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Keeping a watchful eye on the agencie

Dec 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

There’s a new cop on the ad-agency beat.
MediaAnalysisPlus, headed by advertising veteran Jim Surmanek, proposes to engage in third-party post-analysis audits of advertising schedules bought by agencies for advertisers. The post-analysis process consists of checking the actual cost of a TV schedule against the advertiser’s previously approved budget, plus verifying the actual media delivery of the schedule.
“When it comes to determining whether their advertising schedules actually ran as they were supposed to, this critical oversight task is left to [advertisers’] agencies-the same people who bought the schedules,” Mr. Surmanek said. “This is like letting rabbits carry your lettuce.”
Errors that can creep into the ad-buying system include program pre-emptions, station trafficking errors, unacceptable or inopportune “make-goods,” mistakenly coded prices and mistakenly coded times, Mr. Surmanek said.
“I will police [ad buying] after the fact,” said Mr. Surmanek. “I will also tell the advertiser what the audience delivery was for the television and radio schedules that the advertiser bought.”
While Mr. Surmanek intends to use Nielsen data in his analyses, his service will be different from Nielsen’s Monitor Plus, which is “not authenticated airings of commercials,” he said. Monitor provides “average industry prices, not exact prices paid by the [individual] advertiser.”
MediaAnalysisPlus is not currently a Nielsen client, said a Nielsen spokesman in response to a brief description of MediaAnalysisPlus’s plans.
“I’m not sure we have a dog in this fight, but maybe we’ll have a client,” the spokesman said.
When asked about third-party auditing of agency performance, Allen Banks, executive VP and executive media director for Saatchi & Saatchi North America, who also is chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ Media Policy committee, said that in “most cases I don’t think it’s necessary. You hire a third party if you don’t trust the agency you’re working with.”
Another possibility would be for an advertiser to gather information on a prospective new agency, Mr. Banks said.
Sears, Roebuck & Co., which has five agencies producing television for the holiday season, is one national advertiser that in the recent past had a bad experience with a now-defunct agency that spawned multiple lawsuits.
“If there’s an agency that does that [i.e. outside audits], we would talk with them,” a Sears spokeswoman said. “We always look at the latest industry opportunities.”
Third-party auditing of the advertising process “purveys the entire industry” in Europe, Mr. Surmanek said, but it is only a “cottage industry” in the United States, where few advertisers employ outside auditors. His company was formed by Cable Audit Associates, which verifies subscriber counts and licensing agreements for the cable industry.
MediaAnalysisPlus has initial handshake deals with three advertisers. One is a tech company, Mr. Surmanek said; the other two are packaged-goods advertisers. All three do not yet want to be identified for fear that auditing will jeopardize their relationships with their agencies-and that points directly at a problem. Potential clients tell Mr. Surmanek, “`We don’t want it in the press that we’ve hired an auditing firm [because] it would raise a lot of eyebrows,”’ he said.
The first advertiser to go public, he predicted, will be “somebody where there’s no love lost with their agency.” He said the company’s “initial bent” will not be on fraud or dishonesty but inefficiencies and mistakes.
“I fully intend to show the agency my findings before I show the client,” to give it an opportunity to explain or reconcile any discrepancies, he said. “I don’t want an adversary relationship.”