"Trust, but verify," a Russian proverb frequently credited to Ronald Reagan, is an axiom many in the marketing community are now applying to to better understand where their ad dollars are going.
Big brands have already woken up to the realization that they are better served by having more control and exposure into the buying machinery involved with their marketing. What brands pioneer eventually filters down into political and public affairs markets, though in this scenario, campaigns may not want to wait.
All too often, money is wasted on fraudulent impressions that aren't being measured or filtered out. Campaigns often lack transparency into how ad dollars are getting spent, and accurate metrics aren't always reported. Campaign performance suffers individually but the aggregate effect is a loss of confidence in the entire industry, which is bad for everyone.
What is a campaign to do? Start by realizing what the value is that the campaign is paying for, and then pay for it in a way that makes sense. In other words, align incentives such that every player in the value chain is properly rewarded for providing the value required.
What does that mean in practice?
Let's start with creative. A video produced and edited by a creative agency has value. The question is, does that value change based on where it is placed? Should a video ad that is put on broadcast television cost a campaign more than one that is only placed online?
Many creative shops would probably argue that it does, not because there is any more intrinsic value to the ad product, but because agencies are under cost pressure and getting a percentage share of a large TV buy is the only nut they can use to cover the very real costs of producing and editing quality video ads. Good video is hard to make, it requires very smart people to work very hard, often using very expensive equipment. It should be appreciated and paid for as such, not as a function of the buy it is attached to, but on its own merit.
Now let's look at strategy. Agencies that handle campaign work often come to the table representing specialization and expertise with cutting edge tools that run the gamut of needs for the modern campaign. When it comes to ad buying, the question is: what value does the agency provide, and how should that value be compensated?
The strategy involved with ad planning is valuable, and requires expertise in understanding the electorate, interpreting polling data, keeping up on the latest advertising tools and technology, being able to synthesize that all into an effective plan and then execute, measure, and optimize campaigns as they run. Does that value increase as the size of the buy increases? Certainly the stakes are higher, and the right expertise could end up saving the campaign real money. But by the same token, a campaign should expect that same expertise to be brought to bear on small and large buys alike.
Aligning a strategists' incentives with buying more media will have a predictable result not only on the strategy they recommend, but the measurement of the campaign they choose to report on and deem relevant to success.
Finally, let’s talk about the buying of media. It is the focal point of every campaign. It is the reason campaigns spend critical time and resources raising money. It is the largest transaction the campaign will make, and it is to that transaction that most campaign vendors seek to tie themselves.
But every hand in the cookie jar makes that critical buy that much smaller and less effective, and though the financial realities of campaign fundraising might mean that critical funds aren't available until that buy is ready, using it as the dole for every outstretched hand may align incentives against the interests of the campaign itself.
Campaigns that rely solely on one or more third parties to plan and execute those buys with no visibility into the terms of the actual buying process do so at their own peril, ignorant of the actual cost of media and what markups they may be paying to buy, to use data, to access premium inventory, or to do direct buys.
Driven by this, many smart campaign teams will follow brands’ lead by forming relationships with buying platforms that transparently display the precise economics of their buying position and show them the outcomes of their campaigns.
The role of the strategic agency and the creative shop is still required of course, to execute on the day-to-day, to extend the capabilities of the core campaign team, and to provide strategy and expertise in tactical execution that builds on multi-cycle experience.
Campaigns will continue to employ these firms to provide crucial services, but smart campaigns will recognize the value they receive and compensate accordingly.
Matthew Dybwad spent 15 years building digital capabilities on the agency side of politics and public affairs before joining TubeMogul in 2015.