Auditor Evolution Continued

Last week’s Cog Blog was all about how traditional media auditors need to evolve along with the rest of the media industry. Simplifying ridiculously, this involves a move from the focus being solely on the price paid for executional buys to a more balanced assessment of how best to use the many media options out there.

I’m way past obsessing over the numbers reading this blog, but I do glance at the LinkedIn numbers, and of course I am always aware of responses.

This particular post seemed to hit a spot. All bar one of the response threads (and that one, not altogether surprisingly was from Ebiquity – whose staff were also the largest reader group) agreed with the basic narrative that the traditional auditors are perpetuating the price obsession that stops the industry moving forward.

So – back to the well.

Ebiquity (like the others) know that the future involves moving upstream, but they (like many of the agencies whose efforts they monitor) are caught in the trap of having a legacy business, staffed by those who are more qualified to perpetuate the legacy than they are to evolve the service.

The Ebiquity dilemma is well illustrated by the share price. When Jon Mandel made the speech that started the whole transparency ball rolling, in March 2015 Ebiquity shares were trading at around 127p. Today they’re at 55p.

One contributor to a discussion thread on Ebiquity shares commented ‘The CEO … has positioned the business as an auditor rather than a value creating process’ whilst another was harsher: ‘I have no confidence that the management knows what to do..’.

That seems unfair: more likely is that there’s a realisation of what the business needs to do, but the financial commitment to do it is lacking.

A couple of weeks ago, at Cannes Ebiquity launched their ‘Media Model’ via a viewpoint paper on ‘How CMOs can achieve better outcomes in a world of increasing media complexity.’

This paper included the famous waterfall chart, showing how an advertiser’s original $100 reduces to around $0.03 – $0.04 once off-target impressions (not defined by the way) and unsafe brand environments are taken into account.

Many (including me) have used this chart or one of its many variants. Ebiquity’s own 2017 analyst presentation ‘Structural or Cyclical’, went further by quoting sources.

Some of these date back to 2013 or 2014, others to 2016. Given all the change the industry continues to witness it’s odd that the latest 2019 version is still quoting the same numbers.

But never mind, the point still holds – many advertisers are wasting a shedload of money on online media forms, most specifically when resorting to programmatic techniques.

Ebiquity’s paper goes on to propose a holistic framework built on ‘established principles’ of ‘Define and Design’; ‘Implement’ and ‘Manage’.

Again – all good, if standard stuff (and Flock and ID Comms got there ages ago) but the issue is far less about defining what needs to be done, and far more about what practical steps can be taken to do it.

The issue I have always had with consultancy businesses like Ebiquity is that they’re very comfortable telling everyone else what to do, and rather less good at following their own advice.

A few years back everyone in publishing was quick to tell the music business how consumers were driving change, apparently un-noticed by what they (the publishers) saw as a backward-looking, complacent industry.

The publishers themselves were at the time seemingly unaware of the irony.

A 2013 Cog Blog post commented on the challenges faced by the market research business. Since then many from outside the industry have entered, and we now have the imminent sale of one of the largest of the traditional MR businesses, Kantar.

Closer to home, the network media agencies have recognised the need to change and are tackling their legacy buying-led problems with some vigour.

But – if widespread change is to be accelerated you need customers on board. And to do that those charged with reporting on what success looks like need to change the record.

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