Should advertisers pay more to keep agencies inefficient?

With every year that goes by the advertising community continues to look for more and more opportunity to drive down pricing and increase value from agencies. No one can blame them, a whole auditing and procurement business needs to exist and why should good work or good people get in the way of the procurement officer hitting their bonus? 

There is some irony that the companies advertisers use to drive efficiency also create more and more work for agencies through a pitch process to also justify their role. Meeting after meeting, tests, projects, hands on sessions, formal pitch meetings, digital focus, more forms and oh some pricing at the end. It means that agencies continually come under the strain of having to find new opportunities to earn or save money. Their only their options.

In the camp of saving, we talk a lot about making things more efficient. The whole Trading Desk model has been put under that camp, but you know, perhaps we should look to our media channels that have come with the most history. I find myself wondering why we need different TV buying departments in today’s world. We have teams of people in agencies that all do the same thing, give or take, their roles are clearly defined, they all work on the same systems, there could be no finer example of an opportunity to streamline a business. This is not just about my group but all of them. Do we need multiple buying departments by agency?

I think that if we are to keep up with the relentlessness of procurement and pitching we should do a couple of things. First lets re shape the businesses so that there are some key trading people in London but consolidate the buying into single group operations, based somewhere cheaper, where you train people to come and do a 9-5 job, they get paid, they go home having worked bloody hard.(God forbid you even employ people without degrees?)  Would advertisers be happy with that? Could they stomach the fact that agencies do as media owners do and have multiple conflicts and teams all working together across agency silos? Well that I guess is the core of the issue, if they are fine, all well and good, if they are not then they should pay more for making the agency groups run in a less than efficient way.

Second, lets start challenging the advertisers to change their business for the better rather than be lap dogs and respond to whatever they want. ‘I can be whatever you want me to be?’ We should try more along the lines of ‘your business is structured really badly, you want some good advice?’ Consultancy comes cheap in advertising and media, the advertisers should take more advice, it is designed to help on reflecting the changing landscape. I had a refreshing meeting where an advertiser asked me to challenge him more on how he should structure his business for the new world of RTB and Data. How nice it was to have a decent debate on that, and imagine the possibilities. If only there was more of that.

Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG) – heard of it?


I attended a seminar this morning called something like ‘Is your brand safe online’ A number of parties were there, all worried about their brands, namely trade bodies, Ad nets, Agencies and global digital media companies. The one group severely lacking was the advertisers! It is notoriously difficult to get clients to turn up to events and this was obviously not an event that they thought important. Why would they? Don’t they have their agencies to do this stuff?

It is a similar story with ePrivacy, although almost all the onus falls on the advertiser to make sure their site is compliant and that their advertising is as compliant as one can be in this area, there has been limited discussion on the topics since ‘the date’ came and went. How come? Maybe everyone thought that someone else was worrying about it?

The group is focused on getting self regulation principles about where Ads appear to be taken up by media vendors. They want to suffocate the advertising revenue streams for unsavoury or illegal sites by making sure that all the major suppliers of inventory agree not to use them.

So today’s agenda showed that again we have a topic that appears an important one and yet again we have the merry go round of whose responsibility it is to make sure we are compliant. Well today we heard it loud and clear, The Police and Fact think that it is the advertiser who has to take responsibility for making sure that their Ads do not appear on illegal or inappropriate content. We were given an example of the client EasyJet that the guy from Fact kept repeating has not been able to be reached. He was very annoyed by that..I asked if he had contacted their agency to be told that it was not his job to spend time looking for who Easyjet agency was – umm maybe ask your IPA friends? No it was better to keep sending letters to Easyjet when the agency would have had those Ads down in about 15secs.

So bearing in mind that the Police think the advertiser should take responsibility, the advertiser thinks the agency should, the agency thinks the Trading Desk should and the Trading Desk things the suppliers of inventory should we have a beautiful example of sequential liability (without all the legal jumbo jumbo!) – I took a decision. I decided that the suppliers of inventory should be taking responsibility for where my agencies, advertisers’ adverts are being placed and I wrote them all a nice letter asking them to abide by the Principles of the DTSG.


