Advertising Transparency – Let the Buyer Beware

July 30, 2014

By Bill Duggan

A few days ago The Wall Street Journal published an article titled,“Why Advertisers Are Questioning How Agency Trading Desks Work.” 

The article noted that, “Recent research conducted by the ANA and market research firm Forrester found that trading desk transparency ranked among marketers’ biggest concerns about media buying.” That is indeed true! The ANA/Forrester survey asked marketers about their concern on a variety of media related issues. As the chart below shows, agency trading desks are noted to be an “emerging concern.”

Back in 2011, we found a very low level of awareness and understanding among members on agency trading desks and that resulted in the ANA white paper titled, “Agency Trading Desks – Basics Marketers Need to Know and Questions to Ask.” The paper covered issues including the benefits of agency trading desks, criticisms of agency trading desks, and suggestions on what clients need to do. Interestingly, many of the criticisms identified in 2011 – including lack of transparency and rebates (from publishers to agencies) – are issues that we continue to hear about.

Two points made in that 2011 white paper bear repeating today:

  • While agency trading desks could indeed offer many benefits, marketers need to be educated on how their compa­ny’s money is being spent and take responsibility for understanding the pricing model, unique role, and value that each player in this sector provides.
  • Comment to agencies – the use of a trading desk should be clear and transparent with a client and discussed with a client before a trading desk is engaged. Agencies need to initiate discussions re: the value proposition of the trading desk and its compensation.

Today’s media environment, including the relationship between clients and media agencies (and, in turn, media agencies and media companies), is less transparent than it’s ever been during any of our respective careers (and that’s true for both a 21 year old starting out and a 60 year old veteran).  Marketers need to be aware of that and ask questions or, otherwise, let the buyer beware.

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