The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) recently released guidelines to help marketers choose and use media auditors and help them increase the value they derive from such audits.
1. Media auditors are used by almost all of WFA's multinational members in Europe.
"The rise of media auditing has been accelerated by economic uncertainty and looks set to continue to grow," explains WFA's managing director, Stephan Loerke. "If used to good effect, media auditing can improve transparency, efficiency and effectiveness in media buying."
2. Media auditing involves assessments of media buying performance, usually comparative, whereas media consultancy usually implies more custom-made, subjective project work.
Although auditing companies are sometimes referred to as media consultants, the functions can be separated. There are different approaches to auditing. These include performance compared to data, year-on-year tracking after adjustment against inflation/deflation, analysing market data or benchmarking against market prices estimated from all the above.
3. Fewer companies in Asia-Pacific are working with auditors, compared with the West.
"The reason for this is that auditors have a limited foot print in the region beyond the key markets," says Sunil Yadav, regional investment management director, Aegis Media Asia-Pacific. "For auditing to increase, they need to have more presence in-market, and build local relationships."
However, Andrew Meaden, regional director at GroupM, points out that while auditors are widely present in Europe, they are now starting to look at the rest of Asia as their next big growth opportunity. "The economic crisis and global pressures on costs that multinational clients are feeling has certainly accelerated this growth in the last couple of years," he says. "Every international firm is represented somewhere in Asia now and there are lots of Asia specialist firms appearing too."
4. One challenge for auditors in Asia is the availability of comparable measurements, particularly in terms of how they pool data.
It is important that the pools being offered are large and robust enough to make fair comparisons from.
"We have seen some auditors trying to benchmark spends against just a couple of other clients in different categories, which is clearly very unrealistic," adds Meaden. "Clients need to check carefully that pools are big enough to be meaningful."
5. When engaging an auditor advertisers need be clear about the purpose of the assignment, the WFA says.
Is it to audit media buying performance on a permanent or an ad-hoc basis, or is it to help with an agency review?
Clients are also advised to involve the agency in the auditing process. If nothing else, this will protect the quality of the relationship with the agency and ensure alignment and transparency. Objectivity is crucial, but so is confidentiality. Media auditors must ensure the confidentiality of clients' data and information, while the agency should provide the auditor with the correct information needed for the job.
6. Given the ongoing growth of online media, advertisers should also pay attention to the experience, expertise and equipment of the auditor in the digital space.
Most of the international auditing companies are still in the process of building their online auditing operations, so there are no standardised metrics to measure exposure to interactive media. Advertisers should make sure that audits correspond to their needs, and are consistent across vehicles and markets.
"Clients are challenging agencies to move more to a digital/mobile medium," says Yadav. "Even traditional media agencies and advertisers are moving to more engagement-driven and performance-based media channels. Media auditors need to build their expertise and develop their metrics in these areas as well to be able to expand their operations."
What it means for...
> If used to good effect, media auditing can improve transparency, efficiency and effectiveness in media buying, thus giving advertisers a more accurate account of where their spend is creating most value.
> However, only 57 per cent of advertisers in Asia-Pacific have engaged media auditors and only 64 per cent were satisfied with the results.
> Auditors can play a crucial role in preventing agencies from over promising and even manipulating data to access unfair advantages over the competition. This will create a more level playing field in Asia from which agencies can benefit.
> For those media agencies that are fully transparent, auditors should be seen as a benefit to the client relationship. "We are fully SOX compliant and have nothing to fear from auditing firms," says Andrew Meaden, regional director at GroupM.
This article was originally published in the 17 June 2010 issue of Media.