Tag Archives: Publicis

What is the True Cost of Opacity? (part 2 of 2)

1 May

iceberg riskPart 2 of a two-part look advertiser concerns regarding “transparency” and the impact it is having on client-agency relations.

Why is a tight client-agency agreement important? One need look no further than the recent comments of Maurice Levy, Chairman of Publicis; We have a clear contract with our clients, and we are absolutely rigorous in respecting transparency and the contracts.”  It should be noted that other agency executives have also cited their compliance with the terms of their client agreements as part of their response to recent questions regarding transparency in the context of rebates and the lack of full-disclosure associated with trading desk operations.

As contract compliance auditors we would suggest that most of the client-agency agreements, which we review do not have sufficient language to deal with the evolving advertising landscape.  It is common to find contract language gaps when it comes to items such as; AVBs, related party obligations, disclosure requirements and or right to audit clauses. Therefore, it is quite possible for an agency to be in compliance with an agreement as Mr. Levy suggested and still not be operating in a fully transparent manner.

To the extent that reducing the level of opacity is an important step in establishing a solid client-agency relationship founded on the basis of trust, we would strongly encourage advertisers to review their marketing agency partner agreements.

If agencies truly functioned as principal agents for the advertiser, a less structured agreement may pose less risk. However, today we operate in a complex environment where agencies may have a financial stake in certain outcomes and those stakes are not always fully disclosed to clients. Thus the reality is that the potential for bias to impact an agency’s recommendations clearly negates the principal of agency neutrality.  Think about it, agencies today operate as independent agents, partnering with a range of third-party vendors in the research, technology and media sectors and actually owning and reselling media inventory to their clients.

Don’t agree? Consider the comments of Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of WPP’s Group M at the aforementioned ANA conference; “Those relationships, rightly or wrongly, don’t exist anymore” he said, adding that “You cease to be an agent the moment someone puts a gun to your head and says these are the CPMs you need to deliver.”

It is imperative that advertisers protect themselves from a legal and financial perspective by crafting contract language and implementing the appropriate monitoring and control processes to insure that they have the transparency that they seek in the context of their agency partners’ financial stewardship of their advertising investment.  This does not mean that clients cannot forge solid relationships with their agencies or that their agency partners should not be afforded positions of trust. Quite the contrary, it simply means that candid, direct dialog must occur so that each party in the relationship is clear and comfortable with regard to the guidelines that will be put in place to govern their relationship.

Once clients and agencies have aligned their interests in the context of their relationship, the ability to focus their time, talent and resources on driving business forward and tackling industry challenges will be greatly enhanced. Interested in learning more about industry best practices when it comes to client-agency agreements? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management, LLC at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on this important topic.

Publicis & Omnicom Call Off Merger Talks

9 May

publicis omnicom dealOne year after announcing their plans to merge, Publicis and Omnicom have ended talks and called off the event.  According to an article in Deal Book by David Gelles, relations between the two giants were chilled and the firms had simply not progressed through the most basic phases of the due diligence phase of the deal, failing to even get to the stage where they shared copies of client contracts with one another.  Thus ends what would have been one of the industry’s largest deals and probably its most complex Read More

Agencies as Media Owners

17 Mar

agencies as media owners

Over the course of the last several decades media owners and media agencies pursued aggressive growth strategies largely fueled by merger and acquisition activity to consolidate their power and achieve a “leg up” in their respective negotiating positions.  So it comes as no surprise to anyone in the industry when you step back and assess the size and leverage of today’s top three agency networks; Publicis/ Ominicom, WPP and Interpublic Group.   

What complicates matters for advertisers is the emergence of the agency as “media owner” model ushered in by the rapid growth of programmatic buying and digital media arbitrage.  The essential question is clear:

“Doesn’t a media agency have a conflict of interest when it has a fiduciary obligation to secure the best available inventory at the most advantageous rates for an advertiser if they also resell media (as part of their recommended inventory) which they have purchased directly from publishers to achieve a financial gain?”

This is a dilemma complicated by the lack of transparency inherent with programmatic buying, which already limits advertiser transparency into the caliber of the inventory secured on their behalf and or the CPMs paid for those exposures.  

There are a number of dimensions that need to be addressed in the context of a traditional client-agency relationship in the wake of this phenomenon:

  1. How will an advertiser shape its media agency network and assign roles and responsibilities to protect its self-interests of objectivity, competitive pricing and an optimal return on its media investment?
  2. What media components might an advertiser bring in-house?
  3. In the ongoing dialog regarding “Big Data,” can advertisers realistically view their media agencies that are also media owners, as impartial partners, to be entrusted with sensitive, highly confidential data?
  4. How should media agency remuneration systems evolve to reign in the percentage of their gross media investment which is currently ending up in an agency’s pocket (i.e. fees, commissions, rebates, margin spreads, etc…)?

There is no standard, there are no guidelines… this is a “new chapter” in client-agency relations which is unfolding before our very eyes. 

So it was with great interest that I read a recent article on the More About Advertising website entitled; “Five ways for clients to find out what’s really going on as media agencies become media owners.”  The author, Andy Pearch, Director of MediaSense suggests that “the old media audit to pitch model has been broken by these developments” and that advertisers “legacy supplier management techniques need to evolve.”  The primary reason for this, in the author’s eyes, is that media agencies have become “market makers” where they, not the traditional media owner, sets the price of the media. 

In light of the growing leverage which agencies are able to exert on the media process, Mr. Pearch suggests that advertisers will have to learn how to “negotiate with their own agencies for a better market position.”  On the topic of transparency Pearch feels that “it is naïve to hope that the most dominant agencies will cede competitive advantage and margin by becoming sufficiently transparent.”

Two of his more intriguing recommendations include the need for advertisers to “take a tougher line on cases of non-transparent practice” and failure to comply with contract terms.  Additionally, Pearch suggests that advertisers both re-think their dependency on a single-supplier media agency model and, for larger organizations with the appropriate depth of resources, “consider setting up their own trading desks.”

We live in an interesting and dynamic time for the advertising industry with technology ushering in an era of rapid change that will continue to impact both consumer media consumption patterns and an advertiser’s ability to deliver their message in an appropriate, targeted manner.  It is our belief that during this time of sea change, advertiser transparency and control should not be sacrificed in the ongoing pursuit of cheaper CPMs.  The challenges identified here are not likely to be limited to digital media as the trading desks potentially expand their media coverage and agencies seek to extend media arbitrage opportunities.  In the words of Hippocrates:

“Extreme remedies are very appropriate for extreme diseases.”

 

 

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