AuditStar | Global media intelligence

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What AuditStar does

I. Setting optimised media budgets

For many media buyers this is the most important task: setting a media budget to deliver return on media investment by optimising the budget spend across brands, geographies and media types.

AuditStar advises on the overall media investment and the proportion of the media budget to be spent in different media and geographies, by using AuditStar’s proprietary tools customised to client objectives. Historic and forecast brand sales are compared, as well as market shares, media spend and weights. We scrutinise competitors’ spend and weights across all media and brand awareness data. Actual and forecast media costs, media inflation, and the impact of macroeconomics (GDP, consumer confidence, retail price index, inflation) are all factored in to create a bespoke media budget.

II. Determining effective media strategy

AuditStar considers an effective media strategy to be fundamental to delivering the advertiser’s desired sales and consumer objectives.

We assist in defining the target audience and assess competitors’ media strategies in light of that. AuditStar will ensure the media brief reflects marketing and communication objectives, and check that the media strategy accurately reflects the brief. We compare the media strategy with the proposed plan and evaluate the quality and substance of the strategy – paying particular attention to consumer research, which enables AuditStar to recommend improvements before the media is bought.

III. Assessing media agency performance and accountability through benchmarking

Many large companies mostly do not commit data to pools, so that the comparison is often likely to be with the average of smaller non-comparable advertisers. AuditStar’s opinion is that the majority of theses pools are not reliable and consistent benchmarks, increasingly less so with fragmentation of media and multiple target audiences.

AuditStar’s approach is to define benchmarks specific to each client’s strategy, and use this benchmark to evaluate both media cost and quality. Media quality is compared with the previous year against competition and the target. Media cost is also compared with previous year against media cost inflation / deflation and the target. These elements form the benchmark cost, which is then compared with the market and other proprietary sources of information via AuditStar’s global network of associates.

IV. Analysing Media Value for Money & ROI Benchmarking

a) Media performance audit

To ensure transparency and fairness in the media agency and client relationship, AuditStar establishes key performance indicators (KPIs) in three core areas: media cost; media quality; agency service. We carry out a media performance audit (including the three core areas and ROI) in order to identify how and where to improve performance efficiency, and not just simplistic cost savings.  Impartial performance audits provide an independent confirmation of bonus levels due, helping to keep client /agency relationship fair and transparent.

b) Assessing media performance and benchmarking

AuditStar’s approach is to assess performance in the context of the client’s own process, strategy, and unique market environment to establish customised benchmarks. The first step is to assess benchmarking criteria, including marketing and media objectives, media strategy, seasonality and processes. AuditStar then evaluates media cost and quality delivered against targets and the previous year results, using benchmarking criteria. These criteria include comparisons with competition, media deflation/inflation and market norms. This enables AuditStar’s consultants to impartially assess selected measures against a realistic Balanced Performance Scorecard and set attainable future performance targets.

V. Assessing Effectiveness of Media Spend

For media and communications expenditure, we evaluate marketing performance versus targets (awareness, sales, response etc.) and co-relate marketing results to media activity. This involves analysing cost efficiency of reach build, campaign structure, weekly weights, effect of different copy, and developing predictive models to optimise ROI.

VI. Motivating Media Agencies

Aligning the media agency and client objectives plays a key part in media auditing and involves two essential actions: incentivising the agency and building an efficient working process.

a) Setting incentive linked KPIs

We set cost, reach and frequency targets; quality targets such as environment and positioning; service objectives; and business and marketing objectives.

b) Developing the right contract

A strong, mutually beneficial client – agency relationship is founded on a properly scoped, written and structured contract. This contract ensures advertiser and media agency expectations are appropriately aligned. It also helps establish important principles regarding data ownership and data management. We recommend fee levels, structures and performance KPIs linked to a variable incentive. If required, AuditStar’s consultants can also negotiate terms on a client’s behalf.

c) Implementing an efficient working process

To ensure an effective working process, the media agency scope of work, team roles, responsibilities and timings should be clearly defined. AuditStar will audit the entire media process from brief through to post-buy evaluation. This includes, but is not limited to: customised process questionnaires, face to face interviews, analysis of agency and client media organisation structures, Client and media agency roles and responsibilities, evaluation of communication process; and assessing effectiveness of reporting formats.

VII. Checking Media Agency Financial Processes

AuditStar reviews both delivery against the contract and where improvements are needed

We check the value of billings for the audit period and the mix between fees, media costs and third party costs, as well as agency employee expenses; checking the existence of all ‘required standard’ clauses and clarity of the contract wording and we check the strength of the audit transparency clauses.

