Building a Culture of Transparency and Trust

At the recent DHC East Coast Summit, RJ Lewis of eHealthcare Solutions, took a group of expert panelists through a discussion on the future of transparency and trust in advertising. We are happy to provide that exchange here. And stay tuned for continued analysis about this topic through DHC interviews and events.

PARTICIPANTS: RJ Lewis — eHealthcare Solutions, Dan Haller — Heartbeat Ideas, Nancy Phelan — Outcome Health, Bill Duggan — ANA


Analysis and Application of the Media Buying Transparency Panel, featured at the November 2017 DHC Summit
written by DHC Staff

The purpose of this panel discussion was to lay a foundation on the topic of transparency within the agency/client relationship and what it should look like in a go-forward model.  To do so, the assembled panel included a representative from the ANA (Association of National Advertisers), an agency executive, and a former pharma marketer now at a health care media company, with moderation by eHealthcare Solution’s RJ Lewis. The entire panel is available both by video and as a transcription (below), and we are also providing key takeaways that can be quickly applied to help you ensure you are properly addressing the question of transparency in your own work.

Our Panelists:

Before we provide the takeaways, we want to make sure we are using a shared definition of “transparency”… Bill Duggan explained the ANA’s working definition as “the full disclosure of relevant information required for informed and intelligent decision-making.  It is distinguished by the lack of hidden agendas and conditions. A not transparent business practice is one in which relevant information is not disclosed or is intentionally obscured from one party to a transaction”. Needless to say, we can all agree that we want to be doing business as, and with, transparent partners.  (If you want to better understand the larger framework of how this topic has come to the forefront, at the bottom of this summary, we are providing links to several reports from the ANA.  In 2015, the former CEO of Mediacom, Jon Mandel, shook the advertising industry with the statement that “Rebates are happening, kickbacks are happening, and this activity is pervasive in the industry.”  This sent the ANA on lengthy and in-depth investigation, resulting in the conclusion that there’s a fundamental disconnect in the advertising industry about the basic nature of the advertising agency relationship and that non-disclosed rebates are not returned to advertisers.)

This panel’s discussion focused only on the pharma digital marketing world, to better understand and apply the general findings and concerns of the ANA related to transparency onto our industry.  Early in the panel, RJ Lewis summarized the position of the ANA and our panelists – This issue does NOT affect every agency – it’s not an indictment of the entire industry.  Which is why the panelists focused their remarks on offering guidance on how you can be informed, ask the right questions, and set the right guidelines to ensure a mutually beneficial and transparent relationship with your partners. This was focused around 4 areas:

  • CONTRACTS: Nancy Phelan explained that with Outcome Health as a media company (and in her experience as a former pharma marketer) “We work with our agency partners, and the contract piece is important.  From a privacy perspective, we have language and we have protections where we can share more information and other cases we don’t. We are redefining the way that we contract.  [Our attorney} describes it very differently than I’ve ever heard before “A contract is the way to have the voice of the customer captured.” Contracts need to capture what your commitments are to us and vice versa.” Bill Duggan strenuously agrees – he reminded audiences of the adage “where there’s mystery, there’s margin.”.  Dan Haller echoed that position, explaining “The more infrastructures you can put in place to track money and be transparency with clients the smaller room there will be for those types of things.  There becomes very little room for any sort of built in margin or money that is not being spent on actual media.” This applies to both the issue of complex and poorly designed contracts, and on the second key area raised by panelists…
  • AUDITING: Dan Haller of Heartbeat explains that for his agency, transparency is paramount to how they work with their clients, both with regards to contracts and reporting. “Any client at any time can pull a report or be sent a report that traces every single dollar [paid to the agency] to be paid on pass through, where that dollar goes in terms of what month of service it was spent, which vendor it was paid out to.” He summarized well what was a repeating theme of the discussion “We’re successful when our clients are successful, and it becomes very apparent if the media is not doing its job. If you’re not driving your clients’ business, you’re not going to be their agency for very long.  In the world of media, that is where the rubber meets the road.  We have a certain number of dollars to spend.  Every single one of them needs to be spent in the most impactful way possible or else the media plan doesn’t succeed.” Dan pointed out further that in this way agencies should feel incentivized to be transparent and spend money as appropriately as possible. Nancy agreed on the value of auditing and pulled from her pharma marketing days “The more data you have, as long as it’s organized and stored in an appropriate scheme so you can go get it, it is a good thing.” And Bill summed it up with a short and sweet takeaway: “you need to be able to follow the money!”.
  • PROGRAMMATIC: Bill’s focus on following the money brought forward the third key takeaway area – reducing the number of non-disclosed buys, especially in programmatic. RJ Lewis worked with the panel to focus in on why this was an area of concern for the panel – asking them to share with the audience why it would be a concern or risk for conflict of interest if programmatic buys were not clear. The panel first set the stage by reiterating the value of programmatic through great efficiencies, better targeting, and better optimization.  But buyers need to beware.  At this point, the audience at the DHC Summit pushed back on the panel, citing examples of extensive transparency within programmatic for digital health marketing.  The group agreed that in the case of pharma, the demand for clear ways to keep ads brand safe meant that our industry benefits what may be a higher baseline level of transparency.  One audience member pointed out “when we get reports, every number is there. Nothing is hidden.”  Dan Haller agreed, explaining “programmatic partners will give reports on where the ads are showing up. Some will not, and we don’t really like working with the folks that are not going to be transparent about where the ads show up.” He further pointed out that “every brand should demand brand safety, especially pharma brands. There are long standing ways to keep the ads brand safe.  Technology is being built into the ad server now so that ads can be prevented from even being served in the first place, let alone blocked once they actually get served.”
  • INTERNAL STRUCTURE: Nancy and Dan pulled from their collective years’ experience in digital health to agree that to execute effectively against the first three takeaways, someone must be in place within the pharma company that is a strong advocate internally.  This person can then ensure contracts are clear, auditing and data reports are properly designed, read, and applied, and that brand safety is being protected – every time. Nancy explains “it’s problematic when a pharma company decides they are going to rotate someone through and stick them in digital because they need to get the experience. You need to have someone well qualified, with tenure and seasoning so that you can get that expert who can work with maximum effectiveness.”

The DHC thanks RJ, Nancy, Dan, and Bill for lending their time and expertise to this discussion, and look forward to providing DHC members with additional resources on the topic of transparency at both live DHC Summits and through virtual content.   If you’d like to follow up with us on this topic, please reach out to Executive Director, Christine Franklin.


DHC Summit Transparency Panel Official Transcription

ANA Reports: 

June 2016 ANA Independent Report

Complete ANA Study from October 2015 – May 2016

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