The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for us all since the COVID-19 reached the U.S. and affected the media supply chain – as well as our personal lives. We know you’ve been busy re-expressing March Madness and NBA media inventory, assembling alternatives to key industry conferences and the traditional Upfronts, and projecting impact on product supply chains and consumer demand.  Media buys are being delayed, modified, and canceled.  All of this while we adjust on a personal level to remote work and social distancing, and provide for personal needs big and small, from child and elderly care to toilet paper.

Given the circumstances now and for the months to come, it’s crucial that every working media dollar be as productive as possible, and that expectations are documented and transparent throughout the media supply chain.  As is the best practice, always, your media must deliver the audiences and the parameters you agreed upon when you made the investment. COVID-19 is context for this time period, but it cannot be an excuse for lax accountability or missed opportunities.  Here are the Top 5 tasks you can be engaging in right now to protect your brand’s place in the media supply chain.

1.    Make a strategic decision “To advertise, or Not To advertise”.  In consideration of your specific business needs and in consultation with your advising partners, determine if and when you start and stop, and whether or not your messaging will require any adjustments.  Don’t react overly quickly out of fear, or out of perceived opportunity. Some issues to discuss:

  • Product supply chain and projections.  Are your products available (stores or drive-thrus open, E-commerce operational)?  Any expected interruptions?    
  • Consumer demand and projections.  Are your products needed/wanted now more than before or postpone-able?  How much are your customers and their purchase cycle for your category affected by current social and economic changes?
  • Competitive insights.  What do you expect your competition to do?  
  • Decline and Return Rate of KPIs during and after media hiatus.  How sensitive are your key brand health measures to advertising and to prolonged hiatus periods?  There are a number of industry research reports available on this topic if you don’t have your own data (Journal of Advertising Research, for example).
  • Appropriate messaging.  Players in many categories, such as automotive, have already introduced new ads, and the 4As has published a survey on what consumers want to hear.  What do your customers and consumers want to hear from you right now?

2.    Re-Assess Your Media Plan. Much of your “situation analysis” for the year has now changed due to COVID-19,including the media supply (and demand) chain itself.

  • Inventory dynamics.  Live Sports are not available, News is everywhere, Late Night and Prime time shows are running repeats.  The Summer Olympics has been delayed until 2021.
  • Consumer behavior differences “at home”.  Nielsen Media Research and Comscore (among others) are releasing projections indicating increased viewing (and hence potentially increased supply of audience) in many areas.
  • Marketplace impact of behavior from demand side. Consider how key advertiser categories like automotive, retail, movie, QSR are reacting.
  • Potential softening demand.  Any opportunities to re-negotiate packages?  Make whole any shortfalls on prior buys (UD or ADU recovery, noting this often requires an accompanying paid schedule, especially in local media)?
  • On a related note, mix models likely need to be re-calibrated to account for these new considerations.

3.    Ensure your Agency and Media Partners are stable.  You rely on these organizations to execute your media plans and buys, and it is reasonable to understand any risks to continuity in these areas.

  • Tech and security.  Is your agency team equipped for remote working without interruption of service or security risks to your data?
  • Staffing.  Can your partner absorb the ebb and flow of your business needs now and in the coming months without re-deploying your team elsewhere or letting people go?  Do you have the resources assigned for the planning and re-planning and changes to the buys called for during these uncertain times? (The MMi article on agency transitions provides some good checklists for winding-down and winding-up, even if there is not an agency change.)
  • Tools and resources.  Do you have contractual provisions that require partners to deploy the appropriate industry tools?  Is there any risk that in a tough time digital ads will not be tagged for verification or a TV ratings subscription might lapse?
  • Payment terms.  Do you have sequential liability in place?  Is there any risk to you if the agency extends terms with (or cannot pay) media properties?

4.    Require Best Practice Control Documentation and Data Management.  Times of rapid change are when it’s easiest to get sloppy with paperwork, yet this is when it’s most critical.

  • Update your Media Authorizations to Buy and your Media Plan Flowcharts.  For example, if TV Sports budgets were redeployed to Digital Online Video, authorizations and plans for both channels must be revised.  If two weeks in March were canceled, that must be documented as the new benchmark for the organization.
  • Revise Buying Guidelines for this specified period of time.  Are there any restrictions that have been lifted such as commercial separation, or programming types for this time period?  Document whether there are any deviations to normal audience guarantee expectations, or weeks exempt from delivery tolerances.
  • Update vendor contracts per negotiated adjustments.  Network Order Letter CPMs and guarantee structures are at particular risk given the many programming changes for Sports and News, and Deals must be re-negotiated based on expansions or cancellations to original buys.  As always, this documentation should be updated and on file by the time the activity airs to best protect the advertiser.  This also minimizes risk in reconciling and verifying audience guarantee fulfillment in the months to come.
  • Secure documentation and agreement for any partner audience balances owed that must be held over for a period of time(due to programming changes or advertiser cancellation).  If these owed balances have an expiration,can it be extended, in writing?

5.    Take some comfort in the “known”, in this time of unknowns.  

  • We know what advertising we’ve negotiated to run next week, how much it will cost, what audience we expect it to get, and the rules of engagement. Make sure this is properly documented, maintained, and measured.  
  • Not only is it crucial to assess whether you got what you paid for, but you’ll need it to better inform strategies when we all emerge on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Being buttoned up on the metrics can only help when you are fighting for budgets during economic recovery.  

We don’t know how long we are sheltering in place or social distancing. But we do know what we can be doing to protect our media supply chain

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the MMi COVID-19and Media Supply Chain Accountability for a list of considerations for future buys.

As always, MMi is here for advertisers and their agencies to assess and recommend media supply chain controls, everyday and on an ongoing basis.  Or if the COVID-19 is impelling you to take a first or closer look.  For more information, please reach out to your primary MMi contact or click here to get in touch.

Photo credit: © Debra Reschoff Ahearn |