About a month ago, I attended an Interactive Advertising Bureau "Innovators Roundtable Dinner" in San Francisco. These dinners are billed as an industry event for professionals in the interactive space to present and discuss ideas with their respected peers. The topic of discussion that evening was "Increasing Efficiency and Profitability Through Better Agency Interactions." Strangely, it was more or less accepted by many publishers in the room (myself included) that no matter what we do individually, we remain at the mercy of the advertising agencies. Then, Bernie Albers of Federated Media casually suggested, "What about an eBay-like rating system for ad agencies?" Light bulb!
In the fast-paced realm of interactive advertising, media teams barely have enough time to leave their desks for lunch, let alone brainstorm highly integrated "beyond the banner" concepts across a seemingly infinite number of qualified Web sites. As such, they turn to us, the publishers, for help.
We dissect the goals and objectives outlined in the agency's RFP and spend hours dreaming up advertising programs that seamlessly incorporate an advertiser's brand and messaging into our properties. In this respect, the publishers become an extension of the creative process. And like any creative team, our efforts are severely enhanced or limited by the brief we receive.
Many agencies do an outstanding job with the briefing process. Their RFPs are thorough; they make themselves available for further discussions and are forthcoming with information. As such, the opportunities presented to the advertiser are best-in-breed. However, more than several online ad agencies do an equally poor job briefing their publishers, and as such, the opportunities presented suffer.
Do advertisers know which camp their online agency falls into? They could get a much clearer picture by asking us, their publishing vendors. However, few publishers would openly tattle on their agency counterparts for fear of being blacklisted.
That's why Bernie Albers' rating system idea would help resolve these issues. A third-party audit by the IAB, for example, could present verification of best-business practices among interactive agencies. Visualize a rating system awarded by a targeted, IAB-validated panel of industry executives. The panel would rate interactive agencies on a set of good business practice data points including, but not limited to: 1) Strategic planning; 2) Creative thinking; 3) Financial responsibility; 4) Timeliness of generating creative assets; 5) Responsiveness; 6) How pleasant and easy they are to work with... etc.
Reported annual billings and Webby awards are nice, but a 5-Star rating from the IAB would provide powerful ammunition for any new business team throughout the agency world. To obtain and maintain the coveted 5-Star rating, agencies would invest more money to recruit and retain talented agency personnel. Everyone will win, because the losing agencies will be forced to do better.
There is so much commerce that relies on third-party auditing solutions to validate a vendor's claims. And as publishers, we live and die by Nielsen and comScore reports. Yet it's interesting that advertisers will trust hundreds of millions of dollars to an interactive agency without necessarily knowing how those agencies are regarded by their publishing vending peers.