Independent media audit: Does the ad industry need more control?

By , agencyfaqs! | In | August 26, 2003
Meenakshi Madhvani's independent media audit firm Spatial Access seems to have opened up a Pandora's box, with the debate raging among clients and media agencies about the requirement and validity of the service

Ever since Meenakshi Madhvani made public her plans to start an independent media audit firm, there has been much debate about the role of media audit in the country and whether the service is required in the first place.

As a concept, media audit has existed abroad with clients very often seeking third party opinion about the efficacy of a media plan, whether objectives laid down have been achieved and whether market norms in terms of media buying and planning have been implemented.

However, in India, the concept will be introduced for the first time with the launch of Spatial Access and Madhvani is predictably charged about it. "Our agenda is pretty clear," she says, "to add some amount of transparency to a business otherwise opaque."

For an industry weighed down by the burden of low margins as well as increasing client pressures in the wake of competition, does media audit indicate some kind of pesky intervention on the part of the auditor? "Quite to the contrary," says LV Krishnan, CEO, TAM Media, which undertook media audit for a couple of advertisers in the last few months. "Media audit is required," he says. " It is one step higher than what we are at the current moment on the media industry ladder."

Agrees Lynn de Souza, director, media services and healthcare, Lowe, "I think, it is a very good idea. We did try introducing the concept a few years ago when we brought Tony Ayers of Media Audit Ltd to India. He met up with our clients. However, at that point, the cost of media audit quoted was too high, almost 1 per cent, and clients did not see too much value in it."

Amita Karwal, media manager, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, Reckitt Benckiser, states, "Everything is under scrutiny and gets audited, then why not media. A process of checks and controls are built-in by some companies to track how their monies are being utilised. However, not every advertiser is so savvy and independent media audit will definitely provide a counterview, helping clients to discipline their expenditure, ensure whether they are getting the best returns and check out for flaws in their system."

Despite a general consensus about the need for media audit, disparity remains about how the service should be tailor-made to suit client or advertiser needs. The biggest issue being, the need for client and agency confidentiality, as articulated by Sandip Tarkas, president, South Asia, Media Planning Group (MPG), "What is the confidentiality of the stuff being shared? How will the information be used?"

Expounds Sougata Gupta, chief of marketing, ICICI Prudential, "Client confidentiality and credibility are potential issues that could creep up. In theory, it seems fine, but if you don't get actionable data, what is the point?"

Actionable data implies sharing of information, which means that a large group of advertisers have to buy into the concept if it has to work. "An auditor audits a media plan, information of which is revealed by the client," says de Souza of Lowe. "The objective, target audience, plan and cost are revealed to the auditor who then computes the market average by category and audience. Depending on the client, the auditor then proceeds to do a special analysis to figure out whether buying is happening above or below the category or audience average. Clearly, this will work only when everybody subscribes to it."

But the point is, will clients agree to part with information? "I doubt it," says a senior media planner. "The top spenders are being offered the best rates; so why would they want to open up and mar the confidentiality clause?"

Again the issue of transparency is key, as pointed out by Madhvani when announcing her plans to start operations. But the industry stands divided on this issue. "Audit is not a foolproof measure," says Tarkas of MPG. "The outcome is benchmarks, as in, it will tell you how you are doing vis--vis the market, but it will not tell you whether everything is transparent."

de Souza of Lowe would like to believe otherwise. "Audit forces everybody to be accountable because performance is gauged against the market average."

Krishnan of TAM puts the entire debate in perspective. "One cannot generalise audits. If the processes and systems are in place and the objective has been defined clearly by the advertiser then the outcome is transparent."

With the industry clearly divided on the issue, one will have to wait to figure out whether India is ready for independent media audits yet. © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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