According to eMarketer, in 2017 advertisers will spend 38.3% of their ad budgets on digital media – in excess of $223 billion on a worldwide basis. Yet, in spite of the significant share-of-wallet represented by digital media, there is generally little introspection on the part of the advertiser.
Looking beyond the “Big 3” [ad fraud, safe brand environment and viewability concerns], the lack of introspection begins much closer to home. Simply, in our experience, client-agency Agreements do not adequately address digital media planning and placement roles, responsibilities, accountability or remuneration details.
Standard media Agreement language does not adequately cover digital media needs. By this we mean specific rules and financial models need to be included in Agreement language that cover each potential intermediary involved in the buying process and to guarantee transparent reporting is provided to the advertiser. It is our experience that Agreement language gaps related to “controls” can be much costlier to advertisers than the aggregate negative impact of the Big 3.
And, regardless of Agreement language completeness, a compounding factor is that too few advertisers monitor their agencies compliance to these very important Agreement requirements. To assess whether or not your organization is at risk, consider the following four questions:
- Can you identify each related parties or affiliate that your ad agency has deployed on your business to manage your digital spend?
- Does your Agreement include comprehensive compensation terms pertaining to related parties, affiliates and third-party intermediaries, that handle your digital ad spend?
- Is your agency acting as a Principal when buying any of your digital media?
- What line of sight do you have into your ACTUAL media placements and costs?
If you answered “No” to any of the questions, then there is a high likelihood that your digital media budget is not being optimized. Why? Because the percentage of your digital media spend that pays for actual media inventory is likely much lower than it should be, which is detrimental to the goal of effectively using media to drive brand growth.
Dollars that marketers are investing to drive demand are simply not making their way to the marketplace. Often a high percentage of an advertiser’s digital media spend is stripped off by agencies, in-house trading desks and intermediaries who have been entrusted to manage those media buys. A recent study conducted by AD/FIN and Ebiquity on behalf of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) estimated that fees claimed by digital agencies and ad tech intermediaries, which it dubbed the programmatic “technology tax” could exceed 60% of an advertiser’s media budget. This suggests that less than 40 cents of an advertiser’s investment is actually spent on media.
A good place to begin is to ask your agency to identify any and all related parties that play a role when it comes to the planning, placement and distribution of your digital media investment. This includes trading desk operations, affiliates specializing in certain types of digital media (i.e. social, mobile) and third-party intermediaries being utilized by the agency (i.e. DSPs, Exchanges, Ad Networks, etc.). The goal is to then assess whether or not the agency and or its holding company has a financial interest in these organizations or are earning financial incentives for media activity booked through those entities.
Why should an advertiser care whether or not their agency is tapping affiliates or focusing on select intermediaries to handle their digital media? Because each of those parties are charging fees, commissions or mark-ups for services provided, most of which are not readily detectable. This raises the question of whether or not the advertiser is even aware charges are being levied against data, technology, campaign management fees, bid management fees and other transactional activities. Are such fees appropriate? Duplicative? Competitive? All good questions to be addressed.
When it comes to how an agency may have structured an advertiser’s digital media buys, there is ample room for concern. Is the affiliate is engaged in Principal-based buying (media arbitrage)? Is digital media being placed on a non-disclosed basis, versus a “cost-disclosed” basis where the advertiser has knowledge of the actual media costs being charged by the digital media owner?
Evaluating your organization’s “risk” when it comes to digital media is important, particularly in light of the findings of the Association of National Advertiser’s (ANA) “Media Transparency” study released in 2016, which identified agency practices regarding non-transparent revenue generation that reduces an advertiser’s working media investment.
The best place to start is a review of your current client-agency Agreements, to ensure that the appropriate language safeguards are incorporated into the agreement in a clear, non-ambivalent manner. Once in place, monitoring your agency and its affiliates compliance to those contract terms and financial management standards is imperative if you want to assure compliance, while significantly boosting performance.
“Today, knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.” ~ Peter Drucker
Interested in learning more about safeguarding your digital media investment? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal, AARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management at firstname.lastname@example.org for a complimentary consultation on this important topic.