Transparency Doesn't Diminish the Quality of Work

Much has been said about the Association of National Advertisers’ Transparency Initiative, of which I had the privilege of being a part of since Ebiquity and FirmDecisions authored the recommendations on the path forward for the industry.  A year ago, we were eagerly awaiting the findings of the study so we could digest those into actionable next steps for advertisers.  While we embark into 2017 with our clients and partners, I thought it would be a good idea to address the proverbial elephant in the room.


While attending many conferences over the past several months, I have had the pleasure of interacting with advertisers of all shapes and sizes.  While having a variety of productive and fruitful conversations, one of the things that I have heard several times is that advertisers “just want to get back to doing great work with their agencies” when they hear the word "transparency."


That’s a fair point, and something that the entire industry needs to do, but transparency is not the kiss of death to great work.  Rather, it is the way in which you can truly determine if the work being done is great.  Without transparency, you have no idea how well your marketing investments are truly performing.  You don’t know how your budgets are being allocated, and you don’t know if the strategies and plans presented to your brands are unbiased.  Ultimately, there is always room for improvement, but you won't know where to focus your efforts without transparency.


I know what you’re thinking:  “of course you’re saying that, because you naturally want to sell services to clients to help them.”  For my entire professional career, I have built companies that are focused on partnering with clients to better their data management and improve the accountability and transparency of their marketing investments. Of course I want to create and provide valuable solutions for my clients, that’s what I’m passionate about and that’s what we do best as independent advisors to some of the largest brands in the world.


Now, that obviously doesn’t mean you need to hire Ebiquity and FirmDecisions, but it does mean you need to put in the work to create a better working relationship with your media partners.  Saying you have a great relationship with your agency, and using that to avoid leaning in a bit to learn more, is not the answer.  The transparency issues delve much deeper than your day to day agency contacts.  Those folks are working hard for your brand, but as the study pointed out, those aren’t the people who are aware of the potential nontransparent practices of the business that could be impacting your strategy and planning.  The advertisers that don’t put in that effort, or delay that effort, will be the ones at most risk or the ones being taken advantage of the most.


I think one of the reasons people put such a negative stigma on the term “transparency” is because they have equated that to putting your business up for review, which is no small undertaking.  That’s simply not what the intent is here.  The intent here is to figure out what you don’t know, and work with your partners to put the right ground rules in place.  If they won’t cooperate, or you end up learning some things that you simply can’t forgive, then put the business up for review.  However, the ideal state is to build a foundation based on the recommendations that we set forth while ensuring that your business continues to march forward.


Here is a breakdown of the most important things to focus on early in 2017:


  • Review your contracts and outline the areas of risk/lack of transparency
  • Review your programmatic buying and your access to data for analysis, or lack thereof
  • Analyze your digital investments and ensure you are measuring viewability (independently!) and identifying/protecting fraud
  • Evolve what "audit" means for your business to include:
    • Follow the money by executing contract compliance audits
    • Evaluate your cost positions for each media placement
    • Ensure you set clearly defined quality KPIs that you can measure independently and hold your partners accountable to those
    • Measure performance and attribution correctly across all of your media investments
      • Tying all of your investments to ROI and conversion metrics is a necessary step here


The expanded definition of "audit" above would allow you to completely analyze your entire funnel for each investment you make and put you in a position to identify the areas of opportunity.  Furthermore, attribution is a scary sector of our industry right now.  With the "walled garden" issues that have arisen as of late, and the number of clients who are unable to interrogate the data that factors into the attribution analyses they receive from their partners, this has become a major focal point for our clients.  Data is the currency for this industry going forward.


The world is moving very quickly, and it is time to get in front of that.  Transparency is the only way to truly ensure the quality of the work done by your partners is top notch; it is not a roadblock to great work.  I'd be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have or speak to you about the best way to take the first step forward. 




By Bill Bruno
About the Author:

Bill Bruno is the CEO - North America, Ebiquity.

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