'A Matter of Fact' report: why we ended up here

27 Jun 2017  |  Bob Wootton 
'A Matter of Fact' report: why we ended up here

Bob Wootton examines the driving forces that have led to a rare joint call from the bodies representing agencies and clients over data accountability

Sorry if this comes across as uncharacteristically sober, but June kicked off with an unusual and sincere joint call from the IPA and ISBA, ably aided by fellow Mediatel contributor Richard Marks.

It was lent weight by coming from the top - new IPA president and CHI leader Sarah Golding and ISBA’s newish director general, Phil Smith. Neither are media natives but both are pretty damn commercial in their own ways.

The call is for restoration of recognition of the need for accountable media, and therefore for independent industry-agreed measurement, whether of audience or of hygienes like viewability and brand safety.

Overdue it may be, but it’s worth reviewing why it has become necessary.

There are two drivers. First is the long-term decline in interest of such rigours, coupled with media owners’ consistent reluctance adequately to fund what is quite clearly a sales opportunity cost.

Advertisers have progressively lost interest in the metrics upon which they and their agencies base their media planning decisions and budget.

(For twenty years, they relied on me solely to represent their interests on all the industry’s relevant bodies. A rewarding, if at times uphill, task).

I could speculate that this might relate to the demarcation between marketing and procurement, but will hold that for another time.

Media owners picked up on this declining advertiser (and thus their agents’) interest and quietly took the opportunity to slow, freeze or even reduce investment in metrics.

The second driver is the inexorable march towards tech which has not only brought a new level of fervour to sales pitches but also rests on the universal assumption that because it’s machine-based the masses of data it throws off must be ‘right’. Well that’s turned out to be bollocks, hasn’t it?

So I for one am very glad that ISBA’s members have put their weight behind their impressive new leader as he makes this call and would offer a few thoughts to help ensure progress.

1. Let’s stop clinging to an overly-rigorous definition of a JIC. The constitution and distribution of power differ in each joint industry body, many having their roots buried deep in history. All comprise media owners, all but one (UKOM) comprise agencies while advertisers’ position is various, ranging to the best of my recollection from full shareholder (ABC, JICWEBS) to participant (PAMCo) to observer (BARB, RAJAR, Route).

Some obsess over these differences - I used to be paid to do so too - but my long experience participating in all of them is that that equity and its distribution might be important when it comes to winding them up but it is not cardinal for their ongoing running. Rather, credibility is.

Different stakeholders with different statuses only becomes an issue if the most senior - usually those who underwrite the businesses - ride roughshod over and dismiss their fellow participants. So they need constant reminding by the advertisers that they risk credibility and thus revenue if they do that.

2. Historic roots and vested interests also hamper progress. The ongoing stand-off between broadcasters and online video is a case in point.

BARB’s constituent broadcasters have long held themselves to much stricter account and should be praised for it.

By contrast, the current ‘standard’ that the new players want to import from the US is so pathetically flimsy (50% of video pixels in view for two seconds, one for static) that it doesn’t merit any serious consideration whatsoever.

But it also suits the incumbents to prolong this détente because, meanwhile, the newcomers can sell as hard as they like, but can’t pitch or trade on the credible platform of industry-agreed data.

3. For success, advertisers not only need to get right behind this call but stay with it too.

Simply and most practically, they must consistently demand that each and every media buy is underpinned by credible data that has been thrashed out between all industry parties with differing vested interests.

4. JICWEBS offers a positive glimpse of the future. As the industry’ digital standards body, it will be central to all things measurement and hygiene. And I helped make sure that publishers, channels, agencies and advertisers are all equally represented.

5. My one regret about the launch of the IPA/ISBA initiative is that the audience comprised those already in the know, whereas Sarah Golding’s presence had suggested it might be launched to a much wider audience. But maybe that’s phase two?

Network - and non-network - news

I can’t say I was surprised by the MEC and Maxus merger announced hurriedly this month. I’ve long held the view that four ‘classic’ media agency networks were overkill for WPP.

More interesting was the importance suddenly given to Essence, an exciting new template but as yet far from a global business. High hopes there for a flag-waver for a welcome new set of behaviours, though.

Yet again the ‘little Brits’ have done well, taking a disproportionate number of key roles in the new structure. Congratulations Jason Dormieux, Nick Baughan, Steve Williams and Jenny Bullis.

Regular readers will know I’m a fan of media innovators Goodstuff, so I was also interested to see they’ve joined Paul Hammersley’s new agency collective proposition, Harbour, alongside another newly-independent, Talon.

A hard thing to hold together, perhaps, but also one that promises a lot of top talent.

The things I do...

Fresh from hosting FEPE’s Global Congress for almost 400 delegates in Stockholm in my role as its new executive director, last week it was procurement’s turn to suffer my chairmanship on day two of snappily-named Procurecon 2017.

Many of the usual key themes were aired with transparency getting more mentions than anything - except maybe contracts.

But one presentation stood out as ebquity’s senior digital native Tim Hussain turned on his past and spoke of eight years’ of data showing online coming at the bottom of the ROI table.

Wow. Surely much more to be said about that, and hopefully soon?! The sea change continues...



Bob Wootton is the principal of Deconstruction

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IanDowds, CEO, UKOM on 27 Jun 2017
“A very considered piece Bob, and a rare one, given its lack of controversy! I agree that there is a restrictive tendency for the industry to cling to the classic JIC definition. Then again I would agree, wouldn’t I? What with being CEO of UKOM, an organisation which, by that definition of a JIC, isn’t one, and sometimes seems to suffer second-class citizenship status as a result (how's that for unplanned alliteration?!) Of course, while you are right that it has no agency or agency body ownership, UKOM does have representation, in an advisory capacity, from the IPA and ISBA on our Executive Board (and very vocal that advice is too). In addition, we have very active engagement, with full voting rights, by agency representatives on both our Commercial and Technical Boards which oversee the more operational side of what we do as the organisation that sets and governs the UK industry standard for online audience measurement. UKOM’s not perfect. Things rarely are. We stand beside JICWEBs when it comes to its first tenet of ‘Realism over Idealism’ and we firmly back IPA and ISBA’s ‘A Matter of Fact’ call to the industry to refocus on the implementation of independent and objective audience measurement as a foundation for insight and planning.”

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