Regional Buying on a Budget
Your agency better be prepared to keep a watchful eye! It’s easier to blanket areas than it is to break them apart. There are many ways to carve out and divvy up your media spend. Maybe you want to focus your spend on your top performing markets? Maybe you want to focus your spend on the least performing markets? Maybe you are opening new location(s) and you want to spend a portion of your dollars in those areas? Is your agency prepared to execute this type of buying? Is your agency prepared to watch over that campaign and treat your money like it’s their own? Will your agency watch over the buy to make sure that those portions stay in those areas? This takes an enormous amount of planning, reporting and time. If left unattended, your money could end up in areas you did not want to focus on and possibly in another time zone. And yes, that happens more often than you may think.
Here are a few items to task your agency to get the biggest bang for your buck.
Negotiate with your Vendor
Your company’s media budget seems to be cut from last year, and of course everyone wants more of everything than the last campaign. How are you going to get that done with less money? Does your agency negotiate with their vendors? Or do they just buy close to rate card and commit? This should be your first question to your agency. Let’s be honest, the easiest thing for the agency would be not to negotiate on rate. They bill off your total spend!
Check Impression Delivery and Pacing for your Digital Campaigns
Is your agency checking that the impressions placed are delivered in the scheduled territories? Or are they just checking to see if the number of impressions were delivered so they can bill you for them. This is the top area where you can get some added value for sure.
On a recent campaign we requested delivery by zip code and found that roughly 20% of their spend delivered into unapproved zip codes. That is not good news for anyone, but it periodically happens. Those of us in the reconciliation department know this means “Free Ads”. That incorrectly placed 20% will be coming back to the client and back into the approved areas. That 20% is voided from the invoice becomes added value impression.
We require weekly reports that shows us delivery by the hour. Pacing is extremely important for all our campaigns. Are your impressions being delivered while people are awake? Are the relevant times to sales cycles or just wasteful placements?
Out of Home Billboards
You might think, what is there to watch? The billboard goes up, then it comes down. That would be terribly naive. There are many things that you should be watching for. Typically, there is an acceptable window “posting period” that as the agency along with the vendor agree upon. Meaning, they typically have a few days from the proposed start date to post the board. Expecting them to post possibly hundreds of boards on a Monday because that is when it supposed to start is not possible. Over a few days, yes. If we come across, that every board posted 5 days late and you have 50 boards, that is 250 days of lost advertising time. Which equates to nearly 9 months of lost exposure! This is unacceptable and we either get that lost time reinserted on the back end or take credits.
Multiple Creatives Pieces
Frequently in out of home and digital there could be multiple creative pieces that are running at the same time, and you scheduled equal rotation for each. When the digital play report comes in you find that one of the creatives ran 80% and the other 2 ran at an equal 10%. Again, not something the client or us want to hear. On the other hand, for those of us in the accounting department, we know this means “Free Ads” or “Added Value” to our client. That mistake is removed from the invoice, and you get those additional ads for no cost and the contract is reloaded until fulfilled.
At A3 Media, we do everything possible to always ensure that there are no mistakes made on all our campaigns. It’s this detail that you want to make sure you’re getting from your agency. Are they watching these things? Honestly, it would be easier and less time for the agency not to get so granular, but then the client is really the only one who loses!Reading Time: 3 minutes
Today, many agencies’ AP departments approve vendor invoices for payment as long as the invoice falls within the approved purchase order amount. That is the only parameter used to process invoices for payment. This is called Bottom Lining. The practice of bottom lining may serve the agency and save them vast amounts of time in the reconciliation process, but it is a huge disservice to the client. At A3 Media, “Bottom Lining” is a bad word, well maybe two words!
Media invoices are generally generated after the run, sometimes as long as 6-8 weeks after the conclusion of the flight or billing period. This practice hinders prompt reconciliation and close out. That is one of the reasons why many agencies bottom line their vendor invoices just so they can move things along. Another reason why agencies may bottom line their invoices is that it saves them considerable time and paperwork in the reconciliation process. When you bottom line invoices you are not checking to make sure that you got what you contracted for such things as impressions, pacing and rotation. These agencies don’t check the details, and as we all know, the devil is in the details.
