THE CONSULTANTS: CAN AUDITORS GET CLEVER? - Media grows ever more complex, but have those who monitor the industry kept pace? Claire Beale investigates

To pervert a well-worn cliche, those who can, do, those that can’t, audit. (And those who can’t audit become freelance consultants.)

To pervert a well-worn cliche, those who can, do, those that can’t,

audit. (And those who can’t audit become freelance consultants.)



Such sentiments have always been popular among many agencies exposed to

the media auditor’s calculator. Not that this bothers the auditors much;

their discipline has enjoyed enormous growth, wields immense power and

remains an important crutch for most big clients. Around two thirds of

all TV spend is now subject to the auditor’s rigorous gaze, and

advertisers spend about pounds 10 million a year on the comfort-blanket

that an auditor’s report offers.



But as media slowly (very slowly) transforms itself from a commodity

purchase to a rounded communications offering, the role of the auditor

is coming under the spotlight. Media agencies now aspire to offer a

service which goes well beyond planning and buying spots and space and

into broader communications tools such as strategic thinking,

econometric modelling and creative planning which defy simplistic

benchmarking. Can the media auditor keep pace?



Back when the first media auditor was born in the 70s, incomprehensible

jargon, scientific trading formulas and the suspicion that media

specialists were more concerned with money-making scams than

cost-effective schedules created an atmosphere of mistrust that allowed

the independent checks and balances offered by the auditors to

prosper.



Today, though, discounts have been driven so hard that achieving

rock-bottom rates has become a given, and more clients say they are

interested in clever media thinking. In fact, when Media Audits recently

asked their clients which of their agency suppliers they most valued,

media came out on top on trust and value. You might wonder where’s the

future for the media auditor.



Except that, of course, whatever the industry would publicly like to

peddle, cost - in terms of value - remains fundamental. There is still a

role for the pool of prices against which each agency’s performance can

be monitored so media spend can be justified to finance directors.



And there’s still a demand for that ’second opinion’ - the average

marketing manager isn’t in his job long enough to have a robust view on

his agency’s performance without the professional advice of the

auditor.



Bob Wootton, director of media and advertising affairs at the

Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, believes that while

agencies might be right to question how far an auditor can go in

monitoring strategies and planning, auditing will remain a fact of life.

’However fancy your media plan is, it’s still got to be bought

cost-effectively and whatever direction agencies take, there’s always a

need for benchmarking.’



Even for those media agencies that do boast tangible creative

credentials, auditing need not be the devil incarnate. Tony Manwaring,

the chairman and creative director of Initiative Media, says auditing

has never got in the way of creativity at his agency. Like most

agencies, Initiative is proud to boast that virtually all of its

business is audited, and Manwaring insists he ’can’t think of a single

example where being audited has prevented us implementing our

ideas’.



In fact, Manwaring goes as far as to say that the auditing process

stimulates creativity. ’Auditors provide clients with the evidence that

you are doing a great job on the core planning and buying business and

that gives clients the confidence to let you do other things.’



Nevertheless, Wootton believes not everything can be or should be

subjected to the auditor’s rule. ’If media becomes completely auditable

it will have lost its creativity and therefore lost its function,’ he

says. One auditing company which does claim to be addressing the broader

issues such as planning and strategy is Media In Perspective, whose

co-founder, Stephen White, says: ’You can’t audit new ways of thinking.

What you can do is debate that fresh thinking with authority and give a

view on whether it meets the client’s criteria.’



What really matters, though, is what clients think. David Crawley, media

and communications manager of Scottish Courage, believes that when it

comes to ’upstream’ issues such as strategy, effectiveness and

econometrics, so much depends on the market that an auditor can never

offer more than broad-brush advice. ’They can certainly give a view,’ he

says. ’But only the client can ultimately decide whether a media

strategy or creative media idea is worth paying for.’



FIVE AT THE TOP



Barsby Rowe



Declared income pounds 2.3m



USP ’We use real databases compiled from competitive advertisers and we

are genuinely multi-media.’



The Billett Consultancy



Declared income pounds 2.5m



USP ’Measuring and enhancing advertising media effectiveness. We have an

upfront method rather than the traditional after-the-event audit.’



Fairbrother Media



Declared income pounds 1.6m



USP ’We are the largest of the European auditing companies with years of

top-level media buying experience.’



Media Audits



Declared income pounds 8 m for the group



USP ’International, with the largest real-price benchmark anywhere,

working with clients to set testing benchmarks.’



Media In Perspective



Declared income N/A



USP ’We have the experience at the top of the company to take a broad

view of the total communications objectives a client is trying to

achieve, backed up by audit data.’



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