New IAB chief takes on ‘the measurement mess’

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If anyone can save Internet advertising, it’s Robin Webster, the new CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Previously exec VP of the Association of National Advertisers Inc., and a steering committee chairwoman of FAST, or Future of Advertising Stakeholders, Webster is now taking all she’s learned from the advertiser side of the business to lead a new charge for the 250-member IAB.

FAST was a coalition of advertisers, Web site publishers, media buyers and technology companies that attempted to drive Internet advertising forward (it was originally called FAST Forward and was spearheaded by Procter & Gamble Co. in 1998), but the group dissolved last year because of conflicting goals.

A mere 25 days after taking the reins of the IAB on Jan. 30, Webster issued recommended guidelines for online ad formats, followed immediately by a set of standard terms and conditions for Internet advertising media buys. The second guidelines were the result of an intense negotiating effort between buyers and sellers of online advertising. Those negotiations culminated in a meeting that lasted until 3 a.m. in a New Orleans hotel room during an American Association of Advertising Agencies meeting on Feb. 28.

As a result of that meeting, Webster decided it was impossible to represent the divergent interests of both advertising buyers and sellers. And so the IAB recently revoked the membership of those that didn’t sell Internet advertising--including agencies, technology companies and measurement companies.

BtoB: What’s your No. 1 priority for the IAB?

Webster: Get rid of the hurdles keeping traditional advertisers out of the market.

BtoB: What are the hurdles?

Webster: First, we have to fix the measurement mess. There are two key audience measurement problems for advertisers: Understanding how big the audience is, and what the composition of the audience is by site, in order to do media planning effectively.

The IAB is now working with the ARF [Advertising Research Foundation] to come up with voluntary guidelines on how big a panel should be, and what it should measure.

BtoB: What’s next?

Webster: The other piece, which is probably a bigger hurdle, is cleaning up ad delivery measurement issues. Advertisers need to know: ‘What did I get for the money?’ In print, you get a tear sheet. In TV, you get a post-audit. For every media, you know your ‘thing’ happened. For ours, it’s confusing.

The numbers are so different between the publishers and third-party ad servers.

A lot of the reason is that there is no one source of control over distribution of the ad, from beginning to end.

BtoB: So how do you solve this problem?

Webster: We’re fielding a big process audit with [PricewaterhouseCoopers L.L.C.], with 10 companies involved. It will be a combination of third-party ad servers, destination sites and portals that will agree on a process audit.

We will look at unique users, ads delivered and pages viewed--although it’s really pages delivered--and we will look at every circumstance, such as what happens when spiders and robots come, abort situations, when users hit the back button. Any number of kinks can happen [with ad delivery] that could be treated differently. When PWC comes back and says, ‘Here are all the different ways ads can be delivered,’ the 10 companies will sit around and set voluntary guidelines. That’s the basis of everything.

BtoB: What’s your deadline for fixing measurement?

Webster: We hope to release the guidelines at the IAB’s annual meeting on Aug. 7. That will go a long way to move the industry forward.

BtoB: OK, after you fix measurement, then what?

Webster: If we get that one over with, then we start to work towards ad effectiveness. That is the top-dog thing to fix. We have to improve the creative. There is not a ton of work the IAB can do on that, but we can field an ad effectiveness study, and we can and will pull together case studies and research to get the ads more creative.

BtoB: Why isn’t online advertising more creative?

Webster: I’ve been talking to creative directors at traditional agencies to find out how many of the best creatives are working on interactive ads. The answer is none. Radio--none. Print--none. They’re all working on TV. They’re all frustrated producers. But when I ask about outdoor, the answer is some. There is something in my mind about working with the Four A’s to tap into great outdoor creatives and capture what is magic about outdoor.

BtoB: What are the other hurdles to getting traditional advertisers in the market?

Webster: We have to make media planning and buying easier. If I’m a traditional agency media planner, I have a [computer], and it has all the circulation numbers, types of demos, numbers from Nielsen, Simmons, MRI, and panel data for TV, print and radio. There are no Internet numbers in there, because they are all different.

BtoB: What’s the answer to that one?

Webster: Stage one is the ad insertion guidelines for publishers, and terms and conditions for online media buys. At the Four A’s conference in New Orleans, [Executive VP of the Four A’s] Mike Donahue gave me an opportunity to get my members together [to review proposed guidelines]. The terms and conditions had been written by the agencies, and they were trying to ram them down the throats of the publishers.

I said it was not good. The two groups met, and people truly took their company hat off and put their industry hat on. There were heated discussions, people would say, ‘This is how we got burned,’ and in the end, everyone around that table felt good about the outcome. The understanding and trust level went up.

BtoB: What did you learn from those heated negotiations?

Webster: It was part of the decision that led me to decide the IAB couldn’t represent agencies and publishers. We’ve changed the membership. There was no way I could represent Modem Media, one of my best members, who was sitting across the table from me and I was negotiating against them. That’s one of the reasons the IAB didn’t get stuff done. We were trying to represent both sides. You can negotiate, but you can’t represent everyone.

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