Can We Secure Economic Accountability In The Media Supply Chain?

"The best way to fix it is to hold them economically accountable."
— Michael Roth, IPG CEO commenting on unacceptable performance practices from Google, March 2017

Speaking recently at an advertising event during Ad Week in London, the IPG chief made it clear that IPG will hold Google accountable — "the best way they know how and hold back funds."Several advertisers — and fellow agency holding company Havas – have indicated they will do exactly that with Google, until it addresses its brand safety issues. 

These direct comments and actions are in line with recent speeches from P&G’s Marc Pritchard’s on the need for the digital media industry to clean up its act. From an accountability perspective, though, the IPG CEO’s comments about a single (albeit large) media seller should apply to all entities throughout the paid media ecosystem – including media agencies and holding companies, such as IPG.



Transparency, Third-Party Reporting: Why Stop at Digital?

How would Roth react to a client request for funds back from an IPG media unit for failing to perform? 

If it is acceptable for IPG (or Havas) to hold back funds from Google for failure to perform at the stated expectations, then can an advertiser hold back funds from IPG (or any agency or holding company) for failure to perform?

This seems reasonable, but in practice, it is also complex and would have to be implemented with painstaking detail – which it so often is not. This is not to single out IPG, incidentally. This should be true of any agency. Roth just happens to be the one who took the position with respect to Google.

Three simple questions highlight the complexities associated with this issue:

1. Did the Client have documented performance expectations with the media agency as well as media vendors?
2. Was media research methodology clearly defined for these performance expectations?
3. Were the performance expectations & associated methodology communicated, documented and accepted downline in the media ecosystem, i.e. buyers & media sales reps?

All too often, there is a weak attempt for the above, ultimately resulting in a debate as to who is accountable. 

If an agency – any agency – buys a media schedule in accordance with the client specifications, but the media property runs it incorrectly, who is liable? Unless the media property has been provided the specifications and has agreed to them, it’s a jump ball, with the client not getting what they thought was being purchased on their behalf, and no one taking on true accountability for making it right.

This happens all the time.  The conversation goes something like this:

Client:        “This did not run in accordance with my expectations.  Who is going to make it right?”

Seller:        “Well, I never agreed to that.  I delivered on my obligations.”

Agency:     “Now, technically, we said we would ‘endeavor’ to do that.  We did ‘endeavor’ to do it, but we couldn’t get it done 100% of the time.”

Seller:        “Gosh, this is the first we’re hearing of this …”

Client:        “So how exactly did you as my agency ‘endeavor’ to deliver on my expectations if the seller wasn’t even made aware of them?  Can I assume that you will make this right?”

Agency:     Silence

To be properly implemented, performance accountabilities and consequences have to be clearly defined (and accepted) across the entire buy-sell spectrum. Clients need to drive this process and not accept “this is the way it’s always been done” or “we’ll do our best” as an answer.  You can’t hold an entity accountable to “doing its best.”

*National TV Order Letters must be generated by the Agency, not the Seller.  And the Order Letters must include consequences for failure to comply to the Client defined standards and not include nebulous language for media performance.  These Order Letters should be supplied to the Client, and remain the property of the Client (they contain the Advertiser’s deal points).

*Publisher/Digital IO’s need to include language that will drive transparency and hold “All” partners accountable for the Client defined performance expectations.  Again, these should be supplied to the client and should match Client-Agency performance expectations outlined in documents such as Buying Guidelines and Scopes of Work.

The days of using language, such as an agency or media vendor will “endeavor to comply,” should be long gone. That is not accountability. Either you agree to the terms and live with them, or you don’t agree and are prepared for the implications,such as not being purchased.

But sellers can’t agree to terms if they aren’t asked to do so.  In writing. This is business, and it is billions of dollars. It’s well past time to stop treating it like a farmer’s market —and that comparison may do an injustice to farmer’s markets.

I agree with Roth’s statement that Google needs to be held accountable, and with the idea that money talks.  Now, let’s extend that sentiment and apply it to the entire media supply chain.

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