In a surprise move, the ad industry’s media ratings watchdog -- the Media Rating Council -- is poised to probe the people big brands hire to probe their agencies’ media performance. The MRC has formed a working group to begin reviewing the methods and data used by media auditors that marketers retain to evaluate the performance of agency media plans and buys.
The move, which comes at a time when big marketers and agencies are embroiled in a wide range of fraud and “transparency” issues, represents a pivot for the MRC, which was created by the industry as a self-regulatory body to audit and accredit media ratings methods.
The MRC was asked to form the working group by media suppliers, because they are often caught in the middle between marketers and agencies when the data they use differs from what the suppliers use as the basis of their sales.
“They’re asking to set some ground rules for how agency media audits are done,” MRC CEO and Executive Director George Ivie confirmed in response to a MediaDailyNews query.
You might ask why the sellers care about that,” Ivie continued, explaining that the big issue is in the type of data used by auditors as part of their evaluation process. Ivie said that the auditors frequently utilize data processed by third parties that may differ from the original data from the ratings provider, creating confusion and discrepancies between the original media buy and how it was posted.
Ivie said the working group is poised to have its first meeting soon and it will include representatives from all sides of the marketplace -- agencies, advertisers, media suppliers and auditors -- and that the goal will be to establish uniform guidelines that reduce the “variability” of media ratings data used as the basis for agency media audits.
“Why would they ask the MRC to do this?” Ivie said rhetorically. “We don’t do agency audits and we don’t want to do that, but we have a very transparent audit process and we were asked to organize this.”
Ivie said the extent of the MRC’s role likely would be to simply “get people around the table to set some ground rules.”
It wouldn’t be the first time the industry asked the MRC to set some ground rules. The MRC has become the industry’s default arbiter for establishing guidelines not just for auditing media ratings, but for what constitutes key components for defining what is being rated. The most notable example is the MRC’s guidelines for desktop and mobile ad “viewability,” which have become the industry’s de facto standard.
Ivie said it’s unlikely the MRC or the new working group would issue standards and said the goal is simply to help educate the industry on what happens when media ratings data are processed by third parties and end up in media performance audits.
He said agencies apply that data in a wide variety of ways and interpretations and they may not all utilize the same rigorous standards.
He likened the process to corporate financial reporting, noting that when a corporation releases a “financial statement,” some of the most meaningful information is contained in the “notes” to the statement provided by the certified public accounting firm responsible for preparing the statement.Ivie said the project likely would last for a few months and that the main goal is simply to give all sides of the industry a better sense of the risks and volatility of the data used to post and audit media buys.