There’s no need to resent media auditors – but we shouldn’t make decisions just to get good audit results

IPhilippaGouldt’s time for agency staff to stop resenting media auditors – so long as they don’t start building media schedules just to score good audit results, argues MEC’s Philippa Gould.

I’ve come a long way from my first TV audit experience when two months into my first ever full-time role as a media assistant, I sat in a room watching my account director and auditors yell at each other across the table over a $59 off-peak spot in Brisbane. I walked out petrified, confident I never wanted to be a media buyer.

Eight years later, having always worked on clients that are externally audited, I can honestly say that the word ‘benchmarking’ no longer makes my tummy churn.

Working at MEC for the best part of a decade, I’ve  learnt a few tips and tricks from the auditors my clients employ. Yes, my first result was pretty average, but with time, many audits later, some very detailed digging, lots of constructive criticism and some tears, I’ve learnt a lot about how my decisions affect my agency’s results and, in turn, how those results impact the success of our clients’ business. My audit results have helped me get to where I am now.

So why are the likes of Faulkner Media management and Accenture still the most feared and resented bodies in our industry?

Mention an audit, and agency staff cringe at the thought of someone questioning their every move in front of their clients.

Mutter the word Faulkner and media owners curse in anticipation of yet another request for premium position in break.

Talk benchmarks and clients fret when they realise they provided lead times far shorter than 13 weeks.

It’s time to shift some of the negativity away from the words ‘audit’ and ‘benchmarking’. Truth be told, while auditors have helped me acknowledge the implications of short lead times or poor position in ad breaks, they certainly don’t influence when I have these conversations or why. We hassle all of our clients for the longest of lead times and nag all networks for the best placement for all campaigns.

If it’s not FMM or Accenture, it’s internal management who will audit the results. With the exception of average ratings as a quality metric in today’s landscape, most of MEC’s buying metrics align nicely to those of our auditing partners. We make our decisions with benchmarks in mind, not because of the benchmarks.

While I don’t agree with all of our auditors’ metrics, exclusions and considerations, the process of being externally audited has taught me about accountability and the importance of being able to justify every decision I make – down to that $59 spot in Brisbane.

Agency staff need to understand that an external auditor can be their best chance at providing a highly valued and trusted perspective. A perspective for clients that can be shared openly and can’t be questioned.

As an example, in an inflationary market we could be delivering the same cost per thousand to Client A and Client B. As an audited client and after having seen the ranking results, Client A is ecstatic, while Client B (who doesn’t subscribe to external benchmarking) continues to stress that the rates simply don’t ‘seem’ good enough and puts the account up for pitch. A pitch will ultimately provide the same level of competitive perspective, but I know which process I would prefer to partake in.

An audit can help garner the recognition an agency deserves but doesn’t otherwise get. The same can be said for individual media buyers – working in a discipline in which it’s hard to stand out, a fantastic audit result can help a good buyer do just that.

What I believe to be paramount is the acknowledgement of audit limitations and that solid communication between agency and client trumps any audit result.

Does delivering better than the benchmark command an inflated investment into TV’s digital channels? Yes. Does this decrease your cost per thousand? Yes. Does this improve your audited position in market? Yes. Does it improve your cost per reach point? Not necessarily. Is over-investing in these channels the right decision for your client? Possibly. Maybe. Maybe not. That completely depends on what you are trying to achieve.

If a decision that is based on optimising audit results is detrimental to the delivery of client and campaign objectives, then it’s the wrong decision and deserves to be questioned. Questioned by a client. Questioned by the media. Questioned by an auditor.

If an agency justifies its decisions, clearly communicates the implications of such decisions and remains completely accountable, then no audit result is to be feared.

  • Philippa Gould is director of investment and activation at media agency MEC. She was named media buyer of the year by Faulkner in 2009.

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