ISBA aims to bring whole industry along with new media framework

The 2021 edition aims to be the 'Windows 10' of the framework, addressing a series of shortcomings in previous versions.

ISBA: will the new framework achieve concord between agencies and advertisers? (Photo: Roc Canals/Getty Images)
ISBA: will the new framework achieve concord between agencies and advertisers? (Photo: Roc Canals/Getty Images)

ISBA is aiming to move past the divided reception to the previous versions of its Media Services Framework with a new edition that follows a “fundamental overhaul” based on input from advertisers, intermediaries and agencies.

Speaking to Campaign, ISBA’s director of agency services, Andrew Lowdon, who led the development of the new framework, said the media landscape had changed significantly over the three years since the last version. However, he admitted that version had problems that needed to be addressed.

“If you look at the way that the trading has changed, the rise of inventory media, trading practices have altered,” Lowdon said. “So I think it was definitely the right time to bring this agreement out. 

“We built this document on the shoulders of the predecessors who developed it – the big difference this time is number one, you've got myself who's actually a practitioner and used the agreement [in his former role at Associated British Foods]. Second, is the lawyer that we used with this, Robert Wegenek, he's written media agreements for agency networks, and also for global clients.”

The new framework has more provisions covering inventory media, out of home and barter, all of which Lowdon said had become more prominent issues facing advertisers.

The increased use of inventory media – which is bought first by an agency and then resold to a client – had the potential to damage trust when not used transparently, ISBA’s director general, Phil Smith, said.

“I think we've seen the evidence where inventory media is presented to clients in a less than transparent way,” Smith said. “It's a footnote to a plan. It's sometimes not described as such.

"Our stance is that there needs to be real clarity and transparency around this and clients need to be in control of what they are and aren’t buying.”

The previous framework, Lowdon added, “actively enabled” the non-transparent use of inventory media, “because it wasn't detailed enough. 

"The media plan would just say, at the very bottom, this plan may include inventory media. Now, that's disclosing, but it's not. It's like ‘this product making contain nuts’. It doesn't deliver, it doesn't create any transparency, it doesn't build that trust.”

An area the new framework addresses more “explicitly” is the relationship between the contracting agency and its media holding company, Smith said.

He continued: “[We’ve] hopefully done that in a way, which is, easier and more straightforward to sign up to. But, nonetheless, we've started to put some responsibilities on the holding company, not just on the agency.”

Getting everyone on board

Achieving more widespread adoption of the framework requires buy-in from agencies as well as advertisers. While the new framework has not had the “direct” input of all the media holding companies, “their voices have been listened to”, Lowdon said. 

“And I think we have taken as much on board as we could have for this document to really land and be successful. We can't ignore the agencies within it. And I don't believe we have done.

“There were some fairly important and very relevant issues. And we've tried to deal with those issues. By way of one example, the confidentiality discussion about allowing people into their businesses – well, we've worked very hard to try to be supportive to the agency position around that by not just going ‘one NDA covers everything’.

"We've actually tried to define what that confidentiality is, what is advertiser confidential information, versus auditor confidential information, versus agency confidential information.”

One framework to rule them all

The framework has a somewhat troubled history. When the first version was launched in 2016, ISBA’s then director of consultancy and best practice, Debbie Morrison, raised the ire of agency leaders when she suggested that media agencies did not have “the best interests of their clients at heart any more”.

Despite this, there was an increasing acceptance across the media sector that media agency contracts often needed to offer improved transparency to clients – especially following a landmark speech delivered by Procter & Gamble chief brand officer Marc Pritchard in January 2017.

The second version of ISBA’s framework was launched in February 2018 but also drew criticism, with media consultancy Ebiquity calling it "a step backwards" for advertisers. ISBA released an amended “version 2.1” of the framework that spring.

ISBA has aimed to avoid a repeat of 2018 by taking a collaborative approach, involving extensive consultation, especially with intermediaries.

“That level of collaboration has been very important to the development of this agreement”, Lowdon said. “There were some issues between version two and version 2.1, which came very quickly to the fore. We worked very hard to avoid that by being collaborative, this time around.

“We are reasonably well connected into the agencies, and I think it's an ongoing conversation – hopefully they'll still be talking to me post this release. But I want their feedback on this as well.

"It is an ongoing conversation and we're looking to evolve this agreement over time as well. We're not calling it version 2.2, or version three. it’s Media Framework 2021 for a reason – this is the move to Windows 10.”

Microsoft hastily released Windows 8.1 in 2013 following the poor reception to the original Windows 8. When it came to the next full version of the operating system two years later, Microsoft chose to call it Windows 10 to signify a clean break from the previous versions.

Smith admitted that he would be surprised if it doesn't create some controversy.

He said: "I might even be a bit disappointed if it doesn't create some controversy. This is a contract that has been written for from the advertisers’ standpoint. And we know that it will work with the grain of some business models in the agency community better than others.”

But he added: “There is, of course, underlying this, the more general point [that] if clients and agencies want our contracts that give the client more visibility of what is happening, and a full return of benefits, then remuneration models do need reevaluation and understanding.

"The complaint that media agencies are underpaid, we hear a lot. We do understand that remuneration models need to be such that both parties can succeed out of them.”