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Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management (AARM), on the state of media management and how clients have adapted in the past 18 months.
“The move to a remote working environment has been beneficial to us in terms of our relationships with agencies…there are less impromptu requests that come with working remotely…interactions tend to be more focused, productive and collaborative”
Producers & Procurers iQ sat down with Cliff Campeau, Principal at AARM, for a Q&A session, to discuss the media management landscape in a post-pandemic era and the overarching trends.
Advertising Audit & Risk Management (AARM), headquartered in San Francisco in California, USA, helps clients with marketing accountability solutions, aiming to make the financial side of working with marketing and advertising vendors transparent by applying “targeted solutions”.
The company’s wider services include: contract compliance auditing, marketing optimization and agency network management consulting support, with expertise in the areas of client-agency agreement best practices, compensation systems, contract compliance, marketing agency performance monitoring and agency network financial controls.
With a multinational client base including many of AdAge’s “Top 100” advertisers in the quick service restaurant (QSR), technology, telecommunications, hospitality, automotive, consumer packaged goods (CPG), retail, spirits and entertainment sectors.
PXPiQ: In your own words, tell us briefly about AARM and how you help your clients.
Campeau: AARM is an agency contract compliance and financial management audit firm that provides advertisers with accountability, transparency and agency network oversight support.
PXPiQ: How did you start out in media management and why have you stayed there?
Campeau: I actually started on the agency side at WPP’s J. Walter Thompson and stayed there for ten years. I then left to try the client side at a CMO level before I got into the media accountability area.
In terms of why I have stayed, it is because it is a pretty exciting area. I always enjoyed the agency side of the business in terms of its energy and the accelerated rate of change that was occurring within the industry. I also enjoyed the client side and the ability to be focused on a specific business sector. Accountability combines them both. You’re able to provide counsel and allow stakeholders to pursue their needs, whilst also furthering the relationship.
At the end of the day, sadly over my tenure, the length of relationship between agencies and brands has gotten shorter and shorter. Having grown up at an agency like J. Walter Thompson, where we had client relationships that numbered into decades, I think I certainly value and understand the benefits of those long-term relationships. These are becoming seemingly few and far between and that’s why accountability is so important in maintaining trust.
PXPiQ: How has the pandemic shaped your strategy at AARM?
Campeau: Prior to COVID-19, part of our audit involved spending one or two weeks on site at each agency being audited to meet with account and finance personnel to better understand systems and processes. We also used this time to review select documents to support client accounting data provided by the agency. Now, we handle these tasks remotely.
PXPiQ: How has remote work changed your relationship with clients?
Campeau: It’s a challenge, but it is a challenge that we are all dealing with, regardless of what end of the business you are in. However, I would say by and large, it has gone a lot smoother than I would have anticipated 18 months ago!
The fact of the matter is that the need for accountability and stewardship support is ongoing, and whilst we are not sitting across the table from our clients or their agency partners in a physical sense, we do have video conferencing tools that allow us to interact regularly.
Ironically, the move to a remote working environment has been beneficial to us in terms of our relationships with agencies. They seem less stressed and less hurried in terms of the day-to-day demands on their schedules: there are less impromptu requests that come with working remotely. So we actually find that our interactions tend to be more focused, productive and collaborative.
In the long term, our concern would be that nothing can replace that interpersonal interaction and the ability to gather as a group in an office to experience firsthand client/agency processes and systems.
PXPiQ: What are the biggest trends you have noticed in media management? How has this evolved over your career?
Campeau: AARM audits all types of agencies; full-service, creative, promotional, experiential, digital, PR and media.
As it relates to key trends in media management, we have noticed less rigor in the media planning area and more lax controls related to agency stewardship of client media buys including in-flight monitoring and post-campaign performance reporting.
This has been a trend over the past ten to fifteen years. The rigour around the science of media planning just isn’t there at the level it once was. Whether related to employee turnover or lack of agency commitment to the retention and development of media staff, or a cut back on this area of training.
What is crucial is that this has been occurring at the same time as the complexity of the media ecosystem has increased exponentially, with different channels and levels of media consumption by consumers and a more convoluted, at time murky media supply chain.
It is a very challenging and complex world with a digital, mobile and social element to it. The myriad of choices of media that consumers and advertisers have is complex, complicating media allocation decisions. Unfortunately, along the way whilst the access points have extended, sometimes an advertisers ability to track or attribute campaign success to a given mode has not evolved as rapidly.
Thus, any degradation in the planning process or reduction in media staffing experience or capabilities has the ability to negatively impact media performance.
PXPiQ: What are the biggest mistakes made with media budgets?
Campeau: Too often advertisers have limited controls, which hinder their line of sight into what happens to their media investments once the plan has been approved.
This includes the involvement of related parties (affiliates) by the agency and the use of principal-based media buys, often without client approval, which can result in unauthorized, non-transparent mark-ups.
In the end, the biggest “challenge” with advertising budgets in general is the ongoing use of estimated billing, where agencies bill the advertiser in advance based upon approved estimates and then reconcile budgets to “actual” once a job has been closed or a campaign run (hopefully). Moving to a final rather than estimated billing system, whereby agencies present invoices to advertisers based upon reconciled, actual costs can improve the management of marketing funds, a material expense, mitigating financial risks and improving advertiser controls in and around the disbursement of cash to advertising agency partners and media sellers.
PXPiQ: What’s the best way to measure media ROI?
Campeau: The only way to answer this is that it will vary by advertiser. However, needless to say, each marketing organization should define that expectation and a portion of their agency remuneration program should be linked to the attainment of that KPI.
PXPiQ: How can greater transparency be achieved within agency and brand relationships?
Campeau: It is solid, regular financial and performance reporting.
The thing that sometimes all stakeholders forget is that the agency is an enterprise resource. It is not owned by marketing. It is a partner that has the ability to deliver enterprise value with the results it can generate. As such being more involved on a cross functional basis where representatives from finance, legal on occasion, procurement, internal audit, in addition to marketing, have an opportunity to meet and review performance of their agency partners. This creates a good solid basis to develop trust and get their questions asked and answered.
Ultimately, we see that over time, this will strengthen the relationship and provide the agency with anchor points outside of the CMO in terms of boosting client retention, while developing that relationship further. It starts with solid reporting whether that is financial management or campaign and budget tracking, burn reports, etc.
The other point in the case of media is looking at media campaign performance and asking whether the media allocation choices were optimal and what could have been done differently to achieve a more an optimal outcome. The reporting provides the impetus to have the gathering and the conversation that can be beneficial to all stakeholders