Exclusive: Media audits arrive in U.S.

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With procurement executives and compensation consultants already a permanent fixture on the marketing landscape, agencies face a new assessment of their efficacy-media auditors.

Billetts, a U.K. company that positions itself as a third-party watchdog that ensures advertisers' money is well spent, is now setting up Media Performance Monitor America in New York. Billetts is already a major player on the U.K. media scene, assessing over $1.7 billion of ad spending every year and representing 39% of the U.K.'s top 250 marketers.

Independent media analyst Erwin Ephron, a noted media-measurement advocate and fixture in the industry, will assume a position as director of the new company along with Neil Klar, who is president of SQAD, a media data company in Tarrytown, New York. SQAD offices will serve as home base for MPMA. P.J. Leary, a founding partner of the Bouchez Kent communications consultancy, has been named chief operating officer.

According to Mr. Leary, MPMA has already signed up six advertisers. He would not name them, but described them as an automaker, a financial institution, a leading entertainment corporation, a consumer electronics group, and two leading consumer goods manufacturers.

MPMA is determined to position itself as a "continuous performance monitor" rather than an auditing company. "None of us likes to be audited," Mr. Klar said. "We are looking to get away from doing it in that way, which is why we focus on media improvement and performance."

a process

"Media and advertising in general is a process, not an event, and auditing is based on events," Mr. Ephron said. "So the only way you can really track it properly is as a process. The model is like process sampling, which manufacturers are used to. It's the equivalent of Chevrolet making sure the doors fit before stamping out 250,000 cars."

MPMA claims that it can track the performance of an advertiser's dollar investment in media and will oversee the quality of executions. The service will monitor cost-per-thousands, scheduling, program quality, commercial positions and other metrics.

The service will tap into SQAD's database of spot unit prices and CPMs compiled by agencies that subscribe to the 20-year-old service. SQAD also has a new network TV database that differentiates between upfront prices and scatter, and requires subscribers put information into it in order to get information out.

ask for impossible?

"We are behind Europe on this," Mr. Leary said. "More clients here are asking for the service. The scandals in corporate accounting in this country and the massive amounts of money spent in television, are prompting clients to say we need a third-party perspective on this."

Media agency executives contacted by Ad Age welcome the arrival of Billetts, but are skeptical. They say another auditing firm means clients will have to spend more on yet another service. Also, they say continuous audits will eat up agency manpower.

"There is certain amount of additional work required from the agency," said Mark Stewart exec VP-chief strategy officer Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann.

Media executives are generally suspicious that Billetts and other auditors will ask for the impossible, such as "a premium mix of media and a rock bottom price," said one executive, "which is impossible."

"One of the reasons why this kind of monitoring process is important is because television is Dodge City," Mr. Ephron said, who has an investment in the new company and will be paid as a consultant. "If you can spend $9 billion in five weeks, that is quite a process. You shoot first and count the bodies later."

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