The relationship between media auditor – whether benchmarking specialist or pitch consultant – and media agency is often highly-strung, provocative and fractious. Both parties can feel their efficiency directly compromised by the other as they are forced to engage in endless email exchanges, occasionally marked by a passive aggressive “thanks for your detailed response” or a not-so-surreptitious client escalation.

But does it really have to be this way? Having recently made the jump from auditor to agency, I really don’t think it does. In this issue of The Seed, I’ve put together a few tips for agencies, auditors and advertisers to help move beyond ‘a necessary evil’ to a collaborative and mutually-beneficial relationship.

Tips for media agencies

1.Have some respect. For the most part, auditors are hard-working media specialists like you. Remember that while some may not have physically bought media before, this doesn’t mean they don’t understand how it is bought. Dismissing an auditor purely on this basis not only shows a lack of respect for their trade and training, but fails to recognise that someone with a macro view of multiple client and agency practices may actually be able to provide you with some useful insights.

2.They’re not out to get you. Auditors are largely independent and are remunerated on a fixed fee basis, not on commission or a finder‘s fee. They therefore have very little motivation to ‘catch you out’. Over my seven years in media benchmarking, not once did I start a project with that mindset. In many cases, an auditor can be a valuable ally, not an adversary. The savvy media agency will be cognizant of this.

3.Adhere to deadlines. One sure-fire way of rubbing an auditor up the wrong way is to miss deadlines. Yes, auditors are aware that collating or uploading data is not your first priority, but remember than once your client has signed an auditing contract, it is part of your job description and should be treated as such. Review the data request straightaway and realistically estimate the hours required. If the timeline is not feasible, inform the auditor immediately – do not wait until the day before.

4.Data accuracy is vital. The importance of providing accurate information should not be understated. Providing bad data demonstrates a lack of respect for the process and can cause auditors to have to re-run entire projects. Speaking from personal experience, this is the most common reason agency-auditor relationships crash and burn.

5.Resist the urge to bad-mouth. This refers to both internal and client conversations. There may be the odd necessary exception, but you should generally avoid complaining about an auditor to your client. Instead, seek to come to the table with an aligned position or solution rather than with a list of problems.

Tips for media auditors and consultants

1.Have some respect. For the most part, media agency folk are hard-working media specialists who take pride in the work that they do. Be very aware that your role in the media process can be construed as evaluating someone’s livelihood. As such, auditors should aim to be tactful when delivering results that could have implications you are not aware of.

2.They’re probably not ‘hiding something’. The majority of agency teams are working hard to service their clients and are not actively hiding anything from you. Yes, there are exceptions, but this should not be your opening assumption. In my experience, most so-called ‘non-transparent’ behaviour is actually the result of human error or misunderstanding.

3.Be crystal clear. Being clear about your scope of work, methodological assumptions, data requirements and deadlines upfront is vital to ensuring a smooth process. Methodologies should always be aligned before any work is completed to avoid unnecessary disagreements later on.

4.Give agencies the right of reply. Coming to a client meeting without having given the media agency time to review the results is not likely to result in a productive session. Not only does it put the agency on the back-foot, but it may also risk the validity of your observations. Aim to come to meetings with an aligned view to avoid unnecessary discussions in front of the client – they do not want or need to see you argue.

5.Ask for feedback. Client feedback is something most auditors actively seek out – somehow this almost never gets extended to media agencies. Procedural and methodological feedback is just as important since enhancements are likely to create a positive impact on all parties.

Tips for advertiseres

1.Select an auditor based on more than cost.
Reputation, client testimonial, experience, agency feedback – don’t focus on cost alone when it comes to selecting a partner. An auditor whose fee has been pushed down year after year is less likely to have the time or resource available to provide the nuanced analysis necessary to add value to your business. This can result in a fractious agency-auditor relationship, which in turn can lead to unaligned and potentially valueless results or findings.

2.Lay down escalation ground rules. If you want to be copied into every email and informed of every minor disagreement, that is your prerogative. If this is not the case, it is definitely worth outlining how much involvement you wish to have upfront. In my view, projects often work best when clients take a step back and instruct both parties to come to the table with a final, aligned position.

3.Make clear the implications of the project. Both parties should understand why the project has been commissioned and what the intended outcome is. If the results have a direct impact on agency remuneration, the auditor should be aware of this so they can manage agency communication appropriately. If the agency is remunerated based on a different set of parameters than those being analysed by the auditor, then be clear with both parties what the purpose of the audit is.

4.Ask for feedback. It is worth understanding how both parties found the audit process, as well as how much time the agency spent engaging with the auditor (data collection, emails, meetings, etc.). This should help inform future scopes of work and auditor selections.

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