Tag Archives: marketing budgets

2021 Resolution for Advertisers: Drop Estimated Billing Approach

30 Dec marketing accountability resolution

It is time for marketers’ treasury management teams to turn their attention and scrutiny to the ad industry practice of “estimated” billing. 

Why now?  The long-standing practice of “estimated billing” is a relic of a bygone era and one that EDI technology has rendered as obsolete. 

Toward what end? Simply put, to improve the management of marketing funds, a material expense, to mitigate financial risks and improve controls in and around the disbursement of cash to marketing vendors.

The fact of the matter is that most client organizations do not have a clear line of sight into the disposition of their funds at each stage of the advertising investment cycle. With estimated billing, once marketing budgets are approved, purchase orders issued, agency billing generated and those invoices paid, advertiser controls are insufficient to monitor their funds once the agency has been paid.  This is largely because advertiser funds are now under the control of “other” parties (i.e. ad agencies, media sellers, production resources, etc.) who take the responsibility for closing jobs and trueing up estimated costs to “actual” in a timely manner. 

Unfortunately, the process for reconciling media campaigns, production jobs and agency fees can extend weeks and months after the attendant activities and or timelines have lapsed. Sadly, there is little incentive for agencies to expedite this process and issue the requisite credit adjustments, discounts and rebates. This is largely because they are in possession of client funds and as long as job/ campaign costs have not exceeded client-issued P.O.’s clients aren’t clamoring for a final accounting of advertising activity.

Billing based upon “final” costs provides an incentive to agencies and third-party vendors alike to quickly and accurately reconcile activities and process invoices for payment. The other to advertiser accounts payable teams is the reduction of paperwork in the form of multiple adjusting invoices associated with the estimated billing approach.

In our advertising assurance consulting and audit practice we have observed first-hand the efficiency of actual (in-arrears) versus estimated (in advance) billing methodologies. One of the key commitments required of advertisers to make this work is to establish accounts payable guidelines for its agency partners that ensure the timely disbursement of the funds necessary to settle third-party vendor obligations in a timely manner. Fundamentally, advertising agencies are not banks and should never be asked to settle vendor obligations made on behalf of clients, with their own funds. Conversely, they should not be earning profit from floating client funds either.

That said, many clients and agencies have cash neutrality clauses in their agreements, which prohibit this type of activity. For those agreements that don’t address this issue, we believe that it is simply not appropriate for an agency to make money on the use of client funds. Period. Disallowing estimate billings and requiring the agency to bill only after expenses have been incurred and actual costs known, is a proven way to minimize non-transparent agency profits. After all, allowing the agency to unfairly benefit was never the intent of the estimated billing process to begin with.

For marketers, transitioning to an “actual billing” process in 2021 makes good sense from both a risk mitigation and control perspective. Further, it is more efficient, can reduce payment processing costs and can potentially improve days payable outstanding performance for the agencies and third-party vendors. In the words of the 20th century American poet, Richard Armour: “That money talks, I’ll not deny, I heard it once: It said, ‘Goodbye’.”

Pandemic Impact on Marketing: Prudent Action Required by Advertisers

17 Mar

Action

Ad revenues are projected to contract by $20 billion this year alone, with no clear insight into the lasting impact of COVID-19 on the $690 billion global ad industry (source: eMarketer).

Setting aside the human costs of the pandemic, businesses in general and, advertisers in particular, face some startling decisions as the world implements various forms of social distancing in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

In the U.S. alone, the NBA and NHL have suspended their seasons, the NCAA Basketball Tournament has been cancelled, Major League Baseball has delayed the start of its regular season and The Master’s Golf Tournament has been postponed. We reference sports for one simple reason, the level of 2020 marketing sponsorships. Advertising and promotional dollars invested by advertisers in these properties alone was estimated by Kantar Media to be $2 billion.

In the U.S. alone, the NBA and NHL have suspended their seasons, the NCAA Basketball Tournament has been cancelled, Major League Baseball has delayed the start of its regular season and The Master’s Golf Tournament and Kentucky Derby have been postponed. Sports is but one example and we reference it for one simple reason, 2020 marketing spend levels. Advertising and promotional dollars invested by advertisers in these properties alone was estimated by Kantar Media to be $2 billion.

Undoubtedly, advertisers will be seeking answers to the following questions as they begin their contingency planning efforts this week:

  1. Of the marketing and advertising commitments we’ve made, what can be cancelled outright?
  2. For those commitments that we’ve made in events, sponsorships or programs that have been suspended or postponed, can we recoup the impacted pro-rated investment amounts?
  3. How will media owners/sellers address upfront or volume-based commitments when it comes to media valuations in the context of advertiser rebates and or cancellations?
  4. If we pull-back on our marketing and advertising activities, what will the impact be on our annual statement of work, agency deliverables and associated fees?

Complicating this assessment for advertisers is the fact that so much of the industry operates on an estimated billing basis. Unfortunately, the advertiser’s line of sight is limited as to what percentage of estimated and pre-paid costs have been spent versus that which remains in the hands of their agents and intermediaries.

It would clearly be ideal to make go-forward decisions with a solid financial understanding when it comes to exactly how much budget can be pulled back and or quickly re-allocated. The risk of a bad decision in this area can often outweigh the costs of a delayed response. To assist in this area, marketers may want to consider conducting billing and agency fee reconciliations to help clarify where on the annual spending continuum they’re at when determining how best to approach potential budgetary reallocation decisions.

