DMC boss joins call for media auditing

The director of Dubai Media City has joined the clamour for Middle East media owners to start auditing their titles, amid claims that agencies are bribed to give business to certain media owners.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  September 25, 2005

The director of Dubai Media City has joined the clamour for Middle East media owners to start auditing their titles, amid claims that agencies are bribed to give business to certain media owners. Speaking at a forum organised by ITP, the publisher of Campaign Middle East, Mohammed Al Mulla, director of DMC, said: “It is in everybody’s interest to be audited. We endorse media auditing.” His comments were supported by Matt Blackborn, the boss of Starcom, one of the region’s biggest media agencies. Speaking to an outside audience for the first time since taking up his appointment, Blackborn said: “We’ve got to get a consensus between all the interested parties — first and foremost, that’s getting a trading mechanism in the market. We need to find a currency to measure the media.” Among the other speakers was Chris Boyd, boss of the UK-based Audit Bureau of Circulation, which oversees magazine and newspapers’ circulation claims. He said: “You’ve got major players, the major advertising groups based here, the major advertisers. But what you have not got yet is a trading currency. That’s what independent audit data is about. There’s not a culture of media accountability.” But not all agencies were convinced. Firas El Zein, regional managing director of Optimedia, claimed: “I would not say that audits are the solution — audits have a credibility problem.” However, Marwan Rizk, the International Advertising Association’s vice president and chief operating officer of Intermarkets, said: “Agencies are very serious about it. The clients are actively supporting it and I think it will be seeing the light very shortly. The IAA in less than a month will have a new committee for research audit. The clients are very much a part of it.” The forum heard claims that one reason why agencies do not want research is that they are taking bribes from media owners to put clients’ budgets with them. Justin Etheridge, Time Out’s publisher, said: “The decisions being made are not always sophisticated as long as brown envelopes are floating around and as long as agencies are making decisions based on how much kickback they are getting.” Forum chairman Andrew Neil, a former editor of the UK’s Sunday Times, asked El Zein: “Is there a culture of the brown envelope?” El Zein said: “The selection of the details depends on the media plan. Different agencies have different research tools.” When Neil repeated the question, El Zein replied: “I’m not in a position to answer.” But Joseph Ghossoub, chief executive officer of The Holding Group, parent company of agencies including Intermarkets, Mediaedge:cia and Wunderman, said decisions were made based on research. He said: “The agencies around this table are spending on tools of research to be able to get to where we need to be for our clients.” But Etheridge said: “What I have not heard in words of one syllable from the panel is that it does not take place.”

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