Media agency pitches without media auditing and assurance are hollow, time-wasting, and could cost big money in the long run when marketers are faced with the number of decisions a large spend involves.
This is the word from CEO of the Independent Agency Search & Selection Company (IAS) and SCOPEN partner, Johanna McDowell, who adds that for the best media agency selection to take place in a level playing field, the audit is essential.
“Consider a media agency selection process where there are four media agencies pitching. How does the client evaluate the best deal, when it’s not just about price, but about rebates, early-booking advantages, tools the agencies are using, the whole spectrum of the media ecosystem? For many clients, it’s a mystery – and one they must take at face value unless they have quality assessments on the offers in their entirety.”
Noting that media agencies are highly professional, McDowell asserts it’s not a question of reliable information as much the client not having a complete understanding of the sector and what a really good deal looks like.
“We realised many years ago that the most valuable information a marketer can get is gleaned from a media audit,” she says. “There is so much ‘unknown’ within the media industry – not just with regard to media buyers, but also with media owners – that there had to be a way of demystifying the components of the process.”
Take, for example, a bank is pitching out its media work after the average four-year relationship with their agency. Their media spend is generally a hefty one and the bank – like all clients – wants to be assured it is getting the best possible deal. Questions include, “What are my rates going to be? What sort of deals am I going to get? How will we maximise our money, over and above the media strategy?”
Money often wins the pitch
Media agencies approach media owners – likely all the same media owners – to negotiate the kind of deal most beneficial to their client, McDowell suggests. “Each will be quizzing the same TV, radio and outdoor media owners but very often what wins a pitch when it comes to media is – like it or not – the money.”
So, how does the client check that they’re getting the best possible rates, and not just an agency undercutting others? “Auditing and assurance is not just about the cheapest rate, but optimal value all round. There’s far more to the discussion than the fee structure.”
Now add digital to the mix
An added – and burgeoning – layer clients need to navigate is digital media, which is vastly more complicated, owing to the sheer amount of technical application that the media agencies provide not just in buying the media, but managing the campaigns.
“Professional media auditing and assurance process does all this. In a pitch situation, we evaluate the rates and special opportunities media owners have proposed, and advise clients on the intrinsic value of those breaks as part of the package,” says McDowell. “This includes considering the costs of the technical aspects and tools required for the various platforms such and television and digital; whether each is actually required; and where there may be could cost savings in the process.”
She further highlights the difficulty for clients to do this, and the near impossibility of undertaking it as part of a pitch process without any media auditing. To present all this cost- and time-saving data, the IAS, in partnership with the Eley Consulting Group, includes a specific framework so both parties are provided with complete transparency throughout the pitch.
Lag on ROI
Eley consultant Richard Edwards says: “Not only does this enable us to give clients the assurance that their money is being well spent, it also means we can suggest a more profitable direction for the agency to take if their return on investment is lagging.”
A media agency pitch without media auditing involved is like buying a vehicle based on the brand’s spec sheet. Says Edwards, “It must be clear that this process is about having the unbiased assurance that optimal performance – in offline or online media – is being reached. It makes no sense that a marketer would not want that.”
He adds that including a media assurance step in a pitch process is not a costly exercise at all and well worth the expense whether the media spend is large or small.
For global brands and businesses, media auditing and assurance is unquestioned as part of any normal pitch process. “We’ve conducted it in South Africa with extremely effective results, where it professionalised and demystified the whole process,” McDowell adds.
Here, Edwards notes that improvement is always a good thing, especially where it results in time and cost savings. “Our audits may not always mean cheaper media in cash terms, but will certainly ensure an agency is delivering as rich a schedule as possible.”
About the IAS
The IAS (Independent Agency Search and Selection Company) in association with the AAR Group (UK) was founded in South Africa in 2006. IAS specialises in client/agency relationship management and helping clients find agencies.