The time and cost required to conduct mid-year status checks and financial reconciliation work is nominal versus the inherent risk of making decisions without a complete picture. Importantly, engaging an independent firm to undertake these endeavors allows the marketing team members and their agency partners to focus their collective efforts on reviewing plan commitments, escape clauses and assessing resource re-allocation decisions.

Prudent, measured action in this scenario is a win-win for all parties.

Prudence is foresight and far-sightedness. It’s the ability to make immediate decisions on the basis of their longer-range effects.” ~ John Ortberg

 

 

 

 

 

What is the Outlook for 2013

22 Oct

marketing spend forecastAccording to the International Monetary Fund’s world economic outlook, the “risks for a serious global slowdown are alarmingly high” in the coming year.  So how will the economic uncertainty impact the advertising industry? 

Marketing budgets are already under pressure as the U.S. economy plods along at steady, but lackluster growth rates and international markets struggle with the uncertainty surrounding the European Union.  Like it or not, Europe is an important part of the “growth” conversation.  Why? Europe accounts for approximately one-fifth of both the U.S.’ and China’s total exports.  Thus, if the economic situation in Europe takes a downturn, the repercussions on the world’s two largest economies could be significant.

In spite of the challenges posed by the global economic situation, from a marketing perspective, Zenith Optimedia is forecasting a 4.5% spending growth rate in 2013 to $524.7 billion.  Of note, a majority of the growth will occur in the United States.  Zenith’s CEO commented that while marketing spend levels are “solid,” companies are “seeking to ensure that any expenditures are delivering strong return on investment.”

With demand generation a desired, but uncertain outcome for marketers, the role of marketing accountability increases in importance to help keep all stakeholders focused on performance.  Establishing clear marketing KPIs that are aligned with an organization’s business goals, and translating those KPIs into specific performance criteria for each agency in an advertiser’s marketing services agency network, is a critical first step in any accountability program.

Once performance goals have been established, everything will fall in place, right?  Not necessarily.  Advertisers may want to evaluate agency remuneration programs, staffing plans and statements of work to insure that these foundational elements of an agency stewardship system are properly constructed and conducive to aligning their agencies’ resource investments with the desired outcomes.  Layer on a continuous monitoring program which provides all stakeholders with the requisite information for assessing progress and adjusting resource allocations on a timely basis and the chances for improving the efficacy of one’s marketing investment will be significantly enhanced. 

While there are no guarantees when it comes to ROMI, experience has shown that a deliberate systematic approach to marketing resource management can boost results.  In the words of Sir Edward Coke the noted English barrister;

“Precaution is better than cure.”

In a slow growth environment, with budgetary pressures likely for the foreseeable future, this may very well be the “cost of entry.”  In our Agency Contract Compliance & Performance practice, we see the results of marketer commitment to sound accountability practices first hand.

Interested in learning more, contact us for a complimentary consultation on, “Building a High Performance Marketing Agency Network.”  Simply contact Don Parsons, Principal at dparsons@aarmusa.com to schedule a convenient time.

Managing Controllable Spending

9 Apr

The ANA recently released the results of its sixth annual spending survey of 250 marketers regarding their 2012 budgets.  Not surprisingly, budgets are not going up much, if at all.  In fact, half of those surveyed indicated that budgets would be flat and one-third stated that budgets would be reduced from prior year levels.  As part of their budget management efforts, more than 8 out of 10 marketers are being asked to “tightly manage” their controllable spending.  Not surprisingly, the focus on controllable expenses is being extended to the organization’s agency partners as well with more than half of those surveyed indicating that they would ask their agencies to cut internal costs.

The not so good news is that some of the categories of expense reduction being targeted ranging from the elimination of employee training and development to shifts in media mix to lower cost media channels can negatively impact a marketer’s effectiveness in the near-term and over the long-haul.

What if there was an option available for a marketer to meet their organization’s budgetary guidelines, without sacrificing their ability to build brands and to profitably drive sales and market share?

It might surprise some to learn that the ability to boost available budget and drive efficiencies is closer than they think.  The answer comes in the form of a contract compliance and performance audit of an organization’s marketing agency partners.  In a majority of client/agency relationships the right to audit is specified within the master services agreement.  However, most marketers don’t avail themselves of this legal provision, which yields both improved financial controls and recoveries while leading to improved agency efficiencies and performance.

When was the last time your organization conducted an agency fee reconciliation or conducted an independent billing reconciliation that included actual versus estimated costs along with 3rd party vendor remittance data?  Have you recently checked to determine whether early pay discounts, annual volume rebates or your pro-rata share of agency group buying discounts were being captured and returned to your organization?  Do you currently review your agency partners’ monthly time-of-staff investment reports?  Reconcile them quarterly?  Engage in dialogue with your agency partners to evaluate ways to streamline processes that can reduce your costs and bolster their margins? If the answer to any of these questions is “no” then you could be leaving money on the table.

How much money you ask?  In our experience, it is not uncommon for a compliance audit to yield financial recoveries, future savings and risk avoidance benefits in the 3% to 9% of audited dollar range.  While periodic compliance audits make good legal and financial sense, they can also serve as the impetus to strengthen the client/ agency relationship by establishing and tracking performance criteria while identifying mutually beneficial process improvement opportunities.  Interested in learning more about the ANA survey results? …  Read More

%d bloggers like this: