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Audits not aggro must be the mantra for 2022

Updated: May 19, 2022

By Jane Dormer, Media Marketing Compliance (MMC) Global Client Services


Marketing procurement has always been an asset to any brand. And it can be for agencies too.

Never more so when there is a ‘crisis’ or belt tightening, as we have had in recent times with the triple whammy of Brexit, Covid and supply chain restrictions.

Marketing procurement teams need to support and promote the partnerships between marketers and suppliers, ensuring transparency on all sides and demonstrating their return on investment.

An obvious tool in all of this is agency audits. While I have seen them evolve and grow over 20 years, I am also adamant they haven’t always been used to their full potential. For either party.

With up to 60% of media spend for many brands shifting into digital this area certainly needs focus.

A recent report from Human Security showed that marketing fraud is growing in the online advertising space. Compliance auditing will certainly help in a sector where 60% of respondents described themselves as being “worse than average at handling the problem of marketing fraud.”

Historically, it has been hard to follow the supply chain and, in many cases, auditors have been unable to do so because client contracts have only talked about 1st and occasionally 2nd party data. This excludes access to Agency Trading Desks, DSP, data costs, ad serving and exchange which can account for up to 50% of the media spend before you even look at issues of fraud, non-viewability and non-brand safe work.

Add it all up and potentially only about 10% of the media budget is spent on ads that get viewed by a real person.

It is important that we support our clients with contractual transparency to be able to follow their money trail right the way through that supply chain, opening the closed models.

Alongside this, agencies need to be given confidence in our integrity with that data, providing everyone with a stronger financial relationship. Crucially, the knowledge that every possible penny is used to exploit the impact of the programmatic buy.

All of us involved in media must – urgently – review our perception and expectation of audits. This will not only ensure audits really are useful, but it will also assist in the repair of some frayed advertiser/agency relations.

Good auditing proves the value of an agency to an in-house team. It also gives comfort to board directors on the client side that their own teams are delivering. And when client CFOs require either a reduction in costs or better value for money, an audit says their marketing team knows what’s happening, what’s working, and what’s not. It provides the foundation on which they can either defend or improve an agency relationship.

Unhelpfully, for some advertisers and agencies, audits have sometimes been about finding fault.

Confrontational and time-consuming pieces of work perhaps based too much on justifying a position rather than fairly and accurately judging a marketing investment.

Rather than either side having an adversarial approach, both advertiser and agency should be able to enter a compliance audit knowing it will benefit both parties. Of course, there will always be a focus on the money, but other outputs should also identify what needs to be done to make things work smoothly and transparently for everyone going forward.

When I started in marketing procurement over 20 years ago it was from industry bodies such as the WFA and ISBA, my media agency and procurement colleagues and specialists such as my now colleague, Stephen Broderick, that I learned that neither side needed to bluff, blag, squirrel away data or squeeze the other. Rather, a great working relationship supported by planned and practical audit trails helped everyone succeed and prosper.

An audit must not be about finding ways to batter down an agency’s margin. Nor a way of unfairly blaming a client. Instead, it is best deployed to ensure both build a better future. Then an agency will enjoy a healthy margin and the client an honest and fair ROI.


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