audit firms, which stand to gain business as Accenture winds down media audit activity, point out that Accenture’s approach to auditing, pitch management and media rate analysis, which relies on its proprietary rate benchmarking pool was dated and less relevant than in the past.

While there may be merit to both group’s perspectives, Accenture’s decision creates a major resource gap when it comes to global media accountability and transparency.

Make no mistake, there are a number of experienced, highly reputable independent media audit firms that will help to fill the void left by Accenture. That said, most lack the scale and or depth of resources to truly backfill this resource gap. This perspective was echoed by Rob Rakowitz of the World Federation of Advertisers’ (WFA) Global Alliance for Responsible Media, who stated that at a time when the “media supply chain needs more clarity” Accenture’s decision to exit the audit space “creates a hole” when it comes to independent oversight.

Interestingly, the holding companies have focused their commentary in the wake of Accenture’s announcement on the “competitive conflict” aspect of the discussion. However, some holding company financial executives, who know full well the impact of independent oversight on their media agency bottom lines, are likely breathing a sigh of relief. Since the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) 2016 report on media transparency, scrutiny of media agency practices and the resulting downward pressure on margins tied to curtailing some of the non-transparent agency revenue practices cited in the ANA’s report have been costly to agencies.

The good news is that there has been progress since the issuance of the ANA report four short years ago. Client/ Agency agreement language has improved, more advertisers have conducted contract compliance and performance audits and media supply chain transparency initiatives have gained traction. The global fraternity of contract compliance and media performance auditors, along with advertiser trade associations such as the ANA, WFA and ISBA have all played an important role in ushering in reforms tied to improved accountability and transparency practices.

Now is not the time for less oversight and one can only hope that the loss of Accenture Media Management and the $40 billion of annual global media spend coverage it represented will not impede industry media accountability efforts. Advertisers can ill afford further reductions in their working media.

 

Don’t Start There

25 Jul

contract complianceMost would agree that the days of conducting business on a handshake are long gone. Make no mistake, honesty, forthrightness, trust and respectability are still qualities that we look for in our professional relationships. However, when it comes to transacting business the protection afforded to all parties is greatly enhanced with the use of a contract versus a verbal agreement marked by a handshake.

A verbal contract isnt worth the paper its written on.” ~ Samuel Goldwyn

The good news when it comes to the advertising industry, most client-agency relationships are governed by a contractual agreement. That said, there is one common mistake made by many advertisers when it comes to contracting with their agency partners… they start with the agency’s base contract.

Unfortunately, this creates a handful of challenges beginning with the fact that by its nature, agency contract templates are not client-centric. Then, when the advertiser turns the draft agreement over to counsel for review the document will likely require major modifications or, depending on counsel’s degree of advertising industry knowledge, there is a risk that key terms and conditions, which safeguard the advertiser’s interest will not be included in the agreement.

For advertisers, getting the contract “right” is important for two reasons. Firstly, the client-agency agreement establishes the legal nature of the relationship (e.g. principal-agent), while clearly articulating both stakeholders’ roles, responsibilities and rights. Secondly, the agreement establishes expectations and guidelines related to key aspects of the relationship, including; agency performance, staffing, remuneration, reporting, audit and record retention and intellectual property and data rights.

Over the course of the last several years the nature of client-agency relationships has certainly evolved with the advent of emerging technologies, changes in the regulatory environment and a move away from principal-agency relationships, which once held agencies to a much higher fiduciary standard. Thus it comes as no surprise that the complexity of the legal agreements that govern these relationships has increased dramatically.

Larger advertisers certainly benefit from working with marketing procurement departments and in-house counsel that are adept at contracting with a myriad of marketing vendors. Many organizations have developed standardized marketing vendor Master Services Agreements (MSAs) that can be used across their agency network, with some modification. These are typically “evergreen” agreements that don’t need to be renegotiated on an annual basis. Complimentary annual Statements of Work (SOW), which include key deliverables, agency staffing plans and remuneration program details are designed to be reviewed every year.

Additionally, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) have both developed comprehensive, client-agency contract templates for use by their members that reflect industry “Best Practice” trends in this area. For small advertisers, or relationships with smaller, independent agency partners, the ANA and ISBA contract templates may not be wholly appropriate, but will provide a worthwhile guide for key terms and conditions that will certainly be applicable.

In our experience, advertisers will be much better served by taking this approach as opposed to accepting or attempting to retro-fit an agency’s base contract.

Of course, once the contract has been executed, marketing and advertising team personnel have an obligation to their organizations… monitoring contract compliance and financial management across each of their agency partners. The first step in this process, one which is often overlooked, is to socialize the agreement. Since an agreement is intended to serve as the basis for the client-agency relationship, it is important to share a summation of this agreement with those client-side individuals responsible for managing these important relationships.

