Media agencies and clients both ‘complicit’ in transparency issues as trust remains major concern

Media agencies and their clients must both take their share of responsibility for the transparency issues still dogging the industry, with greed, ignorance and a desire to cut costs undermining relationships.

James Greet

Cummins&Partners chief media officer James Greet said it has reached a situation where media agencies, in their anxiety to drive growth, regard their regional finance chief as more important than the client.

Meanwhile, clients are to blame for driving down costs in their own attempt to shore up the bottom line.

Speaking  during a debate on transparency at the Mumbrella360 conference this morning, Greet said: “This has been a long time in the making and lot of parties are involved. It’s a bit like the relationship between Prince Charles and Diana – there are a lot of people involved in this relationship and each have been complicit in their own way.

“It is a combination of greed and ignorance, greed on the part of both agency and clients with agencies chasing unsustainable growth and profit margins and at the same time clients who have been focused on driving down the price to improve their own margins.

“You get to a situation where most people running agencies probably see their regional CFO as more important than the clients.

“That becomes the focal point for people running agencies: how do I hit this number?”

When that thinking creeps in, agencies start making poor planning decisions which puts the entire media investment at risk and “becomes an even bigger issues for clients”.

Now more than ever agencies need to become an “objective, independent, transparent voice that they can be trusted”, he added.

“Agencies are challenged. They need to be in this space. They think they are, but they’re not. There is a big gap to where they need to get to.”

Greet, who previously led Ikon Communications and Mindshare, also expressed concern at remarks from News Corp chief digital officer Nicole Sheffield who said media owners were fearful of upsetting media agencies and seeing money disappear to competitors.

He described that as a “real issue” and “unhealthy to say the least”.

“If I was a client and I thought my agency and media owners had an unhealthy relationship that meant I was kept at arms length I would start asking questions,” Greet said.

Illustrating the continuing problems and an example of how “trust has been damaged”, TrinityP3 founder Darren Woolley said there were rumours in the first quarter of a media owner paying cash rebates to an agency after failing to deliver audience numbers.

“We have spoken to advertisers of those agencies about whether they received those cash rebates and no one knows anything about it,” he said. “So either this is a rumour that no one is talking about or potentially  agencies are taking cash back and not passing it on to their clients.

“This is what damages the idea of trust. We hold on to trust as if it’s the panacea but trust is earned and it needs to be proven.”

Woolley said there remain many advertisers who still believe their media agencies are “aligned to seeing them successful”.

But in a world based on cost, that is not the case, he told delegates.

“The only thing people are aligned to is hitting their numbers in any way possible,” Woolley said.


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