Commentary

Improving Client-Agency Procurement Efforts Is Vital

An Oath study recently showed 19% of ad buyers have never heard of Ads.txt.

We can’t expect everyone in our industry to understand how Ads.txt works, but for one in five to not even know what it is should shock anyone who advocates for its use. Agencies and CMOs need to do a better job of understanding the tools available in the marketplace and communicating their advantages to the organization.

This would help all parties with alignment, and more specifically educate procurement. 

There were a lot of conversations at the ANA conference this week around procurement — and it is about time we turn talk into actions. ANA has established a mentoring program with a stated goal of improving the relationships between client-side and agency procurement professionals.

Procurement’s role is to bring efficiencies to the media-buying process. The mandate has been clear: reduce non-working media expenses to lower costs and get more return on investment for the brand. However, the quest to meet their personal objectives and improve "efficiencies" has done the opposite for brands, digital marketing industry and agency relationships.

Some agency relationships are broken or close to breaking.  

The recent McKinsey report goes so far as to suggest a new role: The Rebate Specialist. Their primary job is to track media rebates and other incentives to agencies to help ensure the value from them passes through to clients. This does not solve a problem; it just adds a layer of scrutiny to a situation that’s already in need of help.

However, a few major agencies have introduced a new role: the brand safety officer.

Hopefully, this is the first step in helping procurement and brands better understand the current state of digital media buying. Some prominent CMOs have gone as far as to describe advertising inventory as “murky” or a “swamp.” (We might go even further and call it a “murky swamp,” but don’t quote us.)

We need more education and louder people in the marketplace telling their war stories and informing everyone. If we don’t understand the current state, how can we blindly affect change? Vanity metrics make everything appear great, even when that is not the case. 

Are you thinking through the pitfalls of each KPI? 

Agencies are meeting the performance metrics brands have set for them, while staying on budget. However, those same budget concerns have cornered them into buying non-viewable, fraudulent and unsafe inventory. If you are buying digital inventory without a fraud vendor, part of your spend is going directly to bots and other non-human traffic.

If you go into digital without a safety vendor, you might pay a much larger price in the public eye.

Even a brand safety mistake that is seen by .0001% of your budget can be impactful with social amplification and news outlets. The notion that cutting corners and shaving pennies in the planning stage is saving your brand money is a fallacy once you take into account the true cost of a mistake.

The emphasis companies are putting on viewability is often hurting more than helping. Viewability is a measurement, not a target. Some of the worst sites have great viewability because they don’t care about users and place multiple-stacked ads on crappy slideshow content. These sites place several ads above the fold and several more around the “next slide” button, all but assuring high viewability — despite low engagement and share of voice.

The goal should still be aiming for highly viewable ads, but not at the expense of quality placements. Brands are accepting due to the efficient costs.

Attribution models are important, but consider the ramifications of fraud to attribution optimizations. If you don’t, the outcomes can be devastating to your budget and beyond. If non-human impressions are guiding your optimizations, then you are doubling down on waste. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.”

Does your agency have the resources to best serve your brand?

Diligence before and after the buy is important work often lost because it is cumbersome and tedious. If you run a programmatic video campaign and review the sites that had the most plays, is anyone checking to confirm that sites even have any video content?

Agencies are often not doing the work because you are not paying for it. A junior agency person explained to me that for them to put a whitelist into their DSP was just too time-consuming.  

Agencies work with what they are given and meet the expectations set for them. If you don't give the agency resources or approve use of outside vendors, you lose more than they do. Firing an agency is easy, however that does not solve the fundamental problem; it just delays your company’s progress and growth.

In other forms of media, “non-working media” is not such a dirty word; however, it is often the fundamental reason your media works. On TV, non-working media manifests as talent and creative. In digital, non-working media is just as crucial; targeting, measurement, attribution, safety, security and agency costs are all necessary to your future success.

Procurement’s role to lower these costs is not aligned with the strategy that can drive this success. 

Brand safety officers are starting to educate about risks and costs, but it really comes down to optics. These costs are easy targets, and using the term “non-working” brings scrutiny. What if it were called “digital investment?” Regardless of the term used, the first step for procurement should be understanding the marketplace and then asking your CMOs how they measure success — then doing what you can to help them efficiently achieve it. 

Knowledge and education should be core to CMOs and agencies with the brand safety officers. Read, share and discuss news and help your organization better understand the digital world. Brands take much longer to build than they take to destroy.

If you are a public company, a poorly executed media buy can lead to large scale public outcry or boycotts, which can impact your financial trajectory and indirectly impact headcount. Don’t let it be your head.

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