Buy the Plan

By The Cog Blog Archives
Cover image for  article: Buy the Plan

These are turbulent times for the usually stable and insulated world of audience measurement. Some of this is about blaming the messenger. (I would say a lot of the current U.S. debate around Nielsen comes down to a desire to push bigger numbers into the buying market.) But a far more significant debate is taking place around control and funding.

To understand the importance of what's happening needs us to take several steps back. What's audience measurement for? What exactly do we need to know? Who benefits?

I think this is really about the growing importance of planning. Up until recently media agencies and those who sell to them had one thing to worry about -- what to pay for whatever it was you had decided to buy.

This may be unfair -- after all, agencies and vendors have extensive resources tied up in research designed to help them decide what channels are best suited for their clients' needs. But let's be honest. The game has for an age been all about buying and justification. Not planning and buying.

The focus has traditionally been on what many -- me included -- see as a too comfortable relationship between buyer and seller. Don't rock the boat, don't ask awkward questions.

But this all changed with the Mandel affair. Once Jon threw a rock into the still pool of that comfortable relationship, life changed.

First the ripples hit the whole topic of rebates. Buyers had to accept an era of transparency or literally lose business. Margins fell and trade press headlines around Agency X declaring war on Channel Y stopped as the realization dawned that Agency X had always really been playing war games with someone else's money.

It also became obvious to everyone in the cozy old world that money was drifting away from them towards the online giants. In fact, not so much drifting as flooding.

Meanwhile, the old guard continued to do what old guards always do -- stick their fingers in their ears and hope the problem goes away. Keep talking about buying mechanisms, shares and so on even if the caravan has moved on.

Now the Mandel ripples have hit measurement.

What we need -- what we've needed for literally decades -- is a measurement infrastructure to support planning.

For agencies to do what they often argue (particularly in public) they have been doing all along needs them to plan first, and then buy the plan.

And how should they do that?

They need to convince their clients that planning is something worth paying for; then they need the confidence to deliver those plans -- a confidence that comes from knowing there is a research foundation in place on which they can build.

You still need the currencies, the BARBs, PAMCOs and the rest. It's just that way back when, in an era of limited supply and excessive demand when buying was all that mattered, that may have been all you needed.

Planning stuff was for new business pitches and conference speeches. The "real world," as those charming ex-buying chiefs would remind us all, was about the price you paid (and the margin the agency could make to fund all "your flowery planning stuff").

"Planning" was front of house, window dressing to distract from the real business going on in the back office.

Slowly but relentlessly we are waking up to the importance of being able to explain how to balance advertising with events with sponsorships with PR. To split ad budgets between online platforms, TV (in its many forms), print, OOH, DM, audio and the rest.

This is why ISBA's Origin initiative is so important, and why how it's funded is key. Advertisers should always have been at the forefront of these matters; the fact they weren't for so long is their failing but better late than never. Far better.

It never made any sense to write a plan, then buy something different to justify the agency's Upfront commitment. We need the measurement experts to help us throughout the new flow: build the plan, justify the plan, buy the plan.

Not just with the last bit.

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