Something I’ve never understood since I started at MMi is why some agencies respond so negatively when they are told by their client that there’s going to be a media audit.

I get it that as soon as the word “audit” is uttered, we all immediately think Internal Revenue Service and “I’m going to jail.”  For some in the agency world, though, it doesn’t seem to matter what it’s called.  For these agencies, “Review” or “3rd party assessment” are just as likely to elicit a strong and not-very-well-masked negative response.

How Do Agencies Benefit From Media Audits?

Agencies that approach media audits with appropriate perspective view them as an opportunity.  In short an independent, third party evaluation verifies for your client that you are doing a good job.

  • We’re delivering our schedules per the plan and per the estimates/vendor guarantees
  • We’re doing a good job in getting our client favorable pricing
  • We’re adhering to our agency/client agreed upon buying guidelines and documented contractual or performance expectations
  • We’re responsibly managing our client’s finances, including prompt reconciliation of invoices and payments to our media partners

Ultimately, a media audit is an opportunity to showcase your agency’s good work via a neutral, expert third party, and to learn (usually at no cost to you other than a little bit of time) how to elevate your game – not just for this client, but for all your clients.  Good media audit firms have industry purview that you may not.  Take advantage of it.

Then, Why Do Some Agencies Approach Media Audits With Such Apprehension?

There’s a lot of stuff going on here, and we get it.  We don’t always agree with it, but we get it.  Agency professionals have a variety of reasons for viewing a media audit with some trepidation.

  • There’s some fear of the unknown. What will the results be?  Will they be fair?  Does the audit firm understand the media supply chain?
  • In some cases, there is also some fear of the known. If an agency team has been complacent in certain areas, an audit will illuminate that.
  • There are often political concerns. Will the client organization understand the findings, and will they have the context to know how their own behavior or other factors beyond the agency’s control play in to performance?
  • Frankly, there are sometimes financial concerns. It costs more to do a good job.  It often costs time and money to fix problems.  Sometimes, we hear resource concerns related to the audit itself, and frankly we just don’t buy those.  If an agency has been buttoned up, then complying with a media audit (at least one like those conducted by MMi) just isn’t that hard.
  • Finally, human nature definitely comes in to play. We don’t want our weaknesses exposed.  If we don’t talk about them, they don’t exist.  We don’t want to hear what we could be doing better.  This very human mindset sometimes extends itself to entire agency organizations.

Ultimately, if you are doing a good job and playing by the rules, then a media audit by a reputable provider will validate that for your client.  By all means, be engaged in the audit process.  Understand what is being evaluated and how.  Provide relevant feedback and context.  And take improvement opportunities for what they are:  opportunities.  Make an action plan, and improve.

What If the Media Audit Findings Aren’t Perfect?

OK, what if one or more of the findings from the media audit are not so good?  Is the client going to be so upset that your agency gets terminated?  Probably not.  Unless they were thinking of firing you anyway, in which case you have larger issues.So, the pricing was not so good?

  • Best response: Let’s look at different ways we can improve our pricing. Then actually look at different ways to improve pricing.  Or perhaps the authorizations were released late and resulted in higher pricing and it’s really not your fault.  An open conversation about costs and the factors that drive them can only help your relationship with the client.

So, we didn’t deliver the buys per the plan.

  • Best Response: Let’s talk specifically about why this happened.  Was it an anomaly?  Or, do we need to put together an action plan to address it?  Did we not monitor the schedules closely enough and get necessary in-flight ADU’s/UD?  Perhaps this provides an opportunity to put procedures in place to more closely monitor schedules.

The bottom line is that there are probably reasons that these things occur, and the best way to deal with these issues is for all stakeholders to KNOW ABOUT THEM.

YOU CAN’T FIX A PROBLEM/ISSUE IF YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT IT!  And if you did already know about it, and haven’t fixed it, then that makes for a more difficult conversation.Media audits are about measuring performance against specific, documented expectations and recognized industry best practices. If they aren’t, then the advertiser should find a new auditor. Both advertiser and agency should be committed to this.  If not, then the advertiser should find new marketing people and the agency should just close its doors.  I think reasonable people in the media industry can all agree that meeting or exceeding expectations and working towards best practices are good goals.

Is the Tide Turning?

It still depends who you ask.  With the increase in performance-based incentives and specific savings and other performance guarantees, many large agencies have added entire accountability teams, specifically to deal with … well, accountability.  These folks actually are aware of what was guaranteed to the client, and make it their business to assure that the agency makes good on its promise.  They tend to be familiar with the media audit process, and in most cases approach it as a business reality rather than an affront to their integrity.

I had one agency in Texas tell me as we both waited in the client’s lobby prior to our audit presentation that they loved us auditing them.  Shocking, I know.  Why?  “Because you guys tell them (client) what we do right and in many cases verify things we are already telling them.  And let’s be honest, if you find things that need fixing, we can fix them.  We can all get better and learn stuff.”  Great points.  Happy clients tend not to fire their agencies.

I was on an initial call with an agency that had never been through an audit.  So I opened with, “We’re not on a witch hunt!  If it’s good, we’ll say it’s good, if it needs improvement, we’re going to say it needs improvement.”  After a big sigh of relief, they thanked me for those comments.  For the record, they did well, and we continue to audit them on behalf of the client.  This particular client was interested in making sure their media investment was being handled well, and they found out that it was. The marketing department was able to tell the C-Suite that the agency is doing a good job – and here’s the independent audit to prove it.  The agency’s relationship with this client is even more solid.

Transparency is a good thing.  Because most people, when they hear non-transparent think, what are they hiding. Think Trump and tax returns, or Clinton and emails.  Most clients don’t audit media because they are looking for something, or because they think they are being swindled.  They audit media because it’s a major investment, and they understand that instituting expert 3rd party oversight is the responsible thing to do.

The great transparency debate of 2016 was and continues to be quite interesting.  Don’t the 4A’s members realize that for the most part without the ANA’s members, they don’t have a business?  Nobody is going to fault an agency for making a profit, but client-agency partnerships need to be just that.  Partnerships.  When has doing the right thing by our partners become an issue that even needs to be debated?  P&G’s Marc Pritchard summed it up well in his recent speech to the IAB, noting that agency fees need to be reviewed in conjunction with transparency expectations and audit privileges.The bottom line for agencies is this:  if your client tells you that they are going to conduct an independent media audit, by all means take it seriously and be engaged in the process.  Try to avoid being openly hostile, obstructionist, or paranoid.  In all likelihood, the client is auditing because they believe that it is the right thing to do.  No agency has ever been fired for responding to news of an impending audit by saying “Great, we think we’re doing a really good job, and this will help to confirm it.  If we find some things that need improvement, we will learn what they are and how to fix them”.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “In a Media Audit, What Are Findings That Matter?”.

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