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The Age of Accountability

Feb 16, 2004  •  Post A Comment

At a time when many ad agencies have either shut down or significantly cut back on their internal media training programs, their clients are going back to school.
Later this month some of the nation’s largest marketers will send some of their best and brightest executives to training programs in New York to bone up on media planning and strategy. The result will be smarter clients asking more probing and sophisticated questions about how and why their agencies develop the media plans and buys they do, and perhaps of even greater significance, how well they performed.
The classes, part of a new post-academic training program being launched by the Association of National Advertisers and the Center for Marketing Excellence, are the latest in a series of developments that mean increased client oversight of their agencies’ media services.
Already marketers have begun hiring independent third-party auditors to review their planning and buying strategies and assess their performance. They’ve also gotten their corporate procurement departments involved in the process and are applying the same kind of rigorous financial oversight to their media services, as they might to any of the material or professional services they subcontract out.
The result has been a push for greater accountability over media services, not just in terms of what physical media inventory they deliver or even the prices they pay, but also in the strategic directions and results they yield.
That issue took center stage last week during the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ annual Media Conference and Trade Show in Orlando, Fla., where accountability in general and auditing in particular loomed large.
Media buying verification systems, a development that was featured at last year’s conference, re-emerged as a key issue this year, and to their credit, the media shops could point to some real accomplishments in that area. But a year later, the issue of media auditing has exploded and the AAAA’s media policy committee said it would grab the bull by the horns, unveiling plans to issue guidelines for how agencies-and their clients-should work with third-party media auditors.
“It’s not the business I started in 20 years ago,” conceded Renetta McCann, chair of the AAAA committee. “These are new times and we need to find ways of reporting to our clients what they need to be accountable to their stakeholders.”
Ms. McCann said the guidelines are being developed in consultation with members of the ANA and will be issued soon.
Auditing on the Rise
The move is in response to the rapidly growing practice of media auditing, which still is applied only to a fraction of media accounts but which many expect to become a standard business practice.
Meanwhile, the ANA will begin educating its members on how to better assess their agency’s media services. The courses on media planning and media strategy, which are part of a broader professional certification program developed by the ANA and the CME, are designed both as a primer for marketing executives who may not be familiar with the nuts and bolts of media and as a workshop for exchanging ideas and studying the best practices of their peers.
“It’s really designed for midlevel marketing people to learn how to evaluate their agency’s media performance in terms of their strategic thinking, their tactical buying and the overall accountability of their media work,” said course instructor Allan Linderman, president of the Linderman Media Group. “Essentially, these are brand managers who are looking to get a comfort level about media so that they can work better with their agencies.”
Mr. Linderman, who has been teaching the course independently from the ANA’s certification program for four years, said that while many marketing executives already have extensive education and usually master’s degrees in business, they often have relatively little grounding in the actual practice of media.
As a result, he said, marketers often don’t understand or are not at ease with media concepts that would seem relatively routine to agency executives. “Generally, marketing executives don’t come in with that kind of training and oftentimes they are intimidated by some of the terms and the more technical areas of media. For many of them it is a black box,” Mr. Linderman said.
Terminology First
Not surprisingly, the first element of the course is media terminology, and Mr. Linderman said he spends a considerable amount of time reviewing some of the most basic terms and industry jargon used by media planners. He said this is more than just edification; it’s also an important step in getting marketers to conceptualize what their media services are really about, noting that many shops use complicated media concepts and terms as a buffer to keep their clients’ scrutiny at bay.
“Oftentimes they don’t understand the lingo the agencies are using during presentations, and they’re afraid to ask questions or challenge their agencies for fear that their management will think they don’t get it,” he said. Or marketing executives may fail to grasp or question an agency’s media report because of its complexity.
He said that during previous classes, marketing executives would actually bring in reports created by their agencies and ask Mr. Linderman to review them and explain what they mean.
“These documents can be huge and complicated. They look good. The colors are nice, but a lot of the time, people don’t know what the terms mean. Are they GRPs [gross rating points] against households, or are they TRPs [target rating points] against targets,” Mr. Linderman said.
As complex as it sometimes seems, Mr. Linderman said media planning terminology may be one of the easier parts of the course, which covers the pre-planning process where marketers and agencies hash out the marketing goals that are the precepts of a media plan. This is followed by a basic tutorial on the media planning process, including a discussion of strategies and concepts, such as effective frequency, reach and targeting.
“The goal isn’t for anyone to step out of there and become a media planner, but for them to be in a position to understand what their agencies are doing and to be able to communicate it well enough to satisfy their own marketing goals,” Mr. Linderman said.
As convoluted as television planning and buying may seem, Mr. Linderman said it can be even more so for other media, particularly print, where many marketers and agencies rarely even do post-buy analyses to gauge the results of their campaigns, or whether they even got what they paid for.
Part of this, he said, is due to the relatively long lag time involved in obtaining audited circulation data for print media buys. But an even greater factor he said, is that people simply don’t know how to do it, and consequently, don’t ask for it.