Money, Power and Influence in Measurement

Today’s post finds inspiration in ‘The Sound of Music’, and Morecambe and Wise.

‘Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’, as Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers had it.

In the very beginning, media space was in such short supply you took what you could get. But as restrictions eased, new media forms emerged and the media business grew, those responsible for spending advertising money needed some indication of who was doing the watching and the reading.

Over time it became clear that these numbers had to be as accurate as possible, objective, unbiased and acceptable to all sides. ‘Trust me’ became less acceptable than ‘Look at this data’. Mind you, sometimes we seem to be back in the ‘trust me’ days.

Thus was born the Joint Industry Committee, or JIC system. In the UK this meant JICTAR for TV, JICNARS for print, JICRAR for radio. Other geographies (except the US) followed suit so that today we’re at a point where the JIC concept is well and truly accepted, some would say embedded within the business.

The principle remains a simple one. All sides, that’s the media vendors, the agencies and the advertisers all sit in a room and decide what research to do to measure audiences.

They write a brief and jointly commission a research agency to do the work.

The individual sides’ priorities are different. Media vendors want the biggest possible numbers, whatever the reality.

Agencies want something that gets them closer to defining and understanding the audience to an ad. They also want to pay as little as possible, and for the talking to end so they can get back to their day jobs.

Advertisers want much the same as the agencies with one proviso – historically they have been averse to paying anything. As the great Bernard Balderston of P&G, the ISBA representative on every media committee there ever was used to put it, ‘We’re paying for everything anyway. It’s up to you to convince us to buy.’

And so it was that the cost was largely carried by the vendor – it was their audience that was being measured, they paid.

And of course they controlled; after all, he who pays the piper..

But things are changing, as the industry edges towards measuring what has always been true; consumers use multiple media forms so we need to understand how they fit together. We need a framework for cross-media measurement.

That much is clear, the problem has always been less about how, more about who pays, and crucially who controls?

Agencies never have any money (although strangely they seem to discover a magic money tree whenever award season comes around); media vendors can’t be expected to prioritise research that by definition promotes others’ strengths.

That leaves the advertisers.

Advertisers are the ones driving this car. They ultimately benefit from better planning based on a comprehensive cross-media framework.

Thus, advertisers have to pay, but how can they ensure an industry consensus?

What if the large advertisers made it clear that they expect their agencies to support work done to improve the industry’s measurements?

What if all pitch briefs, and agency contracts made it clear that the client recognises the benefit to the business of better cross-media planning, but also notes and values the significance of this work to the industry as a whole?

As a part of that expectation, the client will play its part and pay for a proportion of the time that the agency allocates to industry affairs. Not only will this time be allocated and measured as a deliverable, but the agency should pay a share too.

The agency’s fees are adjusted to reflect this, but the rule would be simple: no industry involvement – no business from us.

There are alternatives. One is the levy system proposed here several times, and reportedly under consideration.

Such tactics may be in part cosmetic – at the end of the day, the advertiser pays, but as Bernard said, they always do anyway. It’s just how.

The media vendors, of all colours should be involved. They have significant expertise, and they can contribute a great deal to the conversation around what’s needed to improve planning across channels.

But they shouldn’t control or dictate. They don’t get to drive.

Planning is an inter-media discipline; buying is intra-media. Control over the shape of inter-media should be in the hands of those who plan and those who buy those plans – the advertisers and their agencies.

The buying piece, the currency remains crucial, and that’s where the vendors’ control should remain.

In any cross-media measurement, headline numbers by medium might go down as new considerations, like attention enter the fray. Media vendors shouldn’t argue on the basis that the bigger the better, the smaller the poorer.

Smaller, more engaged can be beautiful.

Planning needs a cross-media framework – not a replacement for a currency, not a new system to replace everything else. A framework, a way of bringing together knowledge and data to help improve and shape how we plan.

As our old friends Oscar and Richard had it: ‘When you know the notes to sing you can sing most anything.’

We have the notes; we just need help putting them in the right order.


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