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P&G Sees Enough Progress on Digital Demands to Avoid Pulling Spending -- Mostly

By Published on .

Marc Pritchard speaks at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting.
Marc Pritchard speaks at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting. Credit: IAB

A year after he challenged digital media players to deliver accountability and transparency or lose Procter & Gamble Co.'s considerable spending, Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard sees little reason to make good on his threat—for the most part.

P&G's comprehensive review of its agency contracts, announced in the same speech to the IAB Leadership Meeting last year, has produced one significant change. "We found we needed to build in some stronger contract language on rebates at the holding-company level," Pritchard says. "But the agencies have been great at working with us."

P&G still isn't back on YouTube after pulling the plug last March over brand-safety concerns and despite what Pritchard sees as strong efforts by Google to fix problems. "Stay tuned," he says.

None of the big so-called "walled gardens" of social media–primarily Facebook and Google's YouTube–have gotten Media Rating Council accreditation of their third-party audience-measurement systems yet, which is something Pritchard called for. But following a Wednesday meeting with the Association of National Advertisers board that included representatives from both of the digital behemoths and MRC CEO George Ivie, Pritchard and ANA CEO Bob Liodice both see strong progress.

That really began in late 2016 with the first of a series of "measurement fiascos" discovered at Facebook and the ANA "calling them out on it," Liodice says. "That began a long process of reaching consensus, very professionally, and Google and Facebook and later Twitter looking us in the eye and saying we can and should do better."

Pritchard, who also chairs the ANA, sees enough good-faith effort on measurement and accountability not to yank money out of any additional major digital platforms, though some "long-tail players" and lower-priority offerings by bigger players could get the axe.

"The choice we make" for digital media that aren't making progress,," he says. "is that we either get out of that product or work with them to close the gap. Certain companies that are publishers, mostly in the long tail, are not moving down the path, and they're cut off."

But overall, he says, "The progress with these big players is really strong. It's a sea change vs. where we were a year ago, not only in the progress but the attitude. Every major player has stepped up and taken it very seriously."

In some cases the big players have "gone beyond what we expected," Pritchard says, including YouTube, which conducted tests with P&G in countries around the world on brand-safety issues and applied for accreditation of third-party verification "in more countries than we expected." Still, he's not quite ready to get back in, pending further evaluation.

While Pritchard's talks last year on digital transparency drew plenty of attention, he says "this was an industry effort, where CMOs from around the industry stepped up to insist on these changes, and the industry should take note, because it made a difference."

Nearly three years after a speech by former Mediacom CEO turned consultant Jon Mandel unleashed an industry firestorm over allegations of undisclosed media rebates in the U.S., key issues appear quietly to have been resolved, both Pritchard and Liodice say.

"I think the transparent agency contract issue has largely been resolved," Pritchard says. "I think there was a good reset in the industry between agencies and clients. That's another I would say is 90 percent complete."

Liodice noted a survey last year of ANA members that found 65 percent of the 250 surveyed had taken some kind of action to examine or change their media agency contracts in the wake of the K2 report.

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