Tag Archives: volume rebates

Have You Discussed AVBs With Your Media Agency?

6 Feb

agencies as resellersIf not, the obvious question is: “Why Not?”  More importantly, if your media agency hasn’t initiated dialogue with you on this topic don’t wait any longer; engage them directly to gain an understanding on their practices in this area and to share your organization’s perspectives on this complex topic.

What are agency volume bonification deals?  Commonly referred to as AVBs, agency volume deals, rebates or media kick-backs, these deals typically take the form of cash incentives offered to media agencies by media owners to incent them to spend more on their properties.  Long a part of the media landscape around the globe, there’s growing concern within the industry that the use of AVBs is more prevalent (and non-transparent) in the U.S. than had been previously thought.  Those were the findings of a 2012 survey conducted by the ANA in conjunction with Reed Smith on this topic. 

The value of AVBs, which vary by media, by spending level and by country, can be significant, ranging between 3% – 20% of an advertiser’s net media spend.  There are two primary issues with these deals.  The first concern regards the potential of this incremental revenue to unduly influence agency decisions on advertiser media placements, potentially allocating more dollars to a particular media or outlet than would be warranted based upon approved media strategies and or the media properties share of market.  The second has to do with the lack of transparency around these deals between the agency and their clients. 

Unfortunately, a lack of transparency into the presence of AVBs usually results in the advertiser not receiving their pro-rata share of any rebates secured by the agency as a result of the client’s media investment.  While the view regarding “who’s” entitled to the proceeds from AVBs varies somewhat depending upon the country and whether you’re speaking with an agency or an advertiser, one thing is clear… AVBs are earned as a direct result of the cumulative financial investment made by an agency’s client base.  Thus, it isn’t surprising that a majority of advertisers believe that they are entitled to their pro-rata share of any and all earned rebates by the agency brand and or holding company that they are working with.  In fact, in the aforementioned ANA survey on the topic, 85% of survey respondents believed that agencies “should remit all dollars to clients.”

As it stands, an advertiser’s contract with their media agency may not even address this topic, either specifically or in the broader context of any and all earned discounts, no-charge media weight and or rebates.  Thus, the best place to start is a review of the current Letter-of-Agreement that governs the client/agency relationship.  Additionally, direct open and candid conversations between senior members of the advertiser and agency teams are warranted to sort out whether or not the agency is in fact participating in AVB programs and, if they are, the resulting media allocation and or financial impacts on the advertiser.

A forewarning, do not get frustrated.  Too often when it comes to AVBs the first response back from an agency is often “What is an AVB?”  This is typically followed by a firm denial of the agency’s participation in any such incentive program.  To be fair, the day-to-day account team at the agency usually does not have insight into the agency or agency holding company’s practices in this area.  That is why it is best to engage senior representatives from the agency when it comes to this sensitive topic.  Let’s face it, if the agency is currently collecting and retaining any level of AVB rebates that goes directly to the agency’s bottom-line, they often keep this information extremely confidential.  Thus, clients requesting transparency into this practice and or demanding their pro-rata share of the AVB activity has the potential to significantly impact the agency’s income in a negative manner.  In the words of Winston Churchill:

“There are a terrible lot of lies going about the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true.”

In our experience, a discussion regarding AVBs will likely lead to a broader conversation regarding agency remuneration, scope of work, agency staffing and deliverables.  It is our opinion that advertisers and agencies alike should welcome this conversation with open arms.  Why?  This represents an opportunity to put everything on the table ranging from billable rates, overhead rates, overhead components and guaranteed profit levels so that both parties can discuss the financial aspects of their relationship in a comprehensive, transparent and open manner. 

Finally, one of the more startling findings in the ANA research on this topic was that 40% of the advertiser organizations surveyed were “not sure” if their agency agreements had language dealing with AVBs.  If you harbor any doubt about the appropriateness of the language governing behavior in this area within your agreement, now would be a great time to review the document with your legal team. 

Interested in a second opinion of the soundness of your client/ agency agreement or whether your agency has been remitting any AVBs due your company?  Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at AARM via email at ccampeau@aarmusa.com to schedule a complimentary review.

Social Media Can Teach Us a Lot

15 Nov

social mediaI’m being polite.  The real point of this article is “Advertisers Beware.”  After serving as an agency account director and client-side marketing executive, I thought I had heard it all. However, after becoming involved in marketing accountability consulting my eyes were opened… or so I thought.  

Recently, a post by an agency media professional on a social media group to which I belong caught my attention.  The two-part question had to do with: 1) Whether or not an agency buyer should request unspent monies back from the media; and 2) If so, was the agency entitled to keep those funds.  What was surprising was not the question per se but some of the responses from group members, largely media buyers and sellers, suggesting it was appropriate for either or both of those parties to retain an advertiser’s unspent funds.     

Either the advertising industry has lost its moral compass or there is an urgent need for training and education in and around agency and media stakeholders’ fiduciary responsibilities to the advertiser.  As British philosopher and social critic Bertrand Russell once said: 

“We have two kinds of morality side by side: one which we preach but do not practice and another which we practice but seldom preach.” 

In our agency contract compliance auditing practice the need for education and a greater level of financial controls on the part of the advertiser is played out on a regular basis.  It is not uncommon to identify aged media credits that are extremely old or to learn that prompt payment discounts, volume discounts or AVB’s that have been earned by the advertiser have not yet been “processed.”  

For too many years the advertiser community has turned a blind eye toward many of the industry’s practices regarding agency and media use of advertiser funds.  These include items such as the interest income earned on float and the retention of compensatory media weight.  However, if there are stakeholders within various facets of the media purchasing cycle that are unclear about the need to return budgeted, but unspent funds to the advertiser than we should all take heed.  

This is obviously a serious issue and importantly one where there should be no debate.  The only answer to the aforementioned question is that media agencies and media owners have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients.  Any unused funds, media credits, compensatory media weight for underdelivery, prompt pay discounts and or rebates should go back to the advertiser, plain and simple.  Let’s remember, it is the advertisers’ money being invested, not the agency’s and not the media properties. 

Further, on the topic of AVBs, policy action is required by the ANA and 4A’s as it relates to the growing use of volume rebates both globally and within the U.S.  Advertisers should be reassured that their agencies are planning and deploying their media budgets in an optimal manner based upon sound, fact-based analysis tied to maximizing the advertiser’s return on media investment.  The faintest specter of allocation decisions being skewed by the presence of an AVB offered by the media to an agency holding company is simply inappropriate. 

However, as we all know, education and the enactment of industry policy takes time.  Consequently, in the short-term the best way for an advertiser to monitor their marketing investment may be through the use of independent contract compliance auditing.  

A good approach would be to begin with upgrading agency contract language to provide the requisite legal and financial safeguards to protect the advertiser’s interest on these topics and to incent all parties to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner.  This would be followed by some combination of contract compliance monitoring, performance assessments, billing reconciliations and time-of-staff/ fee reconciliation reviews.  In the end, this type of accountability program will both protect an advertiser’s interests and clearly communicate its expectations regarding “appropriate” behavior among its agents and 3rd party vendors when it comes to their financial obligations.  

Interested in learning more about the benefits of compliance auditing as a means of improving transparency into your marketing investment and control over the stewardship of those funds?  Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on the topic.

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