One of the details that is important to review during the reconciliation process is reviewing the invoices to determine if it is based on estimates or actuals. Does the invoice include the real metrics verified by either the spot log affidavit or confirmed via the vendor’s dashboard? A3 only processes invoices based upon actuals, not estimates and there must be supporting data provided to support the charges on the invoice. It’s important to review the backup data prior to payment processing to ensure that spots were run in the contractual places, that pacing is correct, and rotation is right. In one such case for one of our clients, we confirmed that the cable buy invoice was under contract total, but upon closer inspection we determined that the invoice also included line items for paid programming spots (not allowed per our contract) and non-contracted programs. Both of which resulted in credits to our client. An agency that bottom lines their invoices would not uncover these charges and would in fact incorrectly pass them on to their client.
For digital buys, we rely on the dashboard data provided by our vendors. Initial review of the dashboard might indicate that the total impressions served matches the contracted amount for that period, closer inspection might indicate that impressions were not served according to pacing and/or rotation instructions. For example, we had such a case that the impressions on the invoice matched the impressions on the dashboard and the total dollar amount was within the contract specs. However, further investigations showed that there were several days that no impressions were served. In this case, we ended up getting some added value for our client.
If we bottom lined this invoice, this discrepancy would not have been found and our client would not have benefited from the added value received. When you bottom line your vendor invoices you are not verifying that you got what you contracted for, the media plan that was carefully constructed may not be validated, and credits due to the client are not processed. Bottom lining invoices is a bad idea for your agency and a disservice to your client.
If I had a nickel every time, I have heard that…
Let me explain. After every buy placed here at A3 Media, our traffic and reconciliation department sends out a brief (one sheeter) “Procedure Letter” to each vendor. This procedure letter details the items we will need from the vendor to help us review and then ultimately approve invoices for payment in a timely manner. Receiving this information is important for us, but it’s also important to the vendor as they all want to get paid.
The most important item on this procedure letter is where and how invoices are to be submitted. In addition, each advertising medium has unique requirements specific to the medium. For example: for out of home, we require proof of posting, for TV/Cable we require programming information, radio we need to see dayparts, etc. We remind the vendor, if there is Added Value on our campaign and it does not run, we will take credits. The point here is that all these requirements are listed and then sent to our vendors for signature prior to the start of all our campaigns. I will also add that our team schedule’s introduction calls with all our new vendors to introduce ourselves and go over these details that are listed on this “Procedure Letter.”
It’s now 6 weeks after this correspondence and the start of the campaign (solely with new vendors) when things can go a little sideways. At this point we have received our first invoice and now our team is looking for the information we had requested in our “Procedure Letter” to reconcile the invoice. We need to make sure that what was contracted, was in fact delivered. We need that information to approve invoices for payment as well as serve as supporting documentation to our clients that what they paid for was received. This might sound weird, but we prefer to pay promptly and not necessarily sit on invoices until the last minute. If we have the information that we need to approve payment, then it gets moved to final processing.
Often after we reach out to these new vendors, we get a response of “What Procedure Letter.” This usually sets off a few emails back and forth of some funny responses like “I didn’t sign any Procedure Letter” or my personal favorite is “O yeah, I remember that, but I didn’t read it.” It’s the ones that don’t read the letter, sign it, and send back that we have growing pains with. This letter is to help them as much as it’s helps us and our client. We have had several cases when a vendor would sign the procedure letter and agree to the terms just to get the buy.
We here at A3 Media have had the privilege of collaborating with some incredible people and vendors through the years. We are always adjusting our procedures to ensure that there are no surprises for both parties. We value our partnerships and want to work together to ensure smooth sailing ahead.Reading Time: 3 minutes
Changing software that your company has been using for years can be exhausting and intimidating, but change is inevitable in business, unless you want to be out of business. It can take weeks or even months to make the change and for everyone to learn and understand how to use it. The time investment can be staggering for the employer. I am saying this, and I’m the employee!
As the employee, should I not consider the cost of what it takes to do my job if something comes along that is equal to or better than something we currently have in place? Being open to change requires a certain mindset that I don’t often see.
We had a software system that works, already in place and it was adequate at best. It doesn’t do everything we would like it to do, and it comes with many headaches. We have learned to work around its shortcomings in our office and at times spend hours on the phone with tech support only to find out that the system can’t perform the way we want it to do.
In all honesty, the way we do things here in our office is not the norm. We spend more time on every aspect of our buys from the actual research prior to our campaigns to the maintenance during the campaigns. And don’t get me started on reconciliation of our clients’ buys and money. The details of these aspects we take benefits our clients. I haven’t seen a software program yet that has been able to check all of our boxes and not break the bank.
My employer recently asked me to do some research on a software program that is has become more popular in our industry over the last couple of years, that could possibly replace our existing system. One of the most important things we needed to keep in mind was our clients and we first had to ask ourselves, will our clients benefit from this change, or will this change make delivering information back to our clients become an issue?
