What is media auditing?
Media Auditing is a performance management tool in the advertising industry that tracks how well a set of goals or fundamental principles are being followed and, therefore, how effective and efficient a team is in accomplishing their duties. In its most basic form, a media audit provides confirmation of value delivered. Some see the ultimate goal as a way of measuring an agency’s performance. Others see it as a weapon to gain competitive advantage.
When advertisers began auditing, TV was king and advertisers were still debating if perhaps they should set aside 10% of their media budget for “online”. Oh, how times have changed. Fast forward to today and we have a completely new vocabulary to help identify and distinguish the array of new tools and techniques for reaching the intended consumer. TV now goes by many different names: Linear TV, Data-Driven Linear, Addressable, Video-On-Demand (or VOD), Connected TV (or CTV), etc. And, Digital in all its forms is an outsized piece of the pie.
While the ‘what’ is changing - the ‘why’ is as important as ever. Media continues to be one of the largest investments an advertiser makes. As with any large investment, it’s important to know that you are maximizing value. Measuring media value - and leveraging objective expertise - helps to ensure you get the best possible ROI from your media investment. After all, if you don’t know the true value of your media spend, how can you know if you are getting the right deal and how do you know where and how to improve?
Why should brands audit their media?
There are six general areas we see as the core reasons for conducting an audit:
When reasonable questions produce answers that beg more questions or suggest a concerning absence of detail, lack of urgency or underwhelming grasp of KPIs, it may be time to get outside advice and seek better answers. This may not be an occasion to put the team “on notice” but can be framed as a positive performance management tool and a way to impress upon everyone that better answers are necessary to drive the results needed in the business.
- Pro Tip: Brief the media auditing partner on the top five answers to core questions that missed the mark and why. This can help formulate the audit scope and serve as a definition of program success.
Improved media governance
Large investments, rightly so, tend to get greater attention from the C-Suite and often must adhere to a set of governance requirements. These requirements help prove that proper steps have been taken to approve the release of funds, change orders, delivery validation, proof of performance and the achievement of agreed KPIs. If a robust media governance framework is not in place or it has not been updated in some time, it may be a good reason to conduct a media audit.
- Pro Tip: Identify three real or perceived loopholes that should be closed and a timeframe for doing so.
New product launches, new target segmentations, ambitious business goals, competitive pressures, market forces, supply chain challenges and changing economic conditions are just a few of the good reasons to consider new ways of going to market. A media audit can provide a fresh opportunity to consider the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) most important to the business today and can bring fresh insights, leveraging experience from a wide aperture of brands who have gone through similar challenges.
- Pro Tip: Challenge the audit partner to present and elaborate on relevant case studies to set the stage for the considerations and trade-offs that need to be explored.
Making every dollar accountable and optimized is job number one for all media investment professionals and brand stewards. This is true in growth periods and in recessions, for brand leaders and challengers, big spenders and small, online and offline, local and global.
- Pro Tip: Consider a rigorous benefits realization program to track and validate the actual financial improvements being driven through the media audit program so that, when asked ‘how was the investment stretched?’ you are prepared to answer not only the how but also validate the amount, endorsed by an objective third party expert.
Performance target setting
The maxims ‘what gets measured gets managed’ and ‘measure what you treasure’ are indicative of the intrinsic benefits of setting targets in life and in business. Without targets, we just go through the grind without accountability and no real north star. Target setting is important for team productivity and the targets should be re-visited for relevance and interrogated for proper and intended outcomes.
- Pro Tip: Keep one or two performance targets under consideration in a ‘parking lot’ with active tracking mechanisms in place. This will help keep a performance program fresh and dynamic with minimal downtime when it’s time to include new targets or to swap for KPIs that have served their utility and are no longer fit for purpose.
Agency partnerships are a very important and high value investment for an advertiser and, as such, need to be optimized to deliver on the full ambitions of the marketing, finance, media and strategic sourcing teams. A proper program for partnership optimization will consist of a multi-dimensional review framework and a clear and collaborative approach to learning, sharing and target setting.
