Anthony Groves

Group Commercial Director, Dentsu Aegis Network

Recently, I was invited by one of the world’s largest advertisers to contribute to their global procurement off-site. A classic lion’s den, some might think? But it turned out to be an amazing, rare and valuable opportunity to examine agency-advertiser relationships outside of a pitch setting.

I jumped at the chance and having done so, believe we’d all benefit from having more conversations like the one we had in that room. Which is why I am greatly looking forward to taking this discussion to Procurecon 2018 at The Tower Hotel, London this morning.

These are, to put it mildly, interesting times for agencies.

Revenue growth is bumping along below GDP, driven by flat or declining investment among traditional large advertisers, the ‘in-housing’ of ad-tech and new competition from the management consultants. As we will discuss today all are symptoms of an unstoppable force and the industry context we operate in — the digital economy.

With the level of disruption being felt across our sector, perhaps it’s inevitable that trust has come under pressure. We’re not alone, Edelman’s Barometer puts trust in large corporates at just 48%…and falling. But across clients, ad tech, intermediaries and agencies it has become a particularly heated conversation that, of late, has been dominated by one word: transparency.

To be clear, agencies have stepped up and must continue to do so. But I worry that the problem will persist, unless we can get to a better, shared understanding of what the word actually means.

Why do I say that?

Because if one thing is clear when it comes to transparency it’s that it means different things to different people. So instead of a one-word diagnosis, I’d like to offer something more practical — a framework around which we can all start to build stronger relationships:

1. Supply chain: visibility over delivery of viewability, brand safety and ad fraud KPI’s

2. Disclosure: evidence, including to 3rd parties to validate value delivery

3. Data management: demonstrating appropriate data storage & usage controls

4. Accountability: agreed contractual commitments to the outcomes our services should deliver

5. Relationships: being honest, open and proactive in our contractual relationships

These five points, I believe, can help us get back on the same side of what we might call the transparency divide.

Problem solved? Not quite.

That would be to confuse transparency with excellence and it points to the risk when transparency goes too far: we risk getting in the way of the growth-enabling conversations about innovation and a culture where brave-thinking and ultimately growth are the best outcomes for both sides.

And it starts with the right people — agencies have an unrivalled mix of capabilities and specialisms and a great relationship means curating the right portfolio of that talent. Put bluntly, an over-reliance on penalties, sanctions and heavy demands on disclosure does not sit easily with the culture of shared risk-taking, investment and agile talent that great relationships thrive on. Procurement has a big role to play here, if it’s used to incentivise the right behaviours, not just penalise the wrong ones and I’m happy to say this is becoming more recognised.

None of this is easy, of course. But taking that first step, outside of the demands of a pitch, proved invaluable not only to me, but to that global advertiser. It gave us the confidence to challenge, to work together and ultimately, to move beyond just the transparency debate.

It’s amazing how much clearer things became when we did.