Mumbrella Podcast: How advertisers in the UK are cracking down on transparency issues

Last week the British Advertising Association ISBA cracked down on "value bank" related practices in the UK with a new 50 page template contract. Deborah Morrison from ISBA sat down with Nic Christensen to explain how they are tackling transparency in the UK.

Debbie MorrisonLess than 10 days ago Deborah Morrison was front and centre in London’s Financial Times and she wasn’t mincing her words.

“We’re at a tipping point, we’ve got to do something,” she told the newspaper. “I don’t believe that [the media agencies] have got the best interests of their clients at heart any more.”

ISBA’s solution is probably one of the strongest stands in the world with the organisation sending its 450 members – many of whom are the biggest advertisers in the UK – a new 50+ page template showing them how to ensure they have covered key hot buttons like rebates and programmatic transparency.

As we sit down to chat Morrison is quick to explain the issue is not new.

“Our market has known about transparency issues for a long time,” she says. “Marketers have traded off that, they have done deals with agencies. They know what’s going on but the whole thing has been exacerbated by the growth of digital spend.

“As that has grown the whole thing has become more and more opaque and right now marketers are really asking what can they do about this.”

ISBA’s solution has upset many of the agencies in the UK, but it is now generating interest around the world from other advertising markets looking to rapidly address transparency concerns.

In Australia last the marketer association AANA in conjunction with the Media Federation of Australia quietly put out a “transparency framework” which set new rules on controversial practices like “value banks”, a practice four out of five major Australian advertising holding groups deny using.

Morrison says she can’t comment on other markets, but working with the media agency industry body wasn’t an option in the UK.

“We have always created template contracts terms for our members but we have generally done that with IPA, which is the agency’s trade body in London,” she says.

“We just couldn’t work this them on this. The issues were just too extensive. Our members were asking us to take quite a tough line and we would have got a template that didn’t address the points they required.”

The process has taken 18 months to create a 50 page document that can be used to build conversations around transparency and ensure that the client’s rights on issues like auditing are clearly established.

“Most of our members have the right to audit,” she says. “It is the extent you can audit up the food chain and across the food chain to look at the deals being done.

“This is a template document, clients basically take the document and tailor it to their own needs.”

For Morrison the document is really about restoring trust in the marketer-agency relationship.

“It is looking at things like neutrality of planning. How can you get your agency to not be influenced by a group deal they have done with a vendor.

“When people see odd things on their schedules, they know there are things that are not right.”

Can this document restore that trust? Particularly at a time when many in the industry globally are waiting for the findings of the US ad association ANA’s report which is expected to show clear evidence of rebates and so-called “value banks” being rife in the world’s biggest advertising market?

“From our perspective we are hoping it is going to promote dialogue and through dialogue people get a better understanding, and through that people get better clarity in the way the agency is trading and the client is buying.

“It’s all really about getting those issues on the table.”

Timeline for podcast:

  • 0.30 – Where the UK is up to on transparency
  • 1.30 – Creating the document and why they didn’t work with agencies on it
  • 2.30 – The right to audit up and across the agency food chain
  • 3.30 – Restoring trust in agency-client relationships

Nic Christensen in Boca Raton 


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