Media Consultants Panel: Assessing Media Agencies Performance

Times are changing. And as many have noted, media agencies are no longer the tail of the ad campaign process. In fact, they're now leading the charge on many of the largest global campaigns and responsible for some of the most significant innovations to hit the industry in the last decade.

The panel of media consultants tackled a number of subjects, including what clients are looking for, the diversification and complexity of media buying, auditors and performance tracking.

Martin Sambrook of Media Audits International, the largest organization focused on marketing communication effectiveness, led off the discussion. Other participants were Steve Fajen, Morgan Andersen; John O'Connor, Relevant Insight; Paul Phillips, AAR; and Richard Shain, PAG.

Sambrook shared his perspective on global international pitches and what many clients are seeking from a regional or global alignment. While they're looking for international accountability and an international plan, they also want to identify the best practice and implement it everywhere it's appropriate-and do it faster. And they want to ensure that corporate policy is followed as well as tax advantages.

The bottom line is that it's not always just about numbers. It's about the best media costs and the best team, ideas, strategies, tools and research--and the best international reporting. If the agency can't address all those issues, they won't win the business.

For one participant, the 4 Ps of the international pitch decision an advertiser should consider: the philosophy or vision driving the decision, the people and processes required and the role of procurement.

One consultant spoke about media auditing, a specialty of theirs, and how they don't judge strategies but look at the financial implications when in a search situation. He advised doing an exit audit on the departing agency before moving on and a benchmark on the new agency coming in.

When managing audits, the auditor should ask if what was purchased actually ran. And if what ran actually matched the overall integrated strategy of the client, the marketing plan and creative product. And it's important to understand the people involved and have the agency and client in place going back and forth.

Panelists agreed that good auditors should work alongside the agency in a collaborative way and more emphasis should be put on what can be learned from the process. There shouldn't be an obsession with price and standards.

As for auditing, panelists noted the cultural difference between agency-client relationships in the U.S. and elsewhere.

While in Europe agencies are regarded more as vendors in the states they're considered "marketing partners and buddies." So asking for an audit is trickier and is probably done in less than 10 percent of cases.

However, the Sarbanes-Oxley law is changing all that. CEOs must answer for the financial performance of their companies or face consequences. So more companies are being forced to insist on audits of their partners, It's also giving them a good excuse for making their agencies accountable without jeopardizing the relationships.

"Agencies have never welcomed auditors, but it's coming," said a panelist. And once the recognition is there that it can be good for agencies, attitudes will change. Of course, paying agencies more for their performance would also help those processes, panelists agreed.