Dealing with murky waters

In our industry there’s been a great deal of talk on the topic of trust around a very different set of challenges; advertisers fed up with ‘murky supply chains’, brand safety concerns and the attempt to establish consistent measurement with which to evaluate the ever increasing spend in online advertising.

Although these concerns relate to the latest digital advertising technologies, the fundamental issues aren’t so different from those which led to ABC being established as the UK industry’s first Joint Industry Currency (JIC) at a time when TV was unheard of, let alone the internet. The purpose was to bring trust to ad trading.

Back then the JIC model was new to the industry. Buyers and sellers were brought together (at the behest of advertisers) to develop a transparent and trusted approach to media measurement. This meant collaboration was built into the very DNA of our organisation. The success of the model resulted in it being replicated for other media, most recently with the creation of JICMAIL just last year.

The idea that we need to collaborate as an industry to tackle transparency issues in digital advertising is, of course, not a new concept. More recently we’ve seen initiatives like A Matter of Trust, launched by the IPA and ISBA to bring the industry together and demand accountable data, and the Global Media Charter from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), which calls for all industry players to work with advertisers to form solutions.

It’s not just in media measurement that collaboration has and will play a vital role in our industry though. It’s played its part in areas as wide-ranging as self-regulation, supply chain logistics and selling inventory.

So if collaboration has proven an effective approach to problem solving, how do we use it to best effect? Here are some of the things we’ve learned from over 80 years of collaboration in the field of media measurement.

  1. Not easy, but worth the effort

Collaboration and achieving consensus can take time. It can easily seem slow although it doesn’t need to be. It takes perseverance and a clear focus on the common aim. But on the flip side once you’ve done the hard yards and reached a consensus the result will be much stronger for it.

Making effective use of a diverse pool of perspectives, thinking and ideas also provides a fabulous opportunity to build something greater than the sum of the parts. That takes a good deal of open-mindedness from all involved. It can feel uncomfortable along the way but it’s worth it for the results it delivers.

Our updated standards and new reporting tools were launched in February this year after nine months of intensive reviews with numerous interested parties and a clear focus on delivering what buyers and sellers wanted. We’re delighted that the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive but it wouldn’t have been possible without the generous contributions from buyers and sellers across the industry.

  1. Walk then run

The first step can be the hardest. While solutions are being developed, there will inevitably be those who say you’re not going far enough, amongst other concerns. But recognising this as part of the process shouldn’t stop the first step from being made. By keeping the big goals clearly in mind, you can be sure you’re heading in the right direction and those around you can too. So make that first step.

In our sphere of operation, agreeing a Standard is the first step. Importantly, those Standards must evolve over time. In the UK we have a strong tradition of supporting Standards with independent verification. Bringing those two things together enables trust to be established swiftly so conversations between buyers and sellers can move on to the key issue of trading.

Collaboration for us also includes working with other Standard setting bodies, where we can offer our skills as the industry-owned independent verification provider.

For example we conducted the first ever brand safety audits in 2005 and continue to work in this growing area by verifying against JICWEBS Standards for brand safety, in addition to ad fraud and viewability. We also recently announced our new verification service for TAG – a US Standards setter – to make our industry offering more comprehensive in the fight against fraud.

We also underpin BARB’s TV Player measurement through our regular auditing; and just last year we began working with JICMAIL. This collaborative work helps each organisation to underpin their standards with robust, independent verification.

  1. Know the ground rules

Be clear about the aims of the exercise and the roles and responsibilities within the group. Importantly, how are decisions reached? Consensus can’t always be perfect and so a clear decision making process may be necessary to keep things moving, having listened to all sides.

I’ve already mentioned ABC’s JIC structure but can’t emphasise enough how it runs through all we do. From the Board to the sector specific Groups who develop our Standards we’re indebted to the many people who share their expertise with us. We have to shape that feedback into practical and effective solutions and services, taking into account the views of all parties. Although we do experience the well-known maxim ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’, our constitution ensures that we have the industry’s interests at heart as evidenced by the numerous individuals who share their time and knowledge with us.

Heading into clearer waters

Collaboration is at the heart of how ABC operates. Whether in facilitating development of the latest Standards for census-based media brand measurement or providing services as the industry-owned verification provider, it’s an ever-present factor.

And it’s an approach that seems to be in people’s minds currently.  Just last week I attended the ACE Empower presentations, where the groups each tackled a different question about a complex issue facing the industry. A common theme from all the presentations was collaboration. Different areas, different challenges, but a common tool for finding solutions.

Our industry has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to collaborate effectively in a range of different areas. It’s one of the most powerful tools we have and as we navigate the changes of our dynamic and ever evolving industry, it remains as relevant now as it has ever been.    

Back on the shores of Lake Windermere, collaboration with my kayaker was essential if I was to reach the goal. The fact is I couldn’t do it without him. My trust in him grew quickly when he showed me his qualifications as a kayaker and first aider. Collaboration and building trust through independent verification to industry standards – now where have I come across that before?