It is our belief that agencies, consulting firms, contractors, employees and yes, even auditors, are entitled to earn as much money as they can in return for services rendered. Further, we are agnostic when it comes to the mode of remuneration, whether those fees are predicated on a resource based, outcome-based or value-based pricing model.
We also recognize that client organizations have the intelligence and wherewithal to negotiate professional services agreements that satisfactorily address both their needs and their budgets.
That said, experience has taught us that sound Client/Agency agreements should also place limitations on the revenue earned by an advertiser’s agency partners. In short, agency revenue should be limited explicitly to those forms and amounts of revenue that are intended and accordingly defined within the agreement, or otherwise agreed to in writing by the client. Period. The end.
Unfortunately, in our contract compliance audit practice, it is too often that we find agreements which don’t effectively restrict agency revenue to that which has been negotiated and memorialized in the contract between the parties. This can lead to misunderstandings and in rare cases bad behavior on the part of professional services providers seeking to unjustly optimize their revenue yield.
Below are four examples of appropriate contract limitations for advertisers to place on agency revenue, once the remuneration program has been negotiated:
- An agency should not be allowed to earn money on the handling or holding of client funds. Examples of this could include the earning of interest or “float” income and rebates or bonuses earned from the use of corporate credit or purchase cards to pay third-party vendors for purchases made on behalf of a client.
- All expenses, including those for third-party commitments and out-of-pocket expenses, should be billed on a net basis, at the agency’s cost, with no mark-up allowed.
- Discounts, rebates or any other benefits earned by the agency, its holding company and or related parties tied to the investment of client funds and or prompt payment to third-party vendors should be remitted back to the client upon receipt of such benefit.
- For direct labor based fees, the agency should not be allowed to charge for employee hours in excess of the full-time equivalent (FTE) standard (e.g. 1,800 hours per annum). Quite simply, once the FTE threshold has been met, the agency has fully recouped employee direct labor and overhead costs and realized the agreed upon profit margin.
One further measure of protection for advertisers is the addition of contract language requiring the agency to be transparent, to fully disclose all transactions and the flow of client funds along with the presence of any rebates or incentives received by the agency directly or indirectly.
Please note, that the “limitations” listed above are not meant to restrict an agency’s ability to earn a fee that is reflective of their delivered value. The intent is simply to limit agency revenue to those sources agreed to by both parties, thus providing the requisite protection to the advertiser.
“Confidence… thrives on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection and on unselfish performance.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt