Trust but verify: The future of the client-agency relationship

The ANA report exposed the industry need for a new business environment based on trust and verification, writes the president of Rubicon Project

"Trust but verify." This Russian adage provides time-tested advice about how independent parties should approach their relationships with each other. It advises us to enter partnerships with a spirit of trust and goodwill, while also employing data and transparency to maintain all parties' confidence in those partnerships.

"Trust but verify" also captures the lesson we should take away from the ANA report released last week on the state of relations between the world’s biggest and most influential brands and their advertising partners. The study has highlighted the need for a new business environment seeded on these same bedrock principles of trust and verification.  

The basic findings of the report bring to light a breakdown in the agency-advertiser relationship: The rise of procurement and the whittling of agency fees. The findings also exposed the world of rebates in international markets and the alleged importation of the practice into the U.S.  

The report and the discourse it has ignited can serve as a positive catalyst for change: a new operating principle that places advertiser, publisher and consumer on equal footing in a trusted and transparent marketplace. It also highlights the need finally to close the chapter on antiquated advertising models that made sense a generation ago but are no longer applicable in a market rightly seeking transparency at the speed and scale our digitally connected ecosystem now demands.

In a nutshell, the 58-page report seeks greater transparency and a verifiable degree of trust, offering a clear call to action to fully embrace the evolution to transparent advertising automation.

Programmatic advertising offers a transformative opportunity to move beyond the conversation we are having today to one that builds trust and verification at precisely the time many are seeking it. Transparency is engineered directly into its core architecture. It allows you to see and understand who adds (and who subtracts) value from the media trading supply chain.

Each participant can follow the money as it travels between advertisers, agencies, trading desks, buy side and sell side platforms and media owners. Participants can trust that their ad dollars are going to the right audiences at the right price, and they can verify it right down to the impression level.

Orders, or private markets, can also be used to realize the benefits of one’s trading power, enabling advertisers to negotiate direct access to the best media while creating an auditable, standardized trading practice that can then be federated across an advertiser’s agencies, media owner partners and operating geographies.

Finally, the move to automation also helps address the critical issues of viewability and fraud. Although some players purport to address these issues, it is very clear from widely available independent rankings exactly which platforms are truly committed to combating fraud and delivering the highest quality, viable advertising impressions versus those that simply offer lip service while profiting off of bad ads.   

The time has come for everyone — brands, agencies and technology providers — to demand greater transparency, to embrace the power of automation, and to ask the tough questions of every partner. It is only then that we can ensure value is being given rather than profits simply being taken.

Gregory R. Raifman is President of Rubicon Project and is a founding board member of the advertising industry’s Trustworthy Accountability Group.

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