Media Audits announced last week that it is to set up a division to help
advertisers evaluate the strategic planning services provided by its
media specialists. Is Media Audits straying into dangerous territory?
Will agencies feel threatened? And just how qualified is it to get
involved in such an issue? Alasdair Reid reports
Media auditors would have you believe that they’re a universally
accepted fact of life. Agencies and media owners may have been
suspicious of them initially, but they have come to recognise the
clients’ right to seek a second opinion.
Perhaps. An entirely different perspective emerged from the recent Media
Circle meeting in Guernsey. The subject of media auditing dominated the
event and auditors had a surprising amount of vitriol heaped upon them.
While agencies continue to hint at malpractice, media owners argue that
auditors have a damaging influence on the market by teaching clients to
be obsessed with price rather than value. It’s still a very sensitive
So what will they make of last week’s developments at Media Audits? The
company has decided to create a strategic planning department and has
hired Zenith Media’s planning director, Sue Oriel, to head the
Should media specialists feel threatened? On the one hand, Media Audits
can hardly be accused of being obsessed with price - planning obviously
involves wider issues. On the other, it is becoming involved further
‘upstream’ in the advertising process.
Is the company qualified to dabble in these areas? Auditors may be able
to devise benchmarks for buying performance, but how can you do it for
strategy? And how can they hope to make sense of media strategy unless
they understand the creative strategy behind it?
If a client comes to regard Media Audits as the ultimate arbiter, will
it not begin to drive that client’s media strategy? Will it not, in
effect, become the media strategist?
John Storey, the joint managing director of Media Audits, insists
agencies shouldn’t feel threatened: ‘There’s no way that you can do a
thorough evaluation of a media company’s performance without it having
strategic implications. We’ve done a lot of work on effective frequency,
for instance, and once you know the effective frequency then you know
what the channel mix should be and how press and outdoor should come
into the mix.
‘Clients may come to us initially because they want accountability on
their agency’s buying performance, but they inevitably want to move
towards a higher level of evaluation. We are uniquely placed to offer
them a perspective,’ Storey continues.
He argues that the service will complement what agencies offer. ‘We will
never replace them,’ Storey maintains. ‘We can never get into the
position of making media plans because that would impinge on our ability
to evaluate campaigns - that would obviously be a disaster because that
is our core business.’
Some agencies are less than convinced. Mike Smallwood, the media
director of Lowe Howard-Spink, argues that it’s an unnecessary
diversion. ‘You can see why Media Audits wants to do this,’ he says.
‘There is no more potential for growth in its core price-auditing
business. But there are other things it should be looking at - things it
can do better. The logical conclusion to this is that it will seek to
copy what planner/buyers do. It will all fall apart when it starts
trying to duplicate our efforts.’
Smallwood questions whether there will be any real demand: ‘On a casual
consultancy basis, it will not have the expertise to make any sort of
impact. The biggest danger is that it doesn’t have that resource. Then
it would just skate across the surface and provide very bad advice
because it wouldn’t be able see the wider picture. To do a proper job
will take significant resource and commitment. Will clients be prepared
to pay for that?
‘I suspect that they will not, especially if all that Media Audits is
doing is duplicating what we do. If auditors can convince clients that
they are cleverer than we are, we will either have to bend to their view
or be replaced. We’ll see. Clients realise that they can’t have two
strategic points of view. One has to win out eventually,’ Smallwood
Bob Offen, the managing director of Mediastar, also has some
reservations: ‘From Media Audits’ point of view, this must seem like a
great idea, especially if clients
genuinely want it to do it. But it isn’t really what it has
traditionally been employed for - which is as a price watchdog. The
company can’t claim to have any track record in strategic areas.’
He continues: ‘Obviously, it wants to come treading on our patch, but
the industry’s response will be determined by how it does it - how
heavily it treads. Yes, this will fuel suspicions about auditors, and
some agencies are bound to be very nervous. The real market opportunity,
though, is in providing a complementary service.’
As a client, Dominic Owens, the manager of marketing services at Mercury
Communications, approves wholeheartedly: ‘I can see that some people
will be upset. But this could be a very valuable service. There is not
much point in getting that extra 2 per cent discount if I’m buying the
wrong media. Some advertisers don’t have enough time to investigate all
the options. How do we know that our specialist has considered all the
angles? Clients just don’t have that toolkit. Sometimes we need a new
perspective and unbiased advice. Media Audits has a very broad
perspective because it works across a wide range of advertisers.
Especially for smaller advertisers, what it is offering on planning
could be very good news.’
George Michaelides, a partner in the media planning specialist,
Michaelides and Bednash, agrees: ‘I’m happy for anyone to get involved
in this area, in whatever role, because I’m confident that we’re the
best at it. What it will do is draw more attention to planning and help
to make it clear to everyone that it is a separate function. This sort
of thing helps create a marketplace - more clients will be encouraged
to look at planning separately.
‘I’m sure Media Audits’ new offering will be a complementary service. It
would lose credibility as an auditor if it became too involved,’