With the service, called Dispatch, Web auditor I/PRO is rounding out its business model to serve not only the needs of Web sites but also of Web media buyers.
"There's a big gulf between media planning and [tracking] activity," said Bradley Rode, president-CEO of I/PRO, Redwood City, Calif. Dispatch, he said, will help media buyers do an "apples-to-apples comparison of buys across sites."
Also today, AdKnowledge, a Palo Alto, Calif., company that's the result of a merger between ad management companies Focalink and Clickover, announce MarketMatch Pro, a suite of campaign planning and management products that builds on Focalink's existing MarketMatch tool and addresses some of the same problems faced by online media buyers.
The biggest problem, say agencies, is the enormous amount of time, money and resources required to place and track online campaigns, compared with the effort required for traditional media placement.
`MOTHERING' THE ONLINE BUY
The average new media agency has one employee for every $150,000 in billings, while traditional media agencies have one employee for every $1 million in billings, said Kent Valandra, exec VP-director of new media for Western International Media, Los Angeles.
"It's so incredibly labor intensive to manage online advertising campaigns," said Mr. Valandra, who is evaluating Dispatch.
That's because to date, there's been no standard way to submit online campaign data to Web sites and track ad performance across sites.
"You have to mother it every inch of the way," said Mr. Valandra. "You have to phone each site and ask, `Did you get the order? Did you get the creative? Did the ad go up?' There is no consistency on Web sites in the way they process, report on and place ads."
POTENTIAL FOR ERRORS
Some sites, for example, require one-day lead time for creative trafficking; others, one week.
Media buyers describe the typical online media planning process as progressing this way:
Most agencies create their own spreadsheets, using Microsoft Corp.'s Excel or some other software program, which contain criteria on the media buy. Those criteria may include, for example, the start and end dates of the campaign, target demographics and online objectives. The agencies then send the information to Web sites or networks via e-mail or fax, and the sites respond with cost and other data. The process also involves placing the order and sending creative, all of which can take weeks.
After the order is placed, sites serve the ads using their own software or third-party systems, then send tracking and performance data back to the media buyers. Someone back at the agency then has to compile all the information.
"It's very, very time consuming, and it's fraught with the potential for errors," said Lynn Bolger, senior VP-Web media director at Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, which is also testing Dispatch.
NEW TOOLS FROM ADKNOWLEDGE
Dispatch, which will be priced based on a percentage of billings, creates standard insertion orders, tracking and reporting protocols, and provides a clearing house for the exchange of creative and data across sites and agencies.
It will also work with ad serving companies and has signed a deal with Accipiter, the first ad serving company to support its protocols.
Once a campaign is running, sites can track performance online, as well as run post-buy reports on a range of variables that show how a certain campaign, such as a sponsorship, did in a given time on a specific site or across a category.
"The biggest agencies are all compiling data. They just don't have a common source of reliable data," said Tig Tillinghast, marketing director, agency services, for I/PRO, who had started to develop a system to address this problem as director of interactive at Anderson & Lembke, San Francisco, before he came to I/PRO last August.
AdKnowledge, meanwhile, at the end of February plans to launch MarketMatch Planner, an upgrade of the existing MarketMatch database of more than 1,000 ad-supported Web sites.
In the second quarter it will roll out MarketMatch Campaign Manager for trafficking and post-buy analysis of banner campaigns, and by yearend it will launch MarketMatch Accountant, which will integrate ad performance data into agencies' billing systems.
A feature of Campaign Manager will be the integration of the MarketMatch database for campaign planning with the former Focalink's ad serving system SmartBanner.
Ad agencies will then be able to research sites by a variety of criteria, including target audience demographic and psychographic profiles, as well as by supported ad technology types, banner sizes and prices. They will also be able to place insertion orders with publishers, serve ads and store campaign performance history.
FIRST TO MARKET HAS ADVANTAGE
Currently, more than 70 ad agencies subscribe to the existing MarketMatch service, including J. Walter Thompson USA, McCann-Erickson Worldwide, CKS Group, i-Traffic and Modem Media. More than 20 agencies also use SmartBanner to centralize their ad serving across sites.
Agency buyers familiar with both services said that each competitor's strength lies in its background.
"Adknowledge has data with MarketMatch, and [has] worked with SmartBanner, which is valuable," Mr. Valandra said.
However, he added, "I view I/PRO as having a big jump because the work they're doing is a direct result of work that was done at Anderson & Lembke. The people who get into the market first will have a huge advantage," he said.
John Nardone, director of media research for Modem Media, said, "The ad server piece is only part of the solution. We must be able to more efficiently aggregate reporting data, or no agency will make money at this business."