A supply-side perspective on agency transparency

Newspaper reader by Mike Ackerman on Unsplash

Almost a year on from the Dentsu billing crisis, advertising transparency is seemingly a major priority for Japanese media buying agencies; especially when it comes to digital.

While appetite for digital shows no signs of decline — predicted to reach ¥1.159 trillion by the end of the year – the pressure for agencies to be open about trading methods keeps on growing. Indeed, this challenge is particularly prevalent with programmatic media buying, where continued global brand safety concerns are fuelling a perceived lack of transparency and control, and the complexity of the vast ecosystem makes budget allocation challenging to track.

Yet from a supply-side perspective, there are many steps media agencies can take to better illustrate transparency, starting with a stronger focus on building relationships.

Here are five key methods agencies can adopt to achieve perfect clarity:

Foster direct relationships with publishers

The automated nature of programmatic often reduces contact between media buyers and sellers, but that doesn’t mean agencies can’t get to know the publishers they partner with. Direct relationships can co-exist alongside efficient programmatic technology.

To forge closer connections with the exchanges they partner with, agencies should request a detailed list of all websites and mobile apps available through each exchange. They should also assess these supply sources thoroughly, only whitelisting those that meet client-specific criteria. In fact, the best results are achieved when agencies and exchange partners work to create such lists together – making sure they have enough scale to execute buys efficiently.

Once a whitelist is created, agencies can further maximise transparency by opening a dialogue with the publishers it includes, asking detailed questions about which technology partners they work with to get a better sense of where their inventory is sold. Evaluating publishers’ suitability should also be an ongoing process, with all whitelisted websites and apps regularly reviewed, and new publishers carefully assessed before being approved.

Establish inventory type criteria

In addition to evaluating individual publishers, agencies must understand the type of content their clients are comfortable with placing their ads next to, and work with publishers to ensure these criteria are strictly met.

For instance, many clients will wish to advertise exclusively on sites carrying strictly vetted content that is relevant and appropriate to their target audience. This may mean focussing on publications that set stringent editorial guidelines and check all User Generated Content (UGC) before it goes live.

Agencies also need to establish the parameters of client needs: such as whether they are willing to advertise alongside content that adapts to external triggers and events, like news content. By then approaching publishers to establish which elements of their sites or apps are subject to real-time adjustment, agencies can help ensure rules are set that keep ads away from adaptive subsections — if advertisers choose this — to avoid any potentially damaging brand placements. Transparency is a two-way street so agencies shouldn't be afraid to work with publishers and exchanges to ensure their clients’ needs are met.

Broadly speaking, most brands favour high quality, professionally produced content, so agencies should make this their baseline and only include UGC or unpredictable news content when expressly agreed with their clients.

Check ad exchange standards

A thorough knowledge of how an ad exchange assesses publisher content and standards is essential for any agency that buys inventory on behalf of clients. As a general best practice rule, analysis of publisher content should combine automated review against strict criteria with regular human verification to ensure poor quality content has no opportunity to slip through the net.

For an external guarantee of quality, agencies may also consider opting for exchanges with a proven track record in delivering a brand safe environment, such as those measured by third parties like the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG). Exchanges that are certified under the TAG Inventory Quality Guidelines 2.0 Initiative provide robust assurances that ads will not appear next to inappropriate content.

Choose Demand-Side Platforms carefully

If agencies decide to use a Demand-Side Platform (DSP), they need to be sure it links into high quality ad exchanges with direct publisher relationships, enabling access to unique or premium impressions. When choosing a DSP, agencies should assess the type of inventory it offers (native, mobile, desktop or video), the scale at which it operates (regional or global), and the buying models it focuses on (private marketplace or guaranteed), as well as its quality and brand safety record. Of course, to start with they must first determine the inventory their client wants and then select a DSP that provides the greatest access to that inventory.

Ensure authorization to sell inventory

Whether they are using an exchange or a DSP, agencies need to be sure their partner is authorised to sell publisher inventory and isn’t repackaging and selling impressions without the publisher’s knowledge. The newly formed Japanese Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) will be influential in helping media buyers achieve this as the IAB recently introduced ads.txt globally to help reduce low-quality seller numbers. The text file is used by publishers on their servers to list all of the partners that are authorized sellers of their inventory. This is both a valuable and time-saving quality-control method: without ads.txt agencies would have to take the unwieldy route of contacting publishers directly to find out if their technology platforms are authorized to sell the inventory they plan on purchasing.

There’s no doubt programmatic media buying is highly beneficial to Japanese advertisers, but confidence in the safety of the automated supply chain is necessary to maximize its benefits. By nurturing direct publisher relationships, delving deeper into the inventory available through ad exchanges and DSPs, and checking brand safety processes, agencies can begin to provide clients with the transparency into programmatic buying they crave.

Keisuke Meguro is Senior Publisher Development Manager at OpenX.

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