The new year provides great motivation for marketers to breathe fresh air into dated media strategies, or at least to ensure they’re not falling too far behind the curve. Here’s a checklist to help advertisers ensure they’re braced for the ad-buying innovations and disruptions to come in 2019.

Have solid contracts with partners in place
A run of flashpoints throughout 2018 –including the furor over ad tech vendors bid caching and growing suspicions over kickbacks — highlighted the limited view many advertisers have into their programmatic campaigns. They also revealed how few advertisers have solid contracts in place with their suppliers to ensure their interests are protected. That’s likely to change this year as more money moves into programmatic and more advertisers review their partners and the ways they’re spending their money.

Things to ask for during those reviews include ensuring tech fees cannot be marked up by the agency or any network entity, as well securing access to all data and platforms relating to the contract with the agency, per a recent report from digital media consulting firm Digital Decisions. A former marketer expanded on the point: “The aim now from advertisers is, if it’s not visible, then no money. Agencies often don’t have their own demand-side platform, so a review is really a check on the agencies’ capabilities to manage an external DSP as well.”

Some suppliers spy an opportunity here to differentiate themselves through transparency in anticipation of more contract reviews. For example, Appnexus gave advertisers the option to find out how much of their media budgets go to tech fees when ads are bought using its tech last month, a feature not offered by other supply-side vendors.

Minimize the cost of switching suppliers
A review is a good time to consider whether relationships with agencies and ad tech vendors have become untenable. If so, then things can get messy if the advertiser hasn’t protected themselves against the risks of switching partners. Data, expertise and even insights can all be taken from the advertiser if it doesn’t have the contractual rights to them. Some advertisers like Nestle have asked the question “If I leave my agency tomorrow, what can I take with me?” to understand how much control over their advertising they really have. Failure to do so can make it harder to switch partners when an advertiser does decide to ditch its supplier as it can put years of accumulated expertise and data out of reach.

“For big conglomerates, we have seen a shift away from local relationships and deals to global tech and verification partnerships,” said Martin Vinter, head of media at Ebiquity U.K. “These are often led, on all accounts, by the advertiser, and implemented and managed by the agency.”

Own third-party verification
For some reason, the transparency debate among advertisers often erred toward programmatic buying and licensing ad tech in 2018. Core technologies like ad verification and ad serving were often looked over when actually they may have been the easiest place to start when it came to dispelling some of the skepticism of programmatic. An advertiser can license ad verification tech, which their agency can run on their behalf, to effectively track and measure performance. Heineken did this when it launched its own review last spring for an ad verification partner with which Heineken, and not its agency, would own the contract and subsequent insights and data. More advertisers are likely to follow over the next 12 months as contract reviews in ad tech become more common. There are more advertisers that have played a role in selecting ad verification partners, either in collaboration with their agency or through their own procurement process, said Vinter, who has been involved in those decisions.

Understanding auction dynamics
Savvy advertisers learned last year that if they know how their bids are handled by ad tech companies, there are pricing inefficiencies to be exploited. Certain exchanges are more likely to win from certain publishers, irrespective of the price. But it’s not as straightforward as making sure the right clauses are in contracts. It requires constant monitoring of auctions to spot how each one is won and subsequently the most effective route to the publisher’s inventory. A simpler way is to reduce the number of exchanges ads are being bought from to focus on the best-performing ones. Things to consider here are the relevance and performance of bought domains, frequency caps and the time of day or week where it might be better to increase or lower the number of impressions bought.

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