- Pro Tip: Consider instituting (or refreshing) a Performance Related Incentive Plan that combines service evaluation (360 degree is optimal), media buying performance against clear targets and/or commitments and business KPIs (focus on the same KPIs that feature in the CMO performance targets where relevant).
When the time comes to conduct a media audit, and there’s strong clarity as to the reason to do it, it should seamlessly inform the brief to the media auditor, set the stage for audit partner selection criteria and help position the program for future success.
What type of media audit is right for your brand?
There are three main types of audits in the advertising industry (although other variations feature occasionally):
- Performance media audits (with cost and quality variants)
- Financial audits
- Contract compliance audits
Determining which audit type is right for you will come down to the objectives of the audit and the challenges you are attempting to overcome. Here are some things to consider for each type:
Is media efficiency an area where you lack clarity and objectivity? When you inquire about the level of media efficiency that you are able to achieve and explore how competitive your pricing is over time, are you getting objective answers? Are you concerned that a persistent drive towards lower media pricing has sacrificed your quality over time? These questions and more will be answered with a robust media performance audit executed by subject matter experts who have media trading experience and deep domain knowledge.
Perhaps financial management processes and protocols are an area where you crave deeper insight and greater assurance. Are you looking to gain confidence that the significant dollars invested are being accounted for and watched after with the highest degree of professionalism and proper due diligence, following industry best practice? A financial audit, best performed by industry experts, who’ve been on the agency side in prior roles, will provide this level of insight and recommendations that carry great potential for a lifetime value beyond the audit itself.
Contract Compliance Audit
Finally, if you feel that the MSA with your agency was labored over at the start of the relationship and included all manner of important governing principles but has somehow gathered dust since the ink dried, then a contract compliance audit is definitely worth exploring. It’s crucial to know for certain where, when and how important contractual policies are being followed and where there’s been leakage over time (perhaps not even intentionally). Additionally, it’s equally important to bring the wider team together for a contract refresher so that all stakeholders have a shared sense of ownership over the contract to avoid confusion and the details can be discussed in plain speak without legal jargon.
What about Digital Media Auditing?We've got you covered! Find out what you need to consider if you are looking for more visibily and control over your programmatic, search and social media investments.
Media audit pitfalls to avoid
A good audit has a clear goal with defined success criteria, is executed in a genuinely collaborative manner, provides laser-like focus on actionable improvements and avoids these common pitfalls through purposeful design:
Deck on a shelf
- A report light on actions, with no prioritization and very little alignment with the agency will simply atrophy, get put in a binder and collect dust.
- Key watchout: Voluminous decks with no executive summary, the hallmark of a consultancy that attempts to overwhelm with sheer mass rather than go the extra mile for insights and focus.
- An audit that is not shared with the Agency in advance of a Final Draft is very likely to fall into the trap of creating conflicting narrative where there will be no genuine resolution/
- Collaboration and transparency are key and should be emphasized throughout the audit process.
- An auditor that is remunerated - in part or in whole - on the financial value of identified savings potential will always, without exception, be motivated to identify and recommend unreasonable improvement opportunities. This will cause backlash from the agency, undermine confidence in future audits and bring the media accountability program to a standstill, thereby sacrificing all good potential improvements for mythical but unrealistic gains.
A good audit has a clear goal with defined success criteria, is executed in a genuinely collaborative manner, provides laser-like focus on actionable improvements and avoids common pitfalls through purposeful design.
How do you prepare for a media audit?
Preparing for a Media Performance Audit takes some proactive involvement from the Advertiser. The advertiser role is key to set the tone and get all parties aligned and focused on a clear set of responsibilities with designated assignments for who is accountable, consulted and informed.
Once the tone has been properly set and all involved parties know who to contact for information sharing, it’s time to collect and share relevant briefing materials. This step is crucial in order to ensure that the ultimate audit findings will be as grounded as possible in the realities of the business, taking full account of the underlying objectives and strategies that were approved in advance of the media buy execution itself. For this to be really helpful and useful to the auditor, one must think about the unique aspects of the media buy that should be considered in the audit, from a cost and quality perspective.
