The Rundown: The once-exuberant NewFronts have a sober tone (and less VR)

Two years after Vice thrilled a packed house at Spring Studios with a boxing match featuring “Fresh Off the Boat” star Eddie Huang and Vice producer Niall Cooney, media’s reformed bad boys tried another tack Wednesday afternoon. During a presentation focused on its overhauled website, Vice CRO Dominique Delport took a moment to discuss “the industry failure to deliver brand measurement” and announce a new audience measurement methodology it was using to count its audience (attendees were sent a four-page presentation on that methodology earlier in the day).

After years of glitzy presentations and whiz-bang displays of technology, publishers participating in the 2019 IAB NewFronts are spending more time talking about things like audience measurement and ad effectiveness, rather than big top-line audience numbers or video views.

The New York Times, instead of strapping VR headsets onto their attendees, talked about expanded keyword targeting and how it was helping to increase click-through rates on display campaigns. BBC News, presenting for a third time, talked about how it was using neuroscience to measure branded content effectiveness. Even Condé Nast, which crowed about having 175 video pilots in production, made sure to point out a measurement partnership it has struck with Nielsen.

There’s nothing etched in stone anywhere saying that the NewFronts need to be all sizzle, and no steak. And with marketers obsessing over measurement and efficiency, it makes a lot of sense for publishers to include them in their pitches. But the effect of hearing about it was a bit like being fed steamed broccoli in between bites of beef. — Max Willens

Billings get heated
The basics of the agency business — getting paid for the work they do for clients — is messier than most. While on the surface, the idea of being paid on an FTE model, which looks at factors like the people involved in the work and the hours it would take them to complete the project, seems simple enough (and is similar enough to lots of other services businesses), it’s gotten messier, thanks to a lack of client trust, rise in procurement and squeezed agency margins. We reported this week on how contentious billings have gotten: Agencies complain they’re overservicing businesses and eating the cost, while clients complain agencies are overbilling, and in some, more nefarious instances, padding billings to put more junior people on accounts where senior (and more expensive) people are promised. But what’s been interesting is the downright crazy situations arising out of this that I’ve been told about after the story published. In one instance, an agency exec told me that after pitch meetings or RFPs, creatives or other employees will reach out to the client and offer to do the work as a freelancer, undercutting their own employers in the process. In another instance, a brand exec said he is approached by agencies that offer to get paid in everything but money — trips, and in one case, he was asked to outfit the agency’s leadership with ski gear. But perhaps the recent NRA-Ackerman McQueen lawsuit takes the cake, where the agency is now being accused of blackmailing the NRA’s leader, Wayne LaPierre, threatening to disclose accounts about financial status, internal harassment charges and more. — Shareen Pathak

Store paralysis
Stores are back in style. Execs attending the Digiday Retail Summit in Austin this week spoke to the brick-and-mortar renaissance happening in physical retail. “We’re watching a shift back to an importance for stores. That creates a lot of opportunity for us,” said one attendee working at a big-box retailer. Stores are no longer a liability, even if over-retailed companies struggling to cut their losses are closing underperforming locations at a rapid clip. Instead, they’re becoming more purposeful: they serve as marketing channels, fulfillment centers for online orders and data collection touchpoints—particularly important competitive advantages when you consider the weaknesses of Amazon. But the new opportunity for stores to do everything at once is also a challenge: if retailers can’t strike the right balance between convenience and experience in stores, customers will look elsewhere, but deciding how to allocate the right resources to the right priorities is a persistent puzzle. “We need to meet ultra efficiency online with ultra humanity. No one’s shopping in stores if they don’t care to engage with a brand. But sometimes they want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Just trying to meet them with the right experience at the right time can feel paralyzing,” said one retail exec. — Hilary Milnes

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