Tag Archives: advertising economics

The Battle Over The Pipeline

No, not the Keystone Pipeline, but the pipeline delivering content into US homes. Yesterday the FCC proposed a framework (whatever that means) for providing innovators, app developers and device manufacturers the information they need to develop new technologies. A link to the FCC’s statement on this is here: http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2016/db0127/DOC-337449A1.pdf

So who is for and who is against?

No surprise, cable companies are against this because it does something they hate most, it creates competition for accessing TV programming. It also removes an important revenue stream—renting boxes to subscribers, generating billions to their coffers.

Basically everyone else in the world supports this. Imagine people having their own boxes (think Roku, AppleTV, Google Fiber) and deciding what programming they want through their cable company and what programming they want direct.

Another benefit for consumers will be the ease to transition from Cable TV to SVOD to YouTube, etc on your TV monitor. My favorite part might be a single remote instead of three. The question that remains is whether this will eventually reduce costs or increase costs. People are willing to pay for multiple services and convenience, so it could go either way.

Video content providers will see a boon and direct access to subscribers without having to be held captive to cable company’s demands and idiosyncrasies. With millions of options for video content people will curate their own personal networks. We will likely see even more short-form content with fewer ads as either pre-roll or in-stream with more real time ad insertion and addressability.

In the words of the French poet Paul Valery, “The future isn’t what it used to be”.

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The Dark Side of Programmatic Buying

Programmatic digital can be dicey when it comes to getting what you paid for and you should be concerned about fraud, bots, safety, and viewability issues that result in bad outcomes.

A few months ago a prospective client asked me to evaluate a small programmatic buy her agency had executed for her with one DSP. The agency thought the buy was great, given that they drove a CTR of .48%, higher than most campaigns with a CPM of $1.40. On the surface I would agree.

That is, until I looked at the source of clicks report. This was a small enough campaign, just under 10,000 clicks, that a simple scan of the source of the clicks made me question the real value of the campaign. Many of the URL’s were from out of the US (Belgium, Brazil, Malaysia to name a few) but his was supposed to be a US campaign. Many were from sites that I could not load if I tried. Many seemed to be legitimate sites, but the visits were very low quality and very brief. The average session time for clicks from this DSP was 1/3rd to 1/4th the next lowest referrer. Average page views were even lower.

I sent the source of clicks list to a third party fraud and safety expert for their opinion. About 50% of the clicks were “High Risk” for fraud and another 5% were “Suspect”.

So if this is true, the client’s CPC for real clicks just doubled, at a minimum. Since I knew which DSP was used I asked them for their opinion on the third party auditor’s findings. I was shocked at the response from the DSP salesperson; we take brand safety very seriously and we’re more than happy to deliver on any parameters mandated.  Normally, during campaign negotiations we need to know in advance if a campaign is being measured by a third party and we’ll set up with daily reporting so that we can optimize out of those placements, sites, creative, and or content driving fraud.” 

Let me translate this for you. He said that if they knew we were going to look at a third party safety audit that they would not have delivered those impressions. Want to know what was worse? The CEO of the DSP echoed the same sentiments when I raised the issue up the line.

Fraud and bot clicks are going to happen. Clients and their partners who focus exclusively on getting the lowest CPM or CPC will find that they are actually paying more than they think for real inventory. Use a third party verification service for your campaigns, even if it is just to keep the people you’re giving money to honest.

For more info go to http://www.ocdmedia.com

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Is Your Marketing An Investment Or A Cost?

Never underestimate the importance of goal setting and strategy in media. While smart media buying will save you money, smart media strategy will make you money. Without a well thought out media plan you are not getting the most from your budget because you have not determined what you should buy and what you should not. While what you buy may be priced well relative to other options, buying the wrong media is wasteful no matter what the price is. And all too often advertisers and their agencies let buying lead the media process or are missing the connection between the plan strategy and the buy.

Would you use an investment strategy of buying only stocks that are less than $10 per share? And would you use the broker who charges the least per transaction because all he has to do is tell you how much of a given stock is available when you are ready to buy? Or does this sound crazy to you? It is crazy. But what’s crazier is that some companies handle their largest investment, advertising media, in this manner.

This approach is designed to limit your costs, but what you may not know is it also limits your return. Successful media buying, much like having success in the stock market, depends on good research and good timing because the basis of both is supply and demand. The biggest difference is that media buying is more negotiable than the stock market, an extra level of complexity that ultimately determines how much you will pay for your ad time/space.

And negotiating is something large media buying agencies on the whole don’t do as well as their smaller sized competitors. “How can this be?” you ask. “My agency buys gazillions of dollars of ad time, they have to get better prices than the agencies who buy less. It’s simple math. You buy more you get a better price.” Remember Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory in that classic “I Love Lucy” episode? That is what being a media buyer in a mega-media agency is like. You don’t have time to “wrap” the schedule properly because you have three more buys to get on the air that day.

