Opinion

Clients, get control of your media data or get ripped off

There’s a strange state of affairs brewing in adland, where agencies are withholding digital and social media data from their clients. Henry Innis offers a stark reminder to these clients: ‘it’s your data.’

Something’s been bothering me conducting media spend reviews in recent times: clients not owning their own digital and social media data.

This practice has been around for years in some badly behaved media agencies and other murky ad-tech players. Here’s how the scheme works: they agree a media savings target upfront based on a certain budget, charge a fee or commission to the client, then try and negotiate deals, rebates and use other trading methods (consolidation, early payment discounts, tech discounts etc) to get that media at a significant discount.

Media agencies have graduated from the Homer Simpson school of ‘yoink’

Examples include agencies controlling the Facebook ad account, not even letting clients login. Hint: it should be the other way around with agencies added as ‘advertisers’ – Facebook even has an option for this. Or programmatic data being reported at as a ‘KPI met’, rather than the raw data.

I call bullshit.

The justification is always that it’s ‘their data’. Or it contains confidential information on their other clients. Hell, there’s even a Fishbowl thread with a list of excuses to give nosy clients when they ask.

Everything about the practice stinks, and not in a good way.

It’s symptomatic of agencies and ad-tech vendors using a lack of transparency to obscure pricing and capture more margin. No wonder profits on both sectors have gone up dramatically as a result of digital improvement.

And here’s the dirty secret: it’s your data. You can dictate terms back to your media agency and say ‘I want access’. And you should. If it’s an issue, it’s one where procurement may even add a lot of value hammering your agency more.

Own your data, own your media buy and use agencies in more strategic and less transactional capacities. Use them to come in and provide ideas, not manage a core part of your businesses’ data. Outsourcing that is complete crap.

Most of the time when you get control of your data, you also get some handy benefits, like figuring out what you can do better for your business. Sometimes, you’ll find that some activity works better than others.

Sometimes, you’ll find that not all practice that’s been going on is best practice.

Here’s some of the ugly stuff we’ve found consistently cropping up once we put our algorithms to work over digital media spends:

  • Misreported hours: people claiming hours and hours spent in social and programmatic stacks optimising, when really they spent an hour at best.
  • Significant spends going on without optimisation or improvement to audience buys, even when there was significant upside in doing so.
  • Creative and copy variations being mis-matched to the wrong audiences, leading to poorer performance in segmented campaigns.
  • Campaigns not leading to the correct landing pages, leading to crappy conversion rates on the back-end.

Some of these errors were running into the hundreds of thousands every single month in terms of cost to the business. It’s a travesty, gives digital a bad name and makes data-driven marketing look like a farce. Frankly, I find it offensive our industry lets this go on.

And not all media agencies do this. There are a lot of good eggs there. But the ones that are, and the clients that let them, are letting the team down.

All of this can be found out, but only if you own your own data. So I’m imploring clients to get on the front foot and take control of stuff you should already own. Because if you don’t, you’re going to have to accept two things: you’re being ripped off and you’re giving our industry a bad name.

Henry Innis is the chief strategy officer at Mutiny, a marketing consultancy that combines machine learning and human insight to help marketers make better decisions around content, data and technology.

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