As it relates to ongoing contract compliance monitoring tactics, these can include the tracking and reviewing agency time-of-staff commitments, retainer fee “burn” rates, budget control and project status reports and annual fee reconciliations. Progressive advertisers compliment these efforts with periodic business review meetings (i.e. quarterly or semi-annually) and by conducting independent agency contract compliance audits every year or two.

Good contracts can be the building block for great relationships. The time and effort invested in fashioning them and insuring compliance to them will yield dividends and across an advertiser’s agency network.

 

 

 

 

Strategic Sourcing and Vegetarian Haggis

19 Feb

Guest Article by Katherine Wang, Senior Project Analyst at Source strategic sourcingOne Management Services, LLC

How would you describe strategic sourcing and procurement? Source One’s company website demonstrates, for instance, that a variety of solutions and services are involved in the day-to-day responsibilities of a specialist in this growing field. I, for one, tend to prefer utilizing the terms “consulting” or “subject matter experts” when explaining to others what I do to, in order to capture the multidimensional nature of my activities. Never have I heard of my work being described as “Vegetarian Haggis.”

When I think of Scottish-related stereotypes, I think fondly of things like rugged terrain, tartan, and James Bond, so I will leave out any negative comments about haggis until I try the dish. However, due to the nature of haggis being a hearty and meaty dish, Rob Guenette’s comparison of procurement to a vegetarian version* humorously captures the common frustration and ambivalence agencies often feel towards the division that handles the RFP, negotiation, and contracting processes.

A common point of contention appears to be the perception that the only objective procurement is concerned about is cost reduction, regardless of the shop’s creative ingenuity or type of work, and as a consequence, parties habitually develop unreasonable expectations of themselves and of their partners.  Another concern is the idea that procurement departments do not have a clear enough understanding of the sales and marketing industry to make the best judgment calls. Digiday’s interview with two digital agency leads indicate how their greatest concern is that procurement develops scorecards and “scientific systems” to evaluate shops and disqualify candidates for incorrect or irrelevant reasons. These perceived impediments are only exacerbated by the fact that pitch processes are lengthy and costly, and according to PRWeek, increasingly drawn out thanks to the procurement department’s increasing involvement in marketing-related decisions. When considering those factors, it’s no wonder procurement is as appealing to the agencies as vegetarian haggis is to Sean Connery (or anyone else for that matter).

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that marketing teams will exile the procurement division any time soon. Putting aside company regulations and bureaucratic hurdles, procurement is, as discussed by Alan Wexler, EVP of SapientNitro, and James Gross, co-founder of Percolate, utilized as the “investigative layer that takes the workload off the buyer when making a purchasing decision,” and help add accountability and structure to a company’s buying decisions. This is especially important when large firms with a multitude of divisions and products seek marketing services and are faced with a daunting number of choices from different agencies.

To allay the qualms engendered by the agency-procurement relationship and to emphasize the benefits that such a partnership would bring, I conclude with a few notes on best practices observed in the business. All paths point to how clear communication is integral to the process. Forbes’ recent exposition on the 2013 ANA Advertising Financial Management Conference in Scottsdale Arizona illustrates the gap as well as constructive links between procurement, agency and marketing teams. Brett Colbert of MDC Partner’s quip about procurement at the conference, “…It can’t just be about procuring or buying…. We have to move the conversation beyond savings, talk about value not price,” deftly sums up the ultimate goal. To meet this target and derive value from business engagements, parties should increase the flow of information to better comprehend each initiative’s needs.

Similarly, ISBA and IPA provide six useful principles to make the most out of an agency pitch. The lesson to be mastered sounds simple enough: procurement, agency, and marketing teams should work to ensure that there is effective communication and transparency among the three parties. Collaboration is important to understanding the ultimate objectives and nuances of selecting an agency that fits well, in terms of capabilities and chemistry, and to avoid using the RFI/RFP as a blunt instrument. As they say, “Quality, not quantity.”

To learn more about how strategic sourcing may bridge the disconnects between marketing teams, procurement, and advertising agencies and obtaining value, contact guest blogger Katherine Wang at [email protected].  Katherine Wang is a senior project analyst for Source One Management Services LLC and a key contributor to the company’s sales and marketing services group. Her unique experiences and insights are leveraged daily as the group develops innovative and effective sourcing strategies for a client list of global leaders in industries including pharmaceutical, health care, and manufacturing. Source One Management Services is a provider of procurement services, helping clients with strategic sourcing and supplier management solutions. The company is based in Willow Grove, Pa. 

*A final note on vegetarian haggis: according to The Guardian, it’s actually pretty good, all things considered.

 

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