Negotiating is about give and take, a certain back and forth. If you’re using one of these big guys chances are you’re not getting the best price because the buyer cares more about getting four buys on the air, and less about buying the right inventory. It’s easier for them to only buy the lowest priced stuff because they don’t have to worry about value. But you should because your media buy is your investment in your brand like your stock portfolio is your investment in your retirement, not an expense on your P&L.

Smart media planning let’s you know which media does and does not make sense for your efforts. It helps tell you which media to stay away from. Buying the wrong media because it’s cheap is as wasteful as buying premium priced media that isn’t right for you. Neither one will produce results.

An approach that recognizes the importance of strategy means targeting the right people at the right time, yielding a smarter use of your marketing resources. Make it easier for a buyer to buy effectively because they know the difference between price and value.

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The Model Isn’t Broken. It’s Fixed.

Sony, VW, P&G, J&J, Bacardi, SC Johnson, Visa, 21st Century Fox, L’Oreal, Coca Cola, BMW, BASF. What do all these companies have in common? They all have placed their media business in review, or recently completed a review. Their incumbent media agencies; the usual suspects—OMD, Zenith, UM, Mediacom, Vizeum, Carat, Starcom/MediaVest. The agencies involved in the review; the usual suspects.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

I’ve heard and read that some people believe that industry change (content, integration, analytics) is driving this rash of reviews. If so, why are the same agencies that some clients are dissatisfied with all of a sudden appealing to others? Why would OMD be a good repository for Bacardi, which they recently won, when current clients J&J and Visa have put their accounts in review? Is it because what is shown in new business pitches is not what is used on a daily basis? I witnessed much of this when I was at Initiative, albeit a dozen years ago. The people who work on client business think many of the tools and sexy stuff shown in new business pitches is just that, only shown in new business pitches. It’s not practical for everyday use because the planners have too many boxes of GRP’s to fill in. They do not have the time to solve real business problems.

So what is the value proposition of these mega-media agencies? It certainly isn’t buying leverage because smaller agencies can match the big guys on media pricing—and often beat them. The big guys speak of relationships with the media companies, but the media companies are putting more and more inventory up for sale in the open market, using exchanges to eliminate the human aspect of transactions that is rife with inefficiencies.

Others suggest that the reviews are procurement driven, which explains why only the usual list of invitees are participating. These big agencies hate losing business and they’ll promise everything to win. They have a beast to feed to perpetuate their own myth and they believe their own BS.

You don’t have to. If you want the same-old solutions join in the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. If you want real change you really have to want to change.

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Audience Fragmentation and Media Consolidation Are Hurting Most Clients

Typical media agencies are ill suited for getting client’s real value from media buys. Media audiences are fragmenting at an increasing rate. There are very few opportunities in mass media to reach large audiences, yet most brands need reach to drive new buyers to their brand. Buyers at large agencies are siloed into “centers of excellence”, meaning some buyers only buy Cable, some only buy Prime, some only buy Syndication, etc. While this might give them some knowledge of a media market there’s an entire ecosystem occurring over their heads and they know nothing of it. It comes from media company consolidation. And only savvy, de-siloed media agencies can capitalize on it.

Disney is a large media company. The image below includes many of their media properties. They operate in Network, cable and local TV, radio, online, print and on-site. They also have partial ownership in Hulu and other properties.Featured image

Now think about how companies like CBS own TV, online, radio, outdoor properties. Every major media company owns multiple properties, and I’m not just talking about online extensions. They own different brands in different media.

How are today’s large over-siloed media agencies structured to get clients an advantage? Media buying is set up to favor the sellers in every way these days. How else can you explain audience CPM’s increasing while individual media property audiences are shrinking? One reason is that media agencies don’t negotiate price. They negotiate increases.

There’s a better way. Smaller media agencies are better suited to deal with today’s complex media market. Senior management who establish the strategies stay close to the end product. They identify media companies and deploy programs regardless of which department should get which budget. There are fewer fiefdoms to feed and fewer “centers of power” fighting for survival internally.

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Ad Sales Rep Consolidation

An interesting trend is happening in traditional media and it has interesting consequences for marketers.

Meredith Publishing is now managing all the business operations, including ad sales, for Martha Stewart’s print properties. Hearst recently launched a division that provides scalable solutions for smaller and medium sized publishers, including ad sales consultation. Today a number of spot radio rep firms announced they were partnering to form an umbrella radio and digital media sales rep firm.

While these decisions make sense for these media companies’ needs it will have impact on marketers in ways that might not be good, most notably upward pressure on ad inventory pricing.

