Stephen Broderick of FirmDecisions: why transparency in media really shouldn’t be a new concept

Transparency has dominated debate in media and marketing for the last few years.

First there was the investigation, recommendations and transparency initiative from the US Association of National Advertisers (ANA) in 2016.

Then P&G’s CMO Mark Pritchard gave keynote conference speeches at the start of 2017 about the “murky at best, fraudulent at worst” digital supply chain, spurring advertisers and agencies into action.

And most recently, at the start of 2018, Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed urged Google, Facebook and Twitter to “drain the swamp” or face losing advertising revenue if they failed to act against extremist, offensive, or illegal content.

But there’s actually nothing new about advertisers, agencies, and their representative trade bodies raising and dealing with issues of transparency. In 2005, Interpublic Group issued a $550m restatement of its accounts for 2000-2004. Investigations had found that the agency group had retained hundreds of millions of dollars of media volume bonuses which should have been returned to its clients around the world.

At the time, some suggested the IPG accounting case might have been a wake-up call that placed transparency on the marketing community’s agenda permanently. And yet, it was another 11 years before the ANA report was published. It’s true that European advertisers – and regulators – started to look at transparency more seriously. But it’s only in the last three years that the industry has come together to take collective responsibility for transparency and action to secure it; advertisers, agencies, and trade bodies working in partnership with common purpose.

The impact of the ANA study and recommendations has been to focus industry attention on financial transparency. But like a giant game of “whack-a-mole”, when transparency is tackled in one area, the spotlight often shifts to other areas where a lack of transparency becomes apparent. The World Federation of Advertisers has recently dubbed 2018 “the year of data transparency”. And from the ANA’s 2017 report on production transparency – and our work assessing creative agency contracts – we know that this, too, is an area that demands vigilance and action.

So, while transparency in the marketing supply chain may now be high on the agenda, it’s clearly nothing new. The advent of innovations including disclosed programmatic trading and the use of Blockchain make me optimistic. They make me think things may at last have changed. It looks like technology may be helping digital marketing to become transparent by design. In terms of media. In terms of data. And in terms of production.

Stephen Broderick is global CEO of global marketing contract compliance specialists FirmDecisions.

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