Some examples of briefing material include:
- Provide a deeper understanding of recent history and shed light on certain aspects of the investment plan and tactical buys.
Overview of recent changes to the buy
- New ratings stream
- New buying target
- Evolved daypart mix, vendor mix, etc.
- A list of competitive advertisers inside and outside the direct category definition
Price forming factors to be considered
- Approval timelines (does it meet standard market expectations or is there a pain point here that restricts the Agency from negotiating with maximum leverage?)
- Marketplace pressures impacting supply and/or demand
Once a solid information sharing phase has been completed, it is then time to collect and share the media buy detail matching the audit scope (adhering to the auditor data request format or templates). This is another step in the process where it is key that both Auditor and Agency are collaborating and communicating clearly so as to clear up any confusion early in the process.
Achieving success in any media performance audit process requires clarity, focus and communication. When choosing the right audit partner, it’s important to consider their ways of working, their experiences collaborating with agencies, their reputation as operators in the industry and their willingness to lean in and do the heavy lifting required to create a media audit review that stands the test of time.
4 Simple Steps to Amplify Engagement with Your Media Investment TeamYour ability to engage and motivate your media planning and buying team is key to getting the best possible results from your media investments. In this guide, we give 4 easy to follow steps advertisers can implement today to ensure their investment teams are aligned and working together seamlessly to drive better media results.
What should advertisers expect during the media audit process?
- You should expect clarity on the phases or work and the estimated timing of each
- You should expect a logical underpinning to the process, based on the goal of the project and the defined SoW
- You should require clarity on milestones so that you can anticipate delays and help troubleshoot
- You should insist on a regular cadence of work-in-progress meetings between you and the auditor and the agency. Where you are unable to be directly involved, the auditor should update you in writing after each WIP meeting conducted with the Agency.
- You may explore intentional stage gates with the Auditor. These are points in the project plan at which development can be examined and further consideration given to any important changes or decisions relating to data access, costs, resources, scope, etc.
As the process is underway, a good question to pose to both the Agency and the Auditor is “what, if anything, do you see on the horizon that could jeopardize our deliverable timeline?”.
Insist on radical transparency with a mature openness to not hiding anything. You should trust your Agency and Auditor to handle information and be candid about the potential outcomes along the way.
Part of that radically transparent approach must also be an honest assessment of the veracity of issues that bubble to the surface. If issues are the product of politics or an intentional mission to delay or derail the process, these need to be identified as such and a quick course correction put into place to get the program back on the rails and pointing towards the original destination.
What makes a good media auditor?
In the complex digital ecosystem we plan and buy media in today, there are a whole host of interconnected and interdependent parties that have a vested interest in maximizing yield. Automation is the shiny new engine but opacity is the polluting exhaust that many try to ignore because they fall in love with speed.
Independent guidance from a truly objective subject matter expert is needed in this climate, now more than ever.
So what makes a good independent media audit expert? Here's what to look for:
Look for media audit practitioners who have bought, planned and executed media for a meaningful portion of their career.
This proves that they have a hard earned, reality-based perspective on what is realistically possible in terms of performance and improvement targets.
Look for a team of people who possess an ideal mix of analytical skills and aptitude for effective communication.
This crucial right brain/left brain balance will ensure that the insights delivered in the audit gain traction and stand a better chance of becoming muscle memory. The collaboration and communication make all the difference so interrogate how the auditor approaches conflict resolution, how they brief the agency and what their process is for effective communication throughout the audit process.
Look for a team that has demonstrated a history of providing their clients with insights and recommendations that are focused and a process that is relentlessly efficient.
This is important because, in this fast paced environment where there’s an ongoing talent squeeze, we all need to focus on the prioritized steps that clear a path to real action. What should we do now? What should we do next? What should be reserved for the future? To quote Seth Godin, “Your job isn’t to do your job. Your job is to decide what to do next.”
Finally, look for positive curiosity, a sense of what is possible and a thirst for a learning agenda.
This perspective breathes new life into an ongoing performance management plan and helps set sights on a more productive roadmap that will ultimately lead to better performance.