Group M's Rob Norman offers new rules of engagement after ANA transparency skirmish
A view from Rob Norman

Group M's Rob Norman offers new rules of engagement after ANA transparency skirmish

After criticising the ANA's recent transparency report, Group M's Rob Norman outlines new guidelines for media agencies and their clients.

The best relationships between advertisers and media services companies are achieved by transparent and productive dialogue between existing partners and by those entering into new partnerships or reviewing existing ones. 

In the spirit of positive thinking let's assume the objectives of almost any review are the same: To work with good people you believe can deliver the best business outcomes at the right price in your pursuit of competitive advantage. This holistic objective requires a holistic process. So, how do we make that happen? There are four steps that we can all agree are important. 

1. Agree the contract framework

2. Set an assignment that reflects the real requirements of the intended relationship

3. Evaluate

4. Appoint, or extend the contract

Step 1. Agree the contract framework

What is the total value of the contract +\- 10%?

What payment terms are proposed for direct and pass through costs?

What level of disclosure of underlying costs and or margin is required / permitted?

What are the expectations of the counter party to the contract – to operate as agency or principal or as a hybrid? (That's an entirely plausible option.)

What incentive / penalty structure is envisaged?

Define a "guarantee" if required and make sure that definition sticks.

Step 2: Set the assignment 

Make it representative of a real world example of how your business operates.

Make it holistic from insight to planning through pricing, implementation and measurement.

Use a timeline that reflects the reality of your business process.

Level the playing field so all parties start with the same information.

Make the "audience" for the review as analogous as possible with the people who currently touch similar relationships.

Step 3: Evaluate

Was the insight built on fact, was it relevant, inspiring and did it form the basis of the execution?

Was the business impact of the execution valuable and plausible?

Did the team members complement each other and your team?

Did the pricing of the components of the solution, in the context of that solution, represent value relative to the review competitors if any and / or the market? 

Step 4: Appoint

Revisit and refine the contract framework to reflect the defined scope of work.

Tell them the what you did not tell them about any long term deals that the new agency can't influence right away.

Agree transition timing (if you make a change) and resource allocation.

Set criteria for continuous assessment.

This may seem obvious but not sufficiently so to be standard practice today. In many cases, reviews are fractured in a way that is almost guaranteed not to achieve stakeholder alignment.

In its totality this process connects foundational contractual terms with qualitative planning and chemistry, and through to media input pricing. In short a holistic set of criteria and the basis for a long term harmonious relationships. 

Let's focus on the evaluation section. 

The first three components are best evaluated by your own people whose own performance is judged, in part at least, on the success or failure of the performance of the partner they appoint. The role of any third party should be to manage the process, provide the basis for comparison and to validate (if you need that help) the relevance and quality of the tools applied to the assignment. 

The fourth component is best evaluated against existing benchmarks (your current pricing) and abetted by expert media consultants to validate both absolute pricing and, most importantly, pricing in the context of the solution proposed. The reason WHY this context is most important is that your goal has to be to buy the most effective plan at the keenest price rather than to shoehorn some other plan into the cheapest inventory.  You may also want to validate that the pricing offered is actually achievable. If it's not, the contract offers little comfort for the business and even less for the relationship. In a blind auction the winner is usually an attorney, if transparency and ethical behaviors and outcomes are truly important the circle of trust simply has to include the consultant / auditor as well as the advertiser and the media services company.

In totality this four step process combines speed, accuracy and the highest possible degree of a successful and sustainable outcome. It also provides balance between the marketing and finance functions at client companies AND between the planning and implementation functions in the media services company. Further it ensures that the process is not an inducement to false promises or undeliverable expectations. 

Perhaps this can bring transparency to the process that reflects the intended transparency of the relationship, rather than one that might have been described by Woody Allen as follows: 

"I love her, she loves me. I love her parents and my parents love her. I told her absolutely everything except my real name."

Rob Norman is the chief digital officer and North American chairman of Group M
@robnorman

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