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.