A recent survey by media consultancy ID Comms found that advertisers were failing to meet expectations in four key areas: setting clear KPIs for media; having a point of view on ROI for media; having a well-established media community internally; ad leading media decisions from marketing rather than procurement.
To determine this, 179 respondents, which included senior marketers, were asked to score advertiser performance on these key areas from on a scale of one to five, where five is outstanding and one is unacceptable. On average, advertisers received a score of three or less in these areas.
When broken down, advertiser respondents (representing companies with combined annual media budgets of more than £17bn), scored themselves an average of 7% higher on these questions than their agency counterparts.
However, agency respondents claimed this merely reflected a lack of knowledge on the client-side. "Capability levels in advertisers are at an all-time low. Desperately needs an injection of smart agency thinkers," remarked one agency survey participant.
These findings are particularly alarming when coupled with the fact that nearly all (97%) of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "advertisers who take a more strategic and thoughtful approach to media will deliver a stronger marketing performance".
Furthermore, eight in 10 of those surveyed also believe advertiser marketing teams should be primarily responsible for defining the advertiser’s strategic approach including the media objectives, operating model and KPIs.
Part of the reason could be that advertisers were viewed by agency respondents as more focused on media buying and efficiency (scoring 3.2) rather than media planning and effectiveness. These advertisers are also more likely to view agencies as commodity suppliers (score 3.5) rather than strategic partners.
"The lack of media knowledge inside many of even the largest advertisers is making it harder for them to leverage the opportunities that smart media thinking delivers," said Tom Denford, chief strategy officer at ID Comms.
"Brands that treat media as a commodity and a cost will never actually get the best return from their media budgets."
Agencies, meanwhile, were criticised for failing to provide wholly neutral and objective planning services.
They were also viewed as failing to meet expectations of advertisers in five more key areas including: their ability to provide insight-driven strategic planning; having a culture of innovation; provide thought leadership in media; and identifying relevant data fuelled insight and integrate owned, earned and paid media.
On the last one, advertisers were the most disappointed with agencies, giving them a score of just 2.4 out of five (where three is 'meets expectations').
One advertiser wrote in the survey, "The real struggle inside agencies is between the planner/account teams that want to do a great job and their own version of procurement that is more focused on opaque deals and rebates."
Agency respondents appear no less positive about their roles. "Media agencies are stuck within the confines that aggressive holding company growth targets create/set for them," said one agency-side respondent.
"The system is broken and needs a total reset," despaired another.
"The study shows that the transparency issue is one facet of a systemic problem. There's more to be done on all sides to break a vicious circle, commented Phil Smith, director general of ISBA.
For its part, ISBA is working to engage, inform and educated advertisers at all levels. Smith added: "ISBA will also seek to provide the tools and guidance to serve as the foundations of well-aligned relationships, as we are doing with our media services framework contract."