After we had determined that the system could deliver what we needed for our clients it then became a process for each one of us to test this new system to make sure it would work for our individual duties. Most of us use the software slightly differently. It was during the information gathering and research on this new software that I saw anxiety, among its users. Change is hard especially when it’s something you have been doing for decades.
I was fortunate enough to have owned my own business prior to coming here to A3 Media. It was during this time that I was forced to look at things differently being the employer. As an employee you typically are not thinking of what it takes to keep a business running and the day-to-day operational expense and hassle. It’s important that the employees keep an open mind especially when it comes to vetting new companies and the employer to understand the tools their staff needs to effectively do their jobs. There are always two sides, and it really does have to work for both parties for success.
The amount of research on this new system and time spent was truly staggering. As I mentioned earlier there is a large investment associated with this entire process and this time from the employees is paid for by their employer. This investment should be treated with the same care we as employees would give to researching a college for our children.
For things to work, doesn’t mean it has to work equally as well for everyone, but it needs to work for everyone. Just because an employee doesn’t want to make the shift, if their employer is willing to invest the money into the new software and training necessary, employees need to embrace the changes. While everyone should have their input in the end a business can’t win staffed by a group of naysayers.
Business can’t afford to stay in one place and be complacent. Everyone can benefit when there is a fair and open-minded assessment. Sometimes you need to be willing to move out of your comfort zone with an open mind and no preconceived notions.
Because business cannot grow stagnant and still compete and at the end of the day, business employs us all!Reading Time: 3 minutes
Why do Pilot’s execute a pre-flight take off checklist before every flight when they’ve completed hundreds or thousands of take offs previously? Because checklists are important tools that assist the flight crew in the safe and proper operation of the aircraft. Items can be missed because of distraction or being in a rush. Using the checklist every time helps them eliminate both types of mistakes and may even save lives. In short, the pilot’s checklist ensures that everything is in order for a smooth and safe flight.
How can we apply a pilot’s pre-flight checklist to our pre-flight duties on an advertising campaign?
Simple! At A3 we use a checklist for each vendor before each campaign. The checklist is a tool that helps us organize and prioritize our tasks. Like a pilot’s checklist, our checklist has been designed to reduce errors and ensure consistency and completeness of tasks required before the flight even starts. Our checklist doesn’t save lives like a pilot’s might, but it sure makes sure a campaign runs smoother!
In an ideal world, once the contract is signed, we would have plenty of time to complete our pre-flight duties before the flight starts, unfortunately, things aren’t always ideal. There are rush contracts, last minute changes and workload tsunamis that cause errors and impede the completion of our tasks. That’s the best time to use the checklist!
It’s important to use the checklist to ensure that all tasks are completed in order, expectations are set, and communication is in place before the flight starts. The checklist is a great tool for teamwork as well. At any given moment, it helps team members know what steps have been completed and what still needs to be done. This can be a life saver in the event someone has to unexpectedly “step in”.
Our checklist includes simple steps to ensure that everything is in place before the flight. We include the following number of steps, some are obvious, some more obscure, but all the steps collectively are necessary to avoid any in flight turbulence.
Our steps include simply checking the accuracy of the buy and contract, making sure all the Ts are crossed and Is are dotted and that the information on the contract is accurately entered into our buying and accounting software. This is the time to pay particular attention to any special instructions on the buy.
We also make sure that we touch base with each and every AE before the buy – yes, every time even if we’ve worked with them dozens of times before. The purpose is to introduce any new members of the team, set expectations and discuss reporting, proof of performance requirements, and invoicing timing and payment processes. Now is the time to get dashboard access, if available.
Next, we proceed to draft, send, and confirm receipt of all traffic instructions and creative. Then, we request and review the IO to make sure it matches all the specs on the buy. Finally, we reach out on the first day of the campaign to make sure that everything is started and running. We do not want to be surprised by any late starts!
Completion of all these steps will ensure that the campaign starts correctly and that expectations are clearly set reducing miscommunication issues. It will decrease turbulence and surprises and increase the communication between the agency and vendor. Generally, completing all these steps will make managing the campaign in flight much easier. A little pre-work upfront will save you loads of time later and ensure a successful start to the campaign!
Part III: Proof of Performance (POP)
Media planners and buyers spend hours, days, weeks and sometimes months, crafting and planning the perfect buy to maximize impressions within a client’s given budget. It is important to monitor the buy to ensure the plan matches the reality and you get what you paid for. Some advertising mediums are easier than others to monitor and measure effectiveness.
