GLOBAL: The brand safety firestorm that flared in the first half of 2017 has highlighted the need for advertisers to play an active role in the stewardship of their media investments, according to Nick Manning.

In a WARC Best Practice paper, How to improve digital media transparency, Manning, founder of Manning Gottlieb Media and now chief strategy officer at Ebiquity, observes a paradox that "in a data-rich era, advertisers receive less information on their media investments than ever before".

Advertisers in general, he says, have a very low level of understanding of where their advertising money is spent, by whom and to what effect, especially in digital media.

That became evident earlier this year when they were alarmed to be informed by The Times of London that they were unwittingly funding extremist groups by paying for advertising on those groups' YouTube videos; they were also surprised to find their media investment advisors and partners were equally in the dark.

"High-profile 'brand safety' questions are merely the tip of a very large iceberg concerning the lack of media transparency in today's media markets," says Manning.

Media transparency, he argues, is achieved when an advertiser is able to make the best-informed media investment decisions with the most accurate, recent and robust data and information – but little independent measurement and effectiveness research exists in digital channels.

Manning lays out several practical steps that advertisers can take, starting with the basis of their relationship with media agencies, where the default should be the traditional 'agent' basis.

Contracts need to be reviewed and brought up to date to cover financial aspects, deliverables, planning objectivity and the advertiser's ownership of, and access to, data.

Advertisers should also ensure that the provisions of the agreed contract are verified independently – and Manning recommends the appointment of a chief media officer to ensure the accountability of advertising investments at board level.

With data now a vital part of the marketing mix, advertisers must ensure ownership of data, he says, and have full access to the platforms, tools and data used throughout the programmatic process.

And while advertisers should take an active stance in media stewardship, they also need to treat their media partners with respect – and pay them fairly and on time.

Data sourced from WARC