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This is What Not Pulling Any Punches About Transparency Looks Like.

November is right around the corner and this year’s ad:tech New York event is set to be one of the best ever. The event is moving back to its roots, with focused content a more intimate venue at Metropolitan Pavilion and a stronger than ever Board of Governors, ahem, yours truly notwithstanding.

Part of my role lies in keeping abreast of what people are talking about and the issues our industry is facing. I’ll recommend content and pull together the people I think make the most sense to help with our discussion.

In November, I’ll be leading a keynote fireside with three leaders in the business to talk about one of the most controversial and seemingly never resolving topics in digital marketing: transparency. There are two key areas of transparency making headlines—ad quality and profits. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, agency and advertiser organizations have been at each other’s throats for the better part of two years over the issue of transparency in profit margins. The other issue making headlines is the ongoing controversy over ad quality. One journalist reporting on brand ads appearing alongside unsavory content led to a snowball effect in the business about ad quality controls.

ad:tech is a unique place to have this conversation because we won’t be tethered to an industry organization’s constituency obligated agenda. In other words, ad:tech is the Switzerland to the ANA, AAAA and IAB battleground, and we won’t be stuck between a rock and a hard place.

One of the business leaders I will be chatting with at ad:tech is GroupM’s Chief Digital Officer, Rob Norman. Rob was kind enough to make some time for me to have a chat about the event and what we’ll be talking about in our keynote.

First, let me say Rob is the kind of guy I want to be when I grow up. If I ever grow up, in spite of the fact that 40 is the new 20, I remain hopeful. Rob pulls no punches, and when we started to talk about transparency in agency margins, he let it fly with a lot of the things that frustrate me as an agency owner as well.

We talked about transparency in the context of what and of whom. What specifically is the value chain and “whom” refers to buyers and sellers. Rob compared—for the sake of argument—the relationship Facebook, Google and others have with disclosing margins, or better yet, how about a luxury watchmaker disclosing its margins to customers. They don’t, for two very good reasons. One, it’s no one’s business how the business is run, and two, when you buy an item, it’s up to the seller to convince the buyer of the product’s value. It doesn’t have to be any simpler than that.

So the issue becomes: is there transparency between the advertiser and agency? This is another area that Rob felt there needed to be further clarification. It’s a simple question of being compliant with each client’s contracts and if GroupM weren’t compliant, there could be criminal consequences.

Rob and I agree on the behavior of the ANA. Because no names have been named in the reports to date, it’s hard to gauge the scope of the transparency issue. As of our conversation, 90% of GroupM’s business had been audited and GroupM hasn’t had to give back a penny. Industry-wide, a year after ANA released the inflammatory reports, only about 60% of clients have completed an audit. So if it’s so important, why isn’t that number 100%?

I could get into the ad quality part of our discussion, but let’s just say when we started talking about the Times of London’s catchy headline from early this year that led to an industry-wide panic attack, “Big Brands Fund Terror,” we both had a few things to say. The words and phrases, “set up,” “entrapment” and “panic-inspiring uniformed dreck,” came up in conversation.

Of course, there’s a lot more to our conversation, but you’ll just have to wait until November to get it. See you at the show!

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