Commentary

Media Auditor Guidelines - The Tail Wags The Ad Industry's Dog

As previously reported in Media Daily News, the MRC has engaged a working group to develop standards for media auditors in the U.S. While this effort is long overdue, it is starting at the end of the media-buying process vs. addressing issues earlier in the media-buying ecosystem.

The obvious goal is to define a set of standards so media auditing firms are responsible in their duties — from use of research to final recommendations to the client. The issue at hand: This approach is truly the tail wagging the dog:

  1. No standards in place for third-party media-buying platforms on how media research data is crunched, thus allowing for possible distortions of industry data ... which just happens to be MRC accredited. Many do not understand the role that third-party processors play in the audience measurement and actualization process — or the underlying inconsistencies in the way each approaches this task.  

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    All media research providers should define standards for processing their respective data and even go to the extent of insisting upon auditing of compliance to their respective standards.

  2. Many buyers don’t understand the math behind their audience estimates and just take what is served up by the third-party platform. We’ve seen buyer estimates in spot TV where the audience estimate is 3x that of the prior four-book trend, with no change in the programming estimated, as well as in lead-in/lead-out programming.  

    If we as an industry are concerned about responsible use of media research, then buyers’ estimates need to be more in line, based on what the data would project. This requires better transparency from the business rules inherent in each third-party processor, as well as agency-buying organizations taking more accountability for the information they publish to clients.

    Standards for audience estimating should be finalized by the 4As and their member agencies. With empirical standards for estimating, it then allows for better alignment when an agency is audited. In the end, the audit is focusing on the media agency’s ability to estimate audience, not the station.  

    It’s critical that up to this point in the ecosystem, the processes be empirically driven and documented.

  3. What is still amazing is that these estimates, in many cases, are not research-based, but are routinely accepted by the station. If a buyer estimates a 10.0 and it routinely does a 3.0, why would the station accept the order? We hear from buyers that “it’s guaranteed,” but when it doesn’t deliver, that doesn’t help the client in delivering their communication goals for that campaign.

    In the end, it’s the stations inventory that buyers are assigning ratings estimates against. Stations, you own the inventory and should own the estimates. If the buyer provided estimates that are not based in reality, then the station should push back.

    Let the agency buyer know that you aren’t going to accept and guarantee artificially inflated estimates.

So where do we go from here?

In the end, we have a system where third-party processors have no consistent standards, agencies do not fully understand what their platforms are doing to generate ratings estimates, and stations don’t, either. (Yet they go ahead and accept them.)

Does this sound ideal to anyone?

The top priority should be extending the MRC’s reach for this exercise to more than just media auditing. Media-research providers and third-party platforms that crunch the media-research data should all be held to a defined industry standard. It does no good for agencies or stations to refute the numbers generated in an audit if there has not been due diligence to assure clarity in expectations up to that point.

Buyers should also have a measurable standard, based on empirical data. This approach ensures that from start to finish, what the buyers are doing will be properly and consistently held accountable by the media audit firm.

Stations, step up.  As previously communicated, it’s your inventory.  You should own this discussion.

5 comments about "Media Auditor Guidelines - The Tail Wags The Ad Industry's Dog ".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, July 11, 2017 at 7:42 a.m.

    Some puzzeling comments here. For example, if a TV seller guarantees a 10 rating but the telecast delivers only a 3 rating, the advertiser has not necessarily lost 7 points of reach. If a really guaranteed deal was involved, with a 10 rating promised in exchange for X amount of dollars, the seller would be obligated to offer free spots in other airings of that show, or others, that delivered the additional and promised 7 rating points----unless the buyer wasn't doing his/her job. As for buyers making  future rating estimates that are three times the recent rating trend for the shows involved, either these are very stupid buyers or the show has changed and they are estimating what a new show in the same time slot might deliver. In neither case are we talking about buyers not understanding the ratings. Rather, we are citing probably atypical instances where not very bright or dishonest people were at work----hardly standard practice. I do agree,however, that the buyers in general, have only a faint appreciation of how the research is conducted and tabulated as well as possible pitfalls for traditional media. On the digital front, the picture is far murkier and here is where there is a great need for universal standards as well as the education of all parties involved.

  2. Chris Williams from ACA replied, July 11, 2017 at 9:50 a.m.

    Sadly the article misses the key point is that a media audit is about looking at the compliance of the contract terms on both parties. A well written contract enables a solid audit (if necessary), a murky contract just enables nonsense. For the digital side, have a look at the ANA/ACA's work with AdFin. You shouldn't do big data media buying without solid data ownership and governance terms and the ability to perform a big data audit.

  3. Thomas Bridge from Media Management, Inc., July 11, 2017 at 10:02 a.m.

    While I greatly respect Ed and his POV, as well as the other comment, the focal point of this op-ed is to illustrate that applying standards to media audit firms is only covering a small portion of the media ecosystem.

  4. Janice Finkel-Greene from Janalytics, July 11, 2017 at 11:57 a.m.

    Buyer Bashers Beware 
    it is very easy to impugn the knowledge and abilities of buyers and/or vendors when you are unaware of complexities and limitations of both the research data and the software used to process it. Hindsight is always 20/20. The MRC is precisely the right organization to take the first deep and impartial look at the issues surrounding audits. Everyone else has a pony in the race.

  5. Tim Rank from blueprint 314, July 12, 2017 at 2:31 p.m.

    Regarding points 2 & 3: Sadly, a great number of station reps have little to no training in ratings estimation -- and often only a casual relationship with media math. Their concentration is on a near-term sale and commission rather than the long-term health of the client, and the subsequent (mutual) benefit that relationship brings.

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