Why advertisers and agencies need to play on the same team


It’s been a busy time for those at the coal face of media transparency these past few weeks.

In the wake of the U.S. Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) study and Ebiquity/FirmDecisions recommendations document last year, advertisers have started to take action to achieve media transparency in order to improve advertising delivery. Transparency is the dominant topic at every leading industry event, including recent high-level conferences held by the IAB, ANA, ISBA, Advertising Week in London, and the Australian Association of National Advertisers.

Google, Facebook, and YouTube are all taking the threats to their business model seriously enough to begin opening up their walled gardens to scrutiny by independent third parties. They realize that, if they are unable to give advertisers the certainty they need about viewability, non-human traffic, fraud, and their brands appearing in safe and appropriate environments, they will start to withhold ad spend from their platforms in greater numbers than they already have.

But let’s be clear, media transparency really should be everybody’s business. The advertisers (of course), the holding companies, media agency groups, and their agencies. And every other vendor and supplier across the media, ad tech and martech ecosystem, including ad servers and ad verification platforms. Not to mention media buyers to publishers.

Digital media trading has the ability to create data at every step of the journey. For advertisers to know what they’re buying, how much they’re spending, and what impact it’s having, they should have full and ready access to the media performance and financial transaction data that matters.

Today I’m the Non-Executive Chairman of FirmDecisions, the world’s first and leading contract compliance specialist for the media and advertising industries. But in previous careers, I ran media for one of the world’s biggest advertisers, Unilever. I was CEO of Digitas Global, and in the distant past, Media Director at Ogilvy & Mather. More recently, I’ve consulted for some of the world’s most notable advertisers. So, I’ve seen media trading and the issues of transparency from all sides of the fence.

For more than a decade, during the dawn and early maturity of the digital marketing ecosystem, I learned the importance of building strong, mature, balanced relationships with media agencies and media owners. As a former client with multi-billion dollar budgets, I know only too well how important it is to avoid minor disputes arguments between advertisers and their agencies. Now more than ever, the advertiser-agency axis needs to be one of partnership, not one of antagonism, conflict and mistrust.

Today, I also see this dynamic from the contract compliance auditor’s perspective. And I can see that the increasing complexity of digital marketing is making it harder and harder for advertisers to know what they’re spending where. Which is why it’s so refreshing to see advertisers, platforms, publishers and – yes – agencies coming together to build transparency into the heart of the business once and for all.

To make these good intentions a reality, the industry players need to work together as genuine partners – as team mates. Just because advertisers have let everyone know it’s their ball, they’re not saying others can’t play with it. They just want everyone to know the rules and play by them. There’s no excuse for hiding the ball, let alone starting to play by another set of rules.

To bring clarity and transparency to contract compliance auditing of all media – particularly digital – all players should approach the task openly and honestly. From our point of view, the perfect contract compliance review allows access to all relevant media and financial data, and thereby allows advertisers to concentrate on the process of building and strengthening relationships with their agencies, and media owners. This allows all parties to focus collectively on the important task of building strong relationships between brands and consumers.

We should all focus joint energies on reaching this common goal, and support advertisers in their task of ‘getting the job done’.

Of course, auditors must at all times act responsibility and confidentially to ensure that, even if there is a difference of opinion – and believe me, it CAN happen – there’s a history and heritage of mutual trust in the process that all sides are happy to accept the rules of the game.

Ultimately, contractual compliance reviews play an integral role in the management of media investments and agency relationships. So, if we can run and maintain sensible business partnerships, we’ll get the job done in the thoroughly professional manner it requires.