A ticket to second class ​

Accenture is dead, long live media audits! Just to be clear and to avoid misunderstandings: “Accenture Media Audit” has stopped operating, but not its big brother of course; not the part that is turning into an all-in advertising agency but the part that was transforming into a media agency.

This is a relief for some players in the industry, but a regret for others. Since fma’s early beginnings, some 12 years ago, we have been critical of Accenture’s benchmarking methodology, the infamous pooling system, in which an advertiser’s media conditions are benchmarked against their in-house database containing data from other advertisers. Not only is this pool as opaque as the deepest, darkest black hole in space, but media conditions simply cannot be benchmarked because they depend so specifically on a range of factors: timing, budget, media mix, history and so on.

In short, good riddance. No more endless discussions, no more frustrated agencies.

Meanwhile, new global players are entering the world of media audits: Ebiquity has reinforced its leading position, IDComms is quickly gaining market share, MediaPath is recruiting industry leaders and others, mostly UK-based, are building their businesses too. We as fma are continuing to grow rapidly in the Benelux.

Still, we’re worried….
PJ Leary is the CEO of part of the IDComms group and wrote a blog this week saying that we urgently need to change how we conduct media audits. That’s good, you would think. Future audits should be ‘faster, smarter and actionable’. And audit reports should be read by the CMO, he also suggested. There should be more contacts with the media agency, and more cooperation to create a bigger competitive advantage for advertisers.

Furthermore, auditors need to have a much better understanding of the campaigns’ objectives and strategies. “The Next Gen audits need to simplify and focus only on the most meaningful insights and actions”, is one of PJ Leary’s bold, underlined quotes.

My word, we struggle to understand some of the loose, hollow concepts he uses! What do ‘faster’ and ‘smarter’ mean? Being faster in performing media audits is a one-way ticket to second-class performance—take that from us! Being smarter about doing audits means, by definition, that you haven’t been thinking things through so far, right? The comment that an audit report needs to be more concrete and therefore more ‘actionable’ is absolutely correct. However, saying that media auditors should consult more with the media agency and formulate insights and actions based on the planners’ reflection and strategies is pure nonsense!

Let’s be clear about this: auditors are there to check things. Nobody likes to be checked for the simple reason that nobody likes to get comments about their work. That’s human nature! If we now ask media auditors to also assess the strategies, we will completely undermine the efforts of the strategists working at media agencies. What is more, we will not have fewer but in fact more discussions with agencies! Auditors will have to be true supermen and superwomen: top-class media and market strategists analysing the reflections which it took top specialists months to develop—and that are underpinned by first-, second- and third-party data, customer information and competitors’ analyses—in a ‘fast’ audit that lasts about 2 weeks every year! Believing that media auditors can do this would be giving them too much credit, but most of all, it is not practical!

Strategies are never black and white, and the possibilities are so diverse that there is no such thing as a perfect analysis. How would that help you, as an advertiser? Without doubt, it would simply lead to even more doubt!

From a media auditor, dear advertiser, you should expect an analysis that does not question the media agency’s work, but checks it. Period! Did I get what I negotiated? Is there transparency? Do the numbers add up? Do I have a balanced team? Did they charge an appropriate fee and so on? Clear yes or no questions that do not lead to endless discussions with the media agency’s CEO.

As an advertiser you can and should be critical, and have concerns about transparency and about all sorts of numbers being thrown around. But the basis of the cooperation with the media agency, i.e. your media intelligence, cannot and should not be called into question!

Do you expect a tax inspector to decorate your house or to determine your car’s engine capacity? No! You expect them to agree or disagree with certain deductions and to check whether the tax rules applied to your company car are correct. Do you expect the person performing the annual inspection of your car to paint it a new colour? Or do restaurant owners expect food inspectors to change their menus? I don’t think so.
So, don’t expect your auditor to rewrite your media plan either….

However, your auditor must provide assurances that your contract is being complied with in full by the agency, that everything is handled in a transparent manner and that there is a clear action list with points for improvement to enable the advertiser and agency to continue to grow together.