‘If you tell your agency to chase price, then that’s what they’ll do’: Confessions of a former agency exec

A lot of marketers talk about achieving transparent media trading, but often those demands are aimed solely at the agency. In the latest installment of our Confessions series, where we exchange anonymity for honesty, a former ad buying executive at one of the big five holding groups says that too few marketers think about how they take control of their media beyond the relationships with their agencies.

The conversation has been edited lightly for clarity and length.

Why should marketers be thinking about transparency across their supply chain?
Marketers moan about agencies in the transparency debate, but they need to spend more time looking at what all the other players in their supply chain are doing. There have been concerns in the past over how much of money going in that chain actually ends up with the publisher, and yet there aren’t many who know how to get beyond working out what the agency may or may not have been skimming off the top of whatever got spent. When I was working at the agency, we were trying to convince one of our clients to run a test where we’d use a Google demand-side platform to buy from the Google supply-side platform to see how much the publisher got.

Was it a challenge to get a client to try the test?
If you tell your agency to chase price, then that’s what they’ll do. And if you measure the right thing, the actual cost of it is almost irrelevant. It’s hard to get some clients to reconcile with that, and that’s why I think we struggled when it came to getting the test over the line. There weren’t many clients I worked with that either had supply chain transparency or really wanted it. Media may be worth loads of money, but it’s still only a fraction of a marketer’s day job. Getting full visibility of your supply chain isn’t easy. You’ve got to take time to understand all your supply sources, look at the domain lists, decide on the audiences you want to target and then work out how you’re going to verify it and with what partner. And that’s only after you’ve worked out how you’re going to retain the data across the vendors and have established your metrics. None of this is new. It’s just really hard to do, which advertisers don’t always want to hear.

Why have marketers lost control of their media budgets?
There’s a responsibility on advertisers to ask the right questions and make things happen. Agencies need to be willing to respond to those demands in the right way, but ultimately it comes down to advertisers having the expertise, whether that’s external or internal, to make sure that you have a media plan that won’t just benefit them on the commercial side but will also give them the best media plan. I only saw a handful of clients thinking like that when I worked at the agency. In the main, discussions with clients always came back to media pricing.

Do you believe we’re getting closer toward smarter partnerships across the market?
There’s still far too much talk about media pricing and results. I don’t know if its because of the advice they’re getting from intermediaries or if it’s the fact that there are some senior clients worry over how to tell their CEOs that they’ve been asleep at the wheel. Whatever the rationale is, it’s led to some instances where clients have proposed models that will put our entire fee at risk if the agency didn’t hit certain targets. While that might sound like the right way to remunerate the agency, all it means is you’re making the agency take on all the risk. That’s not a partnership.


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