I just did it. It was easy to do to be honest. I wrote to them and said ‘ please can you confirm that you won’t put Ads on porn sites, children sites, illegal sites (the special police list), Torrent sites and basically anything else unsavoury because our agency’s advertisers will not want it.’ And why was it easy? Because it is so bloody basic and common sense that I am trying to work out why everyone has not done it, apparently some are reticent at this stage to do it. Well for me I am all for it because it is straight forward and I don’t want another ePrivacy debacle involving 10 different bodies and loads of political bull. I just want to buy ads in nice places.

Our whole VivaKi Verified approach means we are already vetting, categorising, white listing inventory so this is a no brainer for me, I appeal to everyone else to get on with it as well. It will be one less committee meeting to go to and will mean everyone can get back to dealing with the nightmare that is ePrivacy, I would hate for another topic to come along and hijack every media conference panel debate!

After this cause is put to bed I am starting out on Ads appearing alongside prostitute cards in phone boxes – now who is responsible for making sure that does not happen?

Agencies and publishers are polarising structures based on the perfect storm

Technology killed the admin star.

One of just many debates raging around the new world of programmatic buying and exchanges. Are we seeing the death of the buyer? The death of the seller? Has the world of computers stripped advertising of all its creativity? Lots of big questions and debates but over the last six months, one common thread has become apparent; there is no value in execution in the long term.

Two or three big themes have converged in the last year, they have been around for longer of course but they have been lit up by the tech debate. The first is that in my view too many businesses sold their value on execution and delivery. These are necessities and you can’t not have them but is that where the value is? Is that what you charge more for? I don’t think so, the agency world in particular suffers from focusing a lot on service and delivery and execution over real value add strategy and quality creative thinking.

In itself that is not the end of the world, many advertisers want perfect execution of course, but what it ends up being then is an easily quantifiable, discountable service that becomes very commoditised – tell me the difference between two media agency TV departments? Secondly lets combine that with the fact that the world of Paid, Earned and Owned means that clients are now not only trying to squeeze costs and fees they are starting to see these new approaches as a gateway to spending less. I have just finished doing preliminary judging and of about 40 entrants at least 37 boasted / moaned (not in so many words) that they had little or no budget to make their campaign work.

So we have smaller budgets based on the social buzz doing the heavy lifting for us and we have fees for service and execution being cut – that leaves us with only one alternative – start to charge for ideas and creativity, for strategic guidance so that the execution is less crucial to the revenues. This works more now than ever as to make the social buzz work for you, good ideas and strategy are needed to do is no coincidence that the non traditional media planning and buying teams in agencies are the fastest growing divisions. Big sponsorships, events, social strategy, performance strategy, content, these are where the future lies backed up with technically led brilliant basics.

To gain traction strategically you need to invest in good people. You also need more of them. Investment  in the current climate is not straight forward so you need to rebalance the organisation. The investment in time and people from a strategic perspective needs to increase and at the same time you need to make execution more efficient allowing you to free up people and resources to focus on intellectual capital. So Enter the third factor  – programmatic buying.

Ask a customer if they want to pay for a load of people bogged down in admin, or people actively thinking about how best to run their business and make it a success, the answer will invariably be the latter, but that’s what we all do in the main at the moment. Clients pay for people and hours spent on too much Admin and not enough thought, this situation needs to change. Technology and programmatic buying/selling is now allowing all companies to achieve efficiencies. Whether it is publishers like the Guardian or agencies through trading desks technology is freeing resource to focus on value rather admin.

Publishers are moving fast now, after a stuttering start, they are moving rapidly, trying to find ways to move more and more into programmatic sales, now with words like premium and brand being attached. They are opening parts of the site, previously sacrosanct such as home pages to the evils of tech. Trading and execution is taking a back seat as Partnerships, strategy, event type words come to the fore – BIG ticket sales are now the focus.

Some recent people decisions are a reflection on that with people like Vevo choosing Partnerships people over sales people and Yahoo re-evaluating structures and there are many more. I am sure The Guardian will be looking to Tim Gentry to help them achieve better margins and a more efficient approach to the market, the signs are there..

So for me the message is clear – we all need to find a way to make money from clients and customers who want to pay less for service and execution and spend less on advertising. Armies of people pushing excel around is not going to be the answer.