The ANA’s commitment to tackle ongoing questions over media rebate transparency and agency financial practices in the US has taken an important step forward this week with the announcement that they have appointed K2 Intelligence and Ebiquity to lead the investigation.
It has been crucial for ANA to reassure its membership that the trade body is taking assertive action and that the ambition is not to start a witch-hunt. The goal must be to increase levels of understanding between parties and provide new momentum on all sides to raise standards of media governance across the industry.
We also pitched for this task but we fully support the ANA's decision, having strongly advised in our submission that the investigation must not be conducted solely by insiders; it needs an independent team skilled in forensic financial investigations. We are encouraged that the ANA appear to have followed this strategy.
Creating greater confidence between advertisers and agencies, however, is not going to be easy. I believe that K2 Intelligence and Ebiquity will need to embrace six key maxims in order to satisfy all parties and ensure that no reasonable media agency, vendor or advertiser should have any excuse not to participate fully and openly.
To be successful the ANA investigation must be:
Transparent: The process must be transparent, consistent and fair. It should be fully detailed in advance and validated by the ANA. Member brands must have 100% trust in the process before it commences.
Balanced: The process must allow a true and balanced representation of the current status and freely accommodate those wishing to contribute. This should not be restricted to just the ‘big players’ – it should represent the wider market because different perspective, practice and behaviors may exist at different levels of the industry. All participating companies in each category (advertiser, agency, vendor) must be treated the same. The process will focus on the US market but must be able to consider the global media market and identify any business practices and financial dealings that cross borders.
Forensic: The process of evaluation must be evidence based; considering only substantiated claims and the methods for receiving, documenting, storing and analyzing information must take a forensic approach. No weight should be placed on unsubstantiated claims.
Assumption-free: The approach must have no preconceptions or assumptions. It must be wholly objective, consisting of structured data gathering, forensic analysis and expertise in report writing.
Confidential: Information shared must be treated with high confidentiality that ensures that everything is on-the-record but remains wholly unattributed. The process will therefore need to provide reassurance to all participants of high levels of data security, confidentiality and proper governance.
Future facing: The process must look to build closer understanding and alignment between client, agency and vendor for the future - it needs to overcome partisanship, neutralize defense positions and maximize good will on all sides to identify improvements in working practice which can benefit the whole supply chain.
If all this can be achieved then the potential for client, agency and vendor communities to work together constructively to identify better, more transparent ways of working, will be greater than it has been for decades.