Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI has launched an investigation into media trading practices in the U.S. market. Since this news broke, the U.S. Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has informed its members that it has begun limited discussions with the FBI in connection with this investigation. Many of our clients have asked us questions about what the investigation might mean for them.
Two years ago we developed guidelines designed to help advertisers achieve transparency in their media trading. We wrote these guidelines with our contract compliance business, FirmDecisions and in partnership the ANA. We believe that this report – Media Transparency: Prescriptions, Principles, and Processes – provides a helpful framework for best practices in media governance.
Since these recommendations were first published, we have seen many advertisers take the issue of transparency more seriously. Many leading brands are now actively driving transparency throughout several aspects of their media trading. Advertisers have become better informed. As a result, they now review their contracts more often, measure their media outcomes independently, and ask the right questions as a matter of routine.
Yet despite this progress, there’s still room for improvement. Recent events have prompted us to once again share the seven strategic principles from our report. These principles – which can help brands drive transparency in their media models – state:
- AGENT VS PRINCIPAL: Where the advertiser agrees to the agent acting as a principal, the advertiser should have put reliable processes in place to manage potential conflicts of interest.
- CONTRACT CONTENT: Advertisers should ensure that contracts with their media agencies contain robust provisions to deliver full transparency.
- CONTRACT AUDIT RIGHTS: Advertisers should have robust and far-reaching audit rights which allow them to fully track contract compliance and measure media value delivery.
- CONTRACT GOVERNANCE: Advertisers should implement strong, disciplined internal processes to deliver contracts which ensure strict accountability, compliance with effective management principles, rigorous governance, and significant senior management oversight.
- DATA AND TECHNOLOGY: Advertisers should take ownership of data and exert control over the media and technology used on their behalf.
- ADVERTISER RESPONSIBILITIES: Advertisers are responsible for more active stewardship of their media investments and fair compensation of their agency partners.
- CODE OF CONDUCT: Advertisers and media agencies should sign up to mutually-binding codes of conduct that help to ensure that the intention to deliver transparency is actually delivered.
The FBI investigation remains in its early stages, and no specific charges have yet been laid by the Bureau. While the official enquiry takes its course, transparency and trust will remain high on the agenda for the media industry. Advertisers need to define and state the level of transparency they expect from agency, data, and tech partners. While some may aim for 100% transparency, advertisers should confirm what level of transparency works best for them.
Ebiquity and FirmDecisions have forged a strong, long-standing partnership with the ANA. The organisation values our unrivalled expertise and independence, which led it to partner with us on the report and recommendations. But, we all know that writing and distributing this best practice report marked just the first step towards establishing a more transparent media ecosystem for advertisers and brands.
We truly do believe that, by taking these seven steps, advertisers can restore trust and transparency to media trading for the long term. And, while the media ecosystem grows in complexity, these principles remain central because we designed and wrote them to be future-proof.
Whatever new technologies emerge.
Whatever new terminology develops.
Whatever new trading practices arise.
Christian Polman is Chief Strategy Officer at Ebiquity
Note: The original report is available to download, without charge and without affiliation, from the ANA website.