Given 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?”