Generally, Out of Home (OOH) advertising is the most difficult form of advertising to measure effectiveness. It is hard to determine the actual impact of the billboard or how many people saw it. For these reasons, it is extremely important that media buyers require proof of performance for all out of home advertising purchases. At A3 Media, we believe a well-thought-out buy deserves effective post-buy monitoring to ensure the buy runs as designed, that is why we require and review proof of performance reports for all out of home advertising.
Proof of Performance, also known as POPs, is a certificate sent to advertisers by the outdoor vendor that contracted services were rendered. POPs reports, usually include the vendor and advertiser name, installation date, flight dates, photos of the actual ad on the specified board, and in the case of digital spots, number of times played. POP reports are usually required from large and national advertisers/agencies, but because of the important role they play, they should not be overlooked by regional media companies and advertisers.
Requiring proof of performance is one way to ensure that the advertising plan matches the reality of the delivery. As soon as the contracts are signed, our traffic team confirms creative and flight dates with the out of home company. Then, once the posting period begins, photo proof of installation is required. These photos serve several purposes.
- One, they confirm that the billboard or other out of home advertising was installed on time. This may be extremely important if your campaign is of a time sensitive nature. If installation was delayed beyond acceptable or contracted terms, then request the posting period be extended to compensate for the delay.
- Two, the photos will show actual visibility. Many out of home companies will provide the billboard’s ‘glamour’ shots during the contract process. These glamour shots are designed to show the billboard in the best possible way. Some of these glamour shots might be outdated. The POPs photos will bring to light visibility issues including obstructions like taller trees, or poor lighting.
- Three, the POP photos will confirm the correct creative spot is posted in the correct location. Often, out of home advertising campaigns include multiple creative pieces which are specifically geographically placed for greatest impact. Despite previous confirmations, installation mistakes can happen. It is important to confirm that the out of home advertising is installed where it was planned.
There is an added element to Proof of Performance required when digital advertising is part of your advertising plan. At the end of posting period, the OOH vendor needs to provide a digital play report for agency or advertiser review. The digital play report should summarize the number of times your ad(s) was shown on the billboard (or other structure). If you have multiple creative spots running, the digital play report should include the number of ads shown for each creative spot so traffic rotation can be verified.
Whether you use a service or verify internally, it is important to monitor and require Proof of Performance and Proof of Play Digital reports for every out-of-home advertising campaign to ensure that the media plan is delivered correctly. Do not hesitate to ask for POPs from your vendor, Proof of Performance should be stipulated in the contract and verified prior to invoice payment.
Effectively monitoring Proof of Performance is one way to ensure that the planned buy is executed as designed. Without regular observation adjusting the buy is impossible and the monetary investment as well as the time planning and strategizing for a successful campaign is wasted.
Click on the following links to read part one and two of this three-part blog series:
Part I: Impression Pacing
Part II: Tracking Rotation
Previously, I discussed the importance of checking pacing, a.k.a daily impression delivery (see blog post here), as part of the overall post buy monitoring process. Another part of this process that should not be ignored is trafficking instruction confirmation and creative rotation verification.
The creative and media teams often join forces to craft a complete strategy that delivers multiple creative assets to the maximum benefit for the client. Trafficking is the execution of the planned creative spots and often involves rotating said spots. Basically, rotation is determining the mix of multiple creative assets across an advertising medium. Sometimes rotation is simply spreading multiple creative spots out evenly. For example, spot A and spot B run evenly 50/50 throughout the entire flight or campaign. Other times, rotation is a more complex plan, involving many different creative assets, with different delivery goals and/or over different flight dates. For example, spot A and spot B run 60/40 for the first 3 weeks, then spot B and spot C run 40/60 for the next 6 weeks. As an agency, we never want to be in a position where the vendor does not execute our plan correctly.
Communicating the trafficking instructions to each vendor is key. One of the first steps we do on every buy is to have a conversation with our AE to ensure that all creative assets were received, and traffic instructions are understood. Nothing is left to assumption and a simple email and/or phone call often ‘sets the campaign off on the right path’ and avoids much turmoil later.
Once the campaign begins, it is important to check that the proper creative rotation is executed. Monitoring should begin as soon as possible to make sure spot(s) are delivered as instructed and, if required, any necessary changes are promptly made. From there weekly checking may be necessary to ensure the instructions are being followed or corrective action occurs. Also, anytime the trafficking instructions change, a follow-up conversation with the AE and resumption of the monitoring process like it is a new buy is necessary.
