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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!

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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.

Written by:
Jennifer Vanisko
Reconciliation Specialist

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Steps on a wall with the words "Follow These Easy Steps"

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.

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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!

Written by:
Jennifer Vanisko
Reconciliation Specialist

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Hand holding megaphone with the words "Prove it"

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

Written by:
Jennifer Vanisko
Reconciliation Specialist