Slow march to media accountability

The news that media auditors are looking to gain a foothold in the Middle East will be a less than welcome prospect for many within the industry.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  May 29, 2005

|~|Dominois-Philippe-B&W_m.jpg|~|“We don’t see ourselves as media policemen, we want to work as partners with the agencies,” said EMM’s director, Phillipe Dominois.|~|The news that media auditors are looking to gain a foothold in the Middle East will be a less than welcome prospect for many within the industry. Experience across the world suggests that when auditors arrive, long established trading relationships between agencies and clients change irrevocably. Not surprisingly, the take-up of media auditors in this region has been slow. As we reported last week, EMM (Effective Media Management), one of the biggest international players to take a crack at this market so far, has only carried out something like five or ten investigations in the region. The chances are, they will have all been for large multinational companies, as part of a worldwide process, rather than something instigated locally. And this is an issue that matters to creatives and PRs too — where a media audit starts, the associated disciplines will usually follow. So what does a media auditor do? Their work is generally low profile. Their job is to work for the client and ensure they are paying the market rate — or below — for their advertising space. Not surprisingly, media owners often dislike their arrival. Naïve clients who had paid over the odds suddenly wise up, and prices have to drop. Similarly, it can be an uncomfortable experience for media agencies that are asked to justify their decisions on ad spend. Auditors have no sympathy for decisions based on deals that benefit the agency rather than the client. And they would certainly go running to the client if they discovered arrangements between friends. But EMM’s director Phillipe Dominois argues it need not be a confrontational process. As he told Campaign Middle East last week: “We don’t see ourselves as media policemen, we want to work as partners with the agencies, but a lot of multinational advertisers are now asking us to audit the Middle East market.” The more clients an auditor has, the more effective it can be — as it develops a pricing pool, it gets a better snapshot of what clients are really paying. So, for the first few clients in the Middle East region, the audit is probably a less meaningful exercise than once the practice is established. And it appears the other major auditing players are not yet rushing to get their foot in the door. John Billett, boss of Billetts Media Consulting — the world’s biggest media auditor with offices throughout Europe, North America and Japan — says: “The Middle East is not a market into which Billetts has ever ventured. We’ve developed other priorities at this stage, but we will have to look at the Middle East at some point.” However, larger agencies are keen to signal that they have nothing to hide from auditors, whenever they arrive. Responding to EMM’s comments last week, Eric Mirabel, marketing & communications manager at local media agency OMD, said: “The market demands and requires accountability and transparency. It is good for media agencies as it will keep them on their toes and provide clarity to advertisers.” The only potential downside for clients is that if they are already getting an excellent deal, the media owner may be reluctant to continue it if they know the advertiser is being audited. They will fear that the auditor will demand the same deal for everybody else in the pool. Being bean counters, auditors will want evidence that the advertising vehicle chosen — whether TV, radio, newspaper or magazine — delivers the audience it claims. And this is perhaps the factor that will most hamper the spread of media auditors over here. In most cases, that evidence just does not exist. Most newspaper and magazines are not audited, which leads to some often wildly misleading claims. The same goes for TV and radio. As we report in our feature on data this week on page 18, few of the channels can honestly say what their audience is. Instead, advertisers have to gauge the response generated by their advertisement and decide whether they received a good enough return on their investment. That’s easy enough when you’re trying to gauge how many people responded to Chili’s restaurant’s radio offer for greedy people who want two meals on their plate for the price of one. But harder to measure when you’re trying to subtly affect the brand values for potential Ford Mustang buyers. And that’s why, in the end, the auditors believe the advertisers will turn to them. The slow process has begun.||**||

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