Media Audit – Really Worth the time, effort and money?
The word “Audit” comes across as a very negative, scary, punishing, unwanted and stressful one.
Though it has been a very important area in the financial and accounting world, the digital marketing ecosystem is yet to explore the power in its truest potential.
The reasons maybe due to lack of understanding – how audit works, lack of time, difficulty in understanding the methodologies, trust issues, fear of being pointed out as inefficient, resistance to change or just plain lethargy.
A lot of free tools available online to perform FREE Social Media Audit have recently seen a growth in usage and subscription. But in terms of the entire landscape that studies the paid, owned and earned media, most brands and agencies are still on the back foot. So let us explore the world of media audit (digital marketing), in a nutshell.
Why is Media Audit Important?
Media Auditing is the “always on” practice of checking if the media buys, placements and the campaign set up are done as per the needs of the brand. Taking a step back, it can also involve the setting up of benchmarks and planning the campaign basis certain benchmarks – internal (or past data of self) and external (industry or competitors).
In the aggressive media world, the focus usually shifts to lower rates and better CTRs, instead of improved target match, relevant messaging, better engagement with the audience, improved viewability, and better value for the money spent (RoI).
Media audit becomes important as the audit firms are usually a third party providing unbiased solutions to improve both effectiveness and efficiency.
As per experience, it has been observed that agencies and platforms usually operate in their tried and tested ways, without changing too many variables across brands, and in some cases they tend to get the best results. But in most cases, they become resistant to try out new opportunities and use technology that can favour their clients, due to multiple reasons like past experiences, bulk deals, relationship with the local team, etc
An audit also helps in diagnosing the pain points or areas of improvement that can possibly help the brands save on operational costs, time, and effort and most importantly, conduct an unbiased benchmarking.
Most importantly, media agencies operate more in the planning & buying stage, basis the insights and directions set out by the brand, whereas the audit partners focus only on industry trends, benchmarks, best practices, etc; hence the effort put in by the agencies in ensuring diligence should not always be in question; at the same time no one should get a free hand in the process, as we all know that every single rupee or dollar counts and should work for getting the brands objectives.
Few mandatories of media audit are to ensure the plan is made as per the brief, the deliveries did happen (or get executed), the placements were as per the demographic and geographic targeting, and most importantly, the rates were at par or below the industry standards.
What can we expect?
Media audit done without extracting value, optimizing spends, getting better outcomes or being more efficient and effective never makes any sense.
Hence, there are these five things which become the pillar of any audit report
- Actionable Insights – the pain points, recommendations and observaions should lead to some actions that will help the brand to be more effective or efficient or both. Actionable also needs further refinement by providing the urgency and the importance of each item by prioritizing the actionables.
- Quantifiable / Measurable – the audit becomes stronger with access to 100% of the data owned by the brand and its agency partners. Sampling can never give accurate insights.
- Factual and hence Acceptable by all – the reports shared by the audit firms are basis numbers, events, observations and experience. But in all cases, with solid and valid proofs. It is the responsibility of the auditors to ensure integrity of data, facts, occurances, and syndicated benchmarks. Transparency is the key for the success of any campaigns, and also gives credibility to the deserving partners.
- Enriching – an audit report must not just read out the findings and insights that the existing team can also pull out. There should be a lot of domain level expertise, convincing recommendations and a clear value addition that is beyond the scope of work of the partner agencies. Data like top platforms, best performing assets, and competitor campaigns have always been shared by the agencies. What the audit teams help is what part of the data matters most, what are the benchmarks to be followed, why the reporting formats need an overhaul, how tools like ad serving or listening must be better implemented so that it helps in tweaking the plans.
- Dynamic & Evolving – the media industry, esp the digital marketing space, has been evolving and even after a decade or more, still growing exponentially. Therefore the needs of the industry, marketers, auditors have been growing. Unlike TV, where the processes have been stable for a long time, in digital the standards, benchmarks, processes a7 methodologies needs to evolve with every use case. And with introduction of newer tools in the viewability, ad fraud, unfied view, bot detection, measurements being introduced every now and then, it is imperative for the audit firms to keep looking out for the best partners and ways to be relevant to the marketers
Some misconceptions around media auditing firms are that they act as a stick to beat the agencies! NO, they are not! They are just partners helping out both, the agencies and the brands to improve efficiency.
Audit firms charge a bomb, so even with all the efficiency and effectiveness jargons that they throw in, the brand ends up spending the same!
NO, usually there is just a set up fee and a huge chunk is the success fee. What makes an audit firm stand out is the drive to get the brand health on track and to build its own credibility. YES, Audit firms do make money! But mostly, it is the success fee which is usually 5:1. So every time the client or the brand saves X amount from a campaign, the profits are divided by Six. One part is given to the audit firms as a success fee, and five parts are the money saved, without changing the target outcomes.
Is the digital marketing audit a very difficult process? What all can be done? How does it work?
Well, it is definitely a complex area of expertise. But for brands that engage on a longer term with the auditing firms, the complexity reduces, the expectations set are more realistic and the outcomes are mostly better or at par with the optimistic plans.
The audit starts from understanding the past data, briefs, plans, reports, reviews and setting up internal benchmarks. Then, a layer of industry benchmarks add value to the first report and answers “where do we stand”, if all data points are recorded and maintained. Once this exercise is over, the current and future campaigns are audited. Reports ranging from audience insights, targeting patterns, planning efficiency, competitive performance, and recommended (generic) way forward are created for the brand.
With eyes and ears on the weekly progress of the campaign, a check on the KPIs, scheduling, device mix, targeting spillover, creative comparison, landing page optimization, bidding recommendations, deeper level analytics and data based insights are shared, with the usage of a host of tools depending on the brand, campaign, scale, objective, vendors, etc This shouds complex, and yes, it is. But that’s why media audit firms exist, to ensure brands get the best out of each partner, campaign and vendor.
So, to conclude, Is Media Audit worth the hype & money spent? Yes, it is.