LONDON: Digital advertising and its patchy track record on ad placement and transparency has become a hot topic among advertisers recently, but there are a series of questions that clients can ask of their agencies or suppliers to tackle any lingering bad habits.

That is the opinion of two leading agency executives from VCCP Media, who put forward 10 key issues that advertisers should keep front of mind before they allocate any budget to display or video media.

Writing exclusively for Warc, VCCP CEO Catherine Becker and Sam Fenton-Elstone, the agency's Chief Digital Officer, state: "It is our view that any intermediary provider, whether it is a tech provider, a trading desk or a performance digital agency, should be interrogated to ensure marketers are getting the best value."

Specifically, marketers should examine an agency's fee model for programmatic display to ensure it properly reflects the value an agency can bring.

Whether the arrangement is based on monthly media consumption fees and/or retainers, clients must get clarity about this and it is essential that any markups are questioned and justified.

"Not all agencies and suppliers are equal," advise Becker and Fenton-Elstone. "Thus there will be unique value from some companies that can better optimise and deliver effective targeting models to improve performance. These markups or fees should be fully transparent."

Full transparency should also apply if any inventory is run through a trading desk, they say, adding that it is essential to agree on an attribution model for each channel.

Alternatively, brand marketers could look into setting up their own buying platform with technical advice supplied by a good quality agency.

Another question Becker and Fenton-Elstone say marketers should ask of their agencies is whether they set pre-defined media selections.

They should avoid "minimum percentage of plan" for any media partner or trading desk where planners in effect are penalised if they do not distribute budget to these partners.

In addition, marketers should ensure that all fees in the chain – such as payments to a publisher – are visible and that they know how many suppliers and other partners are involved. This also applies to third-party digital suppliers – the sixth question that should be clarified with agencies.

Marketers should also ask: "Do you share full access to inventory bought, down to an impression level? And have you got shared access to that account so you can check?" In other words, are there the means by which clients can check the inventory?

Brand safety is a particularly topical issue at the moment, given the ongoing revelations about ad placements on Google and YouTube, and Becker and Fenton-Elstone say that third-party audit and verification tools must be considered.

What type of demand side platform (DSP) an agency proposes using is another point that clients should consider, and the authors note that there are some good DSPs on the market, such as DoubleClick and AppNexus.

Finally, they recommend that marketers ask of their agencies whether they "white-list", as opposed to "black-list", any sites or platforms involved in the process.

"At the end of the day, agencies want to deliver great work and need to be paid fairly; working in a transparent partnership ensures you are delivered the best value," they conclude. "There is a lot of potential for performance delivery and sales – it just needs to be done in the right way."

Data sourced from Warc