Buyers, Sellers and the KPI

We all believe that campaign success is a mutual quest. So, why is it that when publishers ask an agency for the KPI on which performance is being measured – the request often goes unanswered?

Don’t we all need to reference the same playbook? Is it not the goal of both the agency and the publisher-side seller to provide the best service to the brand client by developing media solutions that are designed to deliver on a specific KPI?

Yes and yes.

Having now spent time on both sides of the marketplace in my career, it is absurd to me that KPIs are not more freely shared amongst buyers and sellers. A certain co-defiance persists over cooperation. What gives?

Contrary to popular buy-side belief, publishers want media buyers to succeed. But we can only get there by engaging in real conversations on measurement and ensuring the programs that we are building are structured to meet the mark.

Black box optimizations are of benefit to no one.

Allowing publishers to optimize campaigns without being fully transparent about how the campaign is being measured is like taking a test in statistics, but the highest level of math you completed is algebra. It’s almost cruel. You have a basic knowledge of mathematical problem solving, but you lack the details and the methods of application for experimentation to make long-term judgments for more complex mathematical equations.

Keeping Expectations in Check
Now, we don’t expect that every advertiser will allow us to pixel the point of conversion, because that could become cumbersome, but at minimum the expectation should be: defined KPIs prior to campaign launch and sharing of in-flight reporting and optimizations. All parties involved should have a clear understanding on performance and can strategically work to improve the flight of the next campaign. This all leads to sustained, strategically led engagements based on shared success. What we all want – right?

After all, it is much easier for all of us to retain existing clients than constantly pursue new ones. I can also imagine on the buy-side it is easier and more desirable to have a handful of relationships that consistently perform and partners who are responsive and are willing to strategically plan solutions to meet your media goals. Breaks in the kind of cooperation and communication I am talking about – lead to constant recycling of the client base. The key word here is relationship — and that arrangement requires a mutual approach to the transaction and to the long-term potential.

Through and through, lack of transparency on KPIs makes healthy cooperative, strategic levels of engagement nearly impossible. Still, we keep withholding KPIs and expecting optimization to happen in an information vacuum.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result — right?

Answer me this, then — why do we continue to make ourselves insane? Why not:

  • When you take a call, talk about the client, at a high level, sharing where they fit in to your overall agency business. Why be elusive? Convey the fundamentals of the opportunity. This sets a cooperative tone.
  • Treat the initial sales call not just as an opportunity to gauge capabilities and audience appropriateness — but to review overall program objectives. This sets the stage for a more detailed discussion on KPIs and optimization, as groundwork for meaningful planning.
  • Share your approach to optimization. Visibility to your approach to budget, mix allocation, media and creative allows the publisher to respond in kind and lets you know early on, that they get it.
  • As you get closer to signing the IO — make sure you are clear where there is flexibility to optimize and where there is not. Take an open approach to how you might work together to optimize, exploring all options — but respect the seller’s real limits.

All of this frames a dialog of cooperation and mutual emphasis on performance for the long term. This is what we all want, so we must all do our part. These are not new or fresh grievances. We all feel some version of this pain. But, at each and every step, why not all commit to being part of the solution vs. the same old gripe. If you operate with such respect, rest assured that you will know quickly what kind of partner you have across the table.

  • Matthew Barrowclough

    Well said! We can all keep our value-ad secrets but this should remain within our action capabilities, not our KPIs. Obscuring goals by either party limits the potential return and costs vast resources. I speak to my team at every opportunity about uncovering our publishers goals and relaying our goals to the publishers. This level of transparency scares many but those that embrace it in my opinion outperform the former in the long run.