We examine the financial and non-financial processes and controls

We do this by understanding the agency financial systems and processes used to buy and account for media purchase and billing, by checking the core financial controls operated by both advertiser and agency over the account, and by reviewing the health of the relationship with the advertiser.

We examine the fees

AuditStar checks composition of the agency’s fee rates and reviews amounts invoiced.  The controls over timesheets and the time recording system are carefully examined, and matched to contracted resource.

We examine media costs and agency expenses

AuditStar will check a variety of media costs including: analysing the value of total billings by media type and owner plus employee expenses, the process for approval of briefs and media plans, evidence of valid purchase orders, review amounts invoiced, discount and rebate (e.g. AVB) and compliance with the contract reconcile differences in respect of unbilled media.  We check whether commissions have been correctly calculated and reconciled, enquire whether other benefits accrue to the agency and that these are passed back, review the agency’s reconciliation process including barter (if any) and ad serving, identify any unauthorised mark-ups and payments from agency to third parties media, review the buying process employed by the agency (is group buying in place?), and check whether services claimed to be in–house are actually outsourced.

We examine working capital

We do this by understanding the payment terms established between the advertiser and the agency; by understanding the payment terms between the agency and media owners, reviewing actual payment performance for both during the audit period and reviewing the debtor’s ledger and comparing to POs and invoices

We recommend process and contractual improvements.

VIII. Assessing media agency contract

A common understanding of the details of the contract is essential

Having the appropriate contract in place is fundamental to efficient media agency management and establishing a good relationship. The contract establishes expectations, sets the right level of service and helps deliver transparency and competitive pricing. It is essential that advertiser and agency have a common understanding of the detailed content of the contract.

AuditStar’s commercial perspective

AuditStar can provide a commercial perspective (although we are not qualified lawyers) by: checking the existence of all ‘required standard’ clauses, assessing the clarity of the contract wording, verifying the strength of the audit transparency clauses, ensuring the scope of work is clearly defined, confirming the team is specified with client options to make changes, ensuring that all costs are clearly specified and checking that the issue of all kinds of rebates is addressed.

IX. Selecting the right media agency

Media agency pitches are the best way to select the right media agency to meet an advertiser’s needs, and benchmark media costs, fees and services at a point in time. AuditStar can manage or advise on the entire selection and pitch process, from initial brief through data check and candidate questions support, to timetable compliance. We can also support the negotiations, recommend fee levels, structures and methods, in addition to performance incentive and KPIs linked to a variable incentive. If required, Auditstar can also directly negotiate terms on behalf of the client. AuditStar can advise on a range of aspects of the selection process including but not limited to: candidate selection; long list to short list, preparation of the brief and benchmarks, answer candidate questions, ensure timetable compliance, validate and check numerical submissions to ensure comparability between candidates, clarify discrepancies, facilitate the final candidate selection and advise on contract and support purchasing negotiations.

X. Media training

AuditStar runs media workshops and media training as an integral part of its service portfolio to its clients. The media market changes quickly and it is a challenge for advertisers to keep up to date. When dealing with agencies, it helps to understand how planning and buying is done, how it is evolving, and the pressures facing agencies. Advertisers need to understand the jargon and use a common media language.

a) AuditStar’s customised media training

AuditStar can support all levels of advertiser from top management to executive; customise media training to each advertiser’s needs by advising on client/agency working processes; on advertiser/agency roles and responsibilities; on media terms and jargon; on media cost and measurement calculations; on agency management, motivation and remuneration including incentives and KPIs; on strategy, planning and post-buy check list; on media research and media tools; on best practice sharing; and on pan-regional and global application. We can also help build consensus about how to manage media across agencies, brands and countries. And we can prepare media manuals in hard copy form and online versions on extranet.

XI. Analysing the effectiveness of online spend

How AuditStar stays ahead of the digital curve

The digital world is constantly changing and represents a growing proportion of the advertiser’s budget. There are increasing issues raised about transparency, fraud, ad blocking, and viewability amongst others. In turn raising questions of how to manage programmatic and whether the DMP should be in-house or outsourced. Keeping abreast of this change and understanding what the relevant measures are is essential. AuditStar can provide a range of digital specific services such as: audit of digital processes, advice on briefing for digital, relevant reporting standards; develop customised KPIs depending on campaign objectives, audit campaign cost efficiency, evaluate campaign effectiveness (clicks, responses, engagement etc) and recommend improvements. We can also build a working taskforce with clients to address how to identify fraud, measures to address ad blocking, brand safety measures, and the importance of establishing Viewability metrics and measurement.