So how is rotation checked? Sometimes, the creative rotation information is available from your vendor’s dashboard, but often, data this granular is not readily available. Do not be reluctant to ask your vendor to provide more information! On numerous occasions, I’ve noticed that even though everything looks good on the surface (i.e., pacing and impressions are good), when you dig deeper you find that your creative rotations are “off”. This is especially true when the campaign is targeting multiple DMAs. The rotation might be fine in one DMA but completely wrong in another. That is why it is important to sift through the data and examine it from various angles. It is often in this process that we find that human error is responsible for the error in rotation instructions. Had we not monitored this information from the beginning, we may never uncover that the trafficking instructions were not followed.
If you determine that the trafficking instructions were not followed and rotation is not as it should be, a conversation with the vendor is required. A new rotation plan, which sometimes may include makegoods from the vendor, needs to be developed and implement to ensure the initial plan is completed as designed.
Effectively monitoring rotation is one way to ensure that the planned buy is executed as designed. Without regular observation, taking corrective action is impossible and the monetary investment as well as the time planning and strategizing for a successful campaign is wasted. At A3 Media we believe a well-thought-out buy deserves effective post-buy monitoring to ensure the buy runs as designed which is why we investigate delivery reports with a fine tooth comb.
If you’re in our industry, you have probably read countless articles and varying reports on reconciliations and media transparency. We talk about it frequently in our office and constantly try to keep up with changes in advertising, including the best ways to track our campaigns and make sure our clients receive everything promised or more. The industry is changing as quickly as our newest and next buy. From what we have seen, it would take multiple programs to check every aspect of what we now monitor daily, if they even exist.
Several years ago, we had purchased some new media software that would help do some of our heavy lifting, starting with the buying team and ending with the reconciliation team. While being trained on this software regarding reconciliations, our trainer seemed to like the “bottom line” feature for reconciliations very much. The purpose of using this was only to count spots. My first thought honestly was that I would be fired if I used that button. It’s only checking spot totals! But what happens when all spots are not created equal?
When our accounting team is questioned about delivery and ask, “did we get exactly what our client paid for or better?” we better have concrete answers and those answers better not be, “yes, we received the same number of spots that were booked.” We hear all kinds of things, but one of my personal favorite responses we received when asking about delivery was, “I don’t know exactly how many impressions you’ll get, but it’s a lot!”
Let me give you a quick example. Let’s say we purchased a spot in the last episode of the Big Bang Theory, which typically ran from 8 – 8:30 p.m., but it did not run during that time. Instead, they shifted the show to 9 p.m. for a larger audience and ran a rerun of Mike and Molly in that slot. Our software would approve the spot slot because it occurred during the time frame window, but the ratings were only 30% that we expected. Now imagine if that happened hundreds of times on a single buy!
So, you might ask, “if you post what’s the problem?” You’re guaranteed 90% delivery. The problem is that all CPMs or CPPs are not the same cost, quality, or value, so if you only post points to points then why are the costs different? Obviously, the networks think there is a different value to their spots, so then why do you proof them like there isn’t any? Our president always equates it to a butcher shop.
They have ground beef, sirloin, and filet mignon. While they are all beef, they are not the same quality or price, so why would we except 5 pounds of ground beef when we paid for five pounds of filet mignon?
At A3 media, we’re encouraged and mandated to spend a significant amount of time vetting new companies to help us find the newest and best tracking features and we have yet to find any one software that we could run an invoice through and would check all the details that we are looking for to clear an invoice.
With large amounts of TV, radio, out of home, digital and social media, we in the accounting team have to come up with some “out of the box” ways to track some of the more non-traditional buys. Yes, this means we roll up our sleeves and manually verify what the software approves, looking for discrepancies. And yes, it does take longer to reconcile our buys when we do not use or cannot use a program to reconcile.
This might sound a little old school but when it comes to verifying our client’s media spend, it is worth it. In some cases, we will hold off final payment to our vendors until every contracted spot is accounted for, makegoods are run, and even missing added value is supplied as promised. All this extra effort is valuable to our clients and important to our company’s mission here at A3 media. We hold every aspect of the campaign with the same importance.
The importance of vetting a new agency should be as important to you and your company as it is to us when we are vetting these new softwares/programs to track your media spends. When asking your media agency about putting a campaign together, you might also want to ask them how they will monitor and track those details after the buy is placed. These back-end details on reconciliations are as important as the planning that goes into your next campaign.