Marketers get the best price when they pit multiple sales organizations against one another for share of a media budget. Now that Meredith represents an even larger share of the viable print inventory what is their incentive for negotiating price down? The power they have to creep pricing up will have dramatic impact on the market. And not just for the companies participating in the sales co-ops or outsourcing. Their competitors now know that fewer players are negotiating so it would not surprise me if CPM’s begin to inch up. I recall having this conversation over breakfast with Tom Harty, The President of Meredith’s Magazine Group, a few years ago when Hearst acquired Woman’s Day from Hachette. I thought, in the long term, that it was good for both Meredith and Hearst to not have a wildcard single book that could only be a spoiler on price.

On the radio side, this impact will be felt most by agencies that buy through the rep firms. As far as I can tell it is mostly large media agencies who buy their inventory this way because the buyers simply do not have time to negotiate with every station in every market. Again, where in the past two or three rep firms were negotiating against one another for radio buys now they will not because there is no incentive at the company level to do so. This is one of the reasons why the FCC has ownership limits on radio and television stations in any given market.

Does your radio buyer buy through rep firms? If so, what does that mean for you?

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Repercussions

The fallout from Jon Mandel’s statement at the ANA about Agency kickbacks has led to a number of anonymous executives admitting it has happened under their watch and some even confessed to participating themselves. Now, this doesn’t mean that these individuals received kickbacks, but that they allowed their agency/media company to take or give money for a media buy. Initially I thought Jon Mandel was overstating a problem, but apparently it is more prevalent than we could imagine. This is certainly more significant than an agency taking the 2% cash/pre-payment discount–which is still sometimes offered–and not offering the money back to the client.

In my last blog I focused on the kickbacks that were occurring out in the open via mega holding company specialty shops. Read that blog for background. So to go into more detail, here’s how the mechanics would work in two scenarios:

  • Moving buys through a barter division. To simplify things, media companies sometimes want to take clients on a trip or schedule a sales meeting in a nice venue away from the office. Rather than pay cash for these trips the media company will offer future access to media inventory at a reduced price or for free to a barter agency. This is easier than going to management and asking them to pay out-of-pocket, but the media company offers value of inventory that is higher than the cost of the trip. The media company can be more lavish and less cost-conscious, especially when it comes to taking clients on a trip. The barter agency sells the inventory either internally or externally at closer to market pricing and makes a significant profit. The barter division of the mega agency holding company tries to move this inventory internally first, where they can ask for equivalent market pricing. If they sell it externally it needs to be sold at below market pricing. Suddenly a 2% commission on national Cable TV becomes 25% or more–I’m being kind. Remember, some of this inventory can be accessed for free. Barter division provides kickback to media agency to ensure the deal goes through.
  • Non-disclosed media buying. Marketers less familiar with the agency process or infrastructure might be led to believe that their media buying is falling under the master contract with a creative agency when, in fact, it does not. The media agency adds their commissions into the media prices they quote, taking a high commission rate. The creative agency keeps all of their fees, not having to pay for media service while completely offloading the labor. Sometimes they even get a kickback above and beyond their fee.

Both of these scenarios would pass muster on an audit because the audit only goes one transaction deep. The auditors are not examining every transaction nor do they know there are secondary transactions. The kickback would always be treated as a separate transaction, not discounts on invoices.

The more you know, the more you don’t want to know.

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I’ll Have Two Scoops, Please.

The ad industry is abuzz with the recent accusations by Jon Mandel, a longtime media exec, regarding widespread kickbacks between media companies and media agencies. I can believe that there are kickbacks, personal favors, some tit-for-tat agreements, but the claim that it is widespread is difficult to believe because of the number of people that need to be involved, all either partaking in the fraud or looking the other way. In order for them to be as widespread as Mr. Mandel states it needs to be systemic. To get away with it strict non-disclosure agreements between the agency and the media vendor must be in place. It would also survive an audit because any kick-backs would be treated as a secondary transaction. It would be disturbing if it is indeed happening. Read the following for more info on Mr. Mandel’s statements: http://adage.com/article/agency-news/mediacom-ceo-mandel-skewers-agencies-incentives/297470/

But there is another practice that is widespread in our industry, one that happens out in the open. I’ll call it “double-dipping”. Double-dipping is when an agency buys services from itself in order to improve its bottom line. And it is happening at the biggest agencies out there.

Not to pick on any one, but look at the major holding companies and you’ll see how agencies are making money today when the stated commissions seem to get lower and lower every year. Each major holding company owns creative agencies, media agencies, barter companies, mobile agencies, tech platforms, CRM companies, research and strategy companies, branded content companies, etc. So you can see for yourself, below are links to their organizations:

IPG: http://www.interpublic.com/our-agencies

Omnicom: http://www.omnicomgroup.com/ourcompanies

WPP: http://www.wpp.com/wpp/companies/

Publicis: http://www.publicisgroupe.com/#/en/maps

Their worst offenders are their trading desks where there is no transparency between the amount they are paying and the amount that they are selling it to themselves.

High-level executives at any company like this are encouraged, and likely their bonuses are dependent upon, how they can improve the bottom lines of the parent company by moving money between organizations internally. Whenever and wherever possible they will buy services through an internal partner who is arbitraging inventory. The client thinks the margins are slim, but they can easily double or triple when no one is paying close attention.

Marketers have contributed to this by creating an environment where this can happen. Every year procurement led reviews occur wherein a marketer’s stated goal is to reduce the service costs. This is compounded by their insistence on extending payment terms. Who in their right mind would continue to accept lower terms AND wait to get paid? The answer is simple. Someone who’s figured out another way to make money.

If you’re a marketer who is now concerned about these practices look carefully at your agreement. Is your agency able to subcontract without your permission? Is your main agency constantly parading in specialty divisions? If they use an internal subcontractor with your knowledge do they not want you to have a direct contract? Do you not audit your agency and their vendors? If so, there’s a possibility they are double-dipping.

Holding companies developed these arcane multi-discipline organization charts for one reason and one reason only. They’re not interested in being the best at anything, except discovering new ways to separate you from your money.

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A Matter of Efficiency

If you ask any media planner or buyer what the term efficiency means they will tell you that it is the way to determine relative value of different media and is usually defined as the cost per thousand impressions, CPM, of the media vehicle or buy. This results in their decisions on which media to buy being made strictly on costs.

That definition is dead wrong and leads to overemphasis on a surrogate measurement that may not correlate with sales results. Something is efficient if it is capable of producing the desired results without wasting materials, time, or energy. Can the vehicle deliver sales at a lower cost than other options? There is a cost/benefit perspective inherent in that definition. Nowhere in this description is there any indication that trying to get as many people as possible to see your efforts compared to other choices is the goal.

Making decisions based exclusively on audience cost of a media vehicle can waste tremendous resources. One of the sayings I’m known for is that the cheapest media is the most expensive media you might buy if it does not work.

Today we have so many tools at our disposal to apply metrics other than CPM to define efficiency. We also have ways to insert intermediate steps in the purchase consideration path to measure whether we are on the right track.

Are your media buyers looking at data other than audience delivery to track your progress? Are they looking at your Google Analytics data? Are they making adjustments based on how well their buy is driving traffic? Even if your ultimate goal is sales at retail there are intermediate steps that can be taken to identify what is working and what is not.

The secret is predicting in the planning stage what the potential return on each vehicle will be based on syndicated data, prior transactional data, behavioral modeling, etc. During the execution stage, make sure you align an inbound intermediate mechanism for tracking. You can use unique landing pages or promo codes, statistical modeling on web traffic, coupon downloads, social media actions or good old fashioned phone calls. A holistic look at this activity can prove helpful in making the proper optimizations to your campaign. Now that’s efficiency.

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Buyer’s Remorse

A new CEO comes in, ousts the CMO and VP of Marketing and tells his smaller media agency that he won’t renew their contract because he has a larger media shop he’s worked with and believes their BS about bigger agencies always buying better than small ones.

This happened to us recently. When the CEO’s preferred media agency submitted a ridiculously high compensation proposal suddenly we’re back in the mix. Our fee proposal was very fair. We even offered the client a better deal. We get an opportunity to pitch ourselves to the new CEO who, for the previous two months, wouldn’t even acknowledge our existence.

We have a great meeting. We explain the fallacy in believing that larger agencies “always” get better pricing. We tell him you get best pricing (and overall work) from people who care about their work and have time to do a great job for you. They take the time to negotiate for value and continue to drive down costs if they can rather than stop when they reach the benchmark. Sometimes those people work at bigger agencies, but more often they work at smaller ones. He mutters on his way out “that was a great meeting”.

We have the support of the marketing team, the research team and the field marketing personnel who all lobby for us to be retained. The CEO asks us to submit pricing on a prototypical buy in 50 markets. We bought those markets the prior year so we used our actual achieved costs. The CEO hires his preferred media agency. We’re disappointed, as we should be. We felt we had a chance. We believed we won the CEO over. Then we felt used simply so he could get a better compensation deal from the agency he hired.

A month later one of the marketing managers calls us to ask how we got our media pricing because the new agency can’t meet those costs. Why weren’t they asked to submit pricing on the same prototypical media buy that we were asked to? The CEO could have hired the better agency if he held them to the same standard throughout the process.

We get more calls asking us to meet with the new agency to tell them how we achieved the costs we got. We outright refuse and offer to handle the business instead. “Hire us and you’ll get those costs”.

Now the CEO has a recruiter calling one of our senior people to ask him to interview for the head of media position. Our guy says to the recruiter “If he respected me so much and wanted me working on his business why didn’t he hire my agency?”

He wanted a larger media agency. He got one. Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

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