Do agencies bear any responsibility for low in Americans’ net ratings of the pharma industry?

KEY IDEA: Ad agencies have had a trust problem since a 2016 study by the Association of National Advertisers revealed illegal agency rebates and other misuses of clients’ money. Do agencies have a duty to “push back” against bad marketing decisions at the expense of possibly losing clients?

Ad agencies face growing pressure from clients and publishers alike as Facebook, Google, and emerging platforms gobble up an increasing share of digital ad spend. And according to a new survey, trust in agencies has never been lower. In pharma, however, I have found that the use of agencies has actually increased.

Brands gave agencies an average score of 2.4 out of 5 for providing “neutral and objective” recommendations regarding ad strategy. As one anonymous marketing executive put it, “Media agencies are factories for account management and provide no innovative or added value thinking or strategy and implementation.”

I am often asked to review proposals from digital agencies and some pf them are so far off base that I am left wondering “what were these people thinking?”. Last month I reviewed a proposal for a biotech company in the Boston area from a digital agency that just opened an office in the area. I reviewed the proposal as if it were my money and by the time I was done I was left wondering if there was a shortage of talent within agencies.

The proposal was long at recommendations but short of both measuring those recommendations and understanding how the clients target audience was using the Internet to make decisions. The other issue was addressing the rampant fraud within the online ad industry. Global ad fraud is predicted to cost an unprecedented $23bn this year and could reach $30bn including indirect economic and social costs, according to the report ‘The Economic Cost of Bad Actors on the Internet, Ad Fraud 2019,” by cybersecurity company Cheq.

Either agencies are remarkably stupid and don’t know what is going on, or they know and are keeping their mouths shut. It’s hard to decide which is worse.  Not a single one of the scandals involving online media were brought to light by an agency. Not one. Let’s put this another way — not one of the scandals about online media were exposed by the people whose job it is to scrutinize online media.

A good agency is an industry and brand strategic partner. If your digital agency hasn’t talked to you about the trust issue and how it is effecting your digital marketing they are doing you a huge disservice. Unfortunately too many agencies need pharma clients and as thus will do whatever is necessary to get invoices paid. This is why so many agencies continue the practices of wining and dining clients.

Agencies have to bear some f the responsibility for the industry decline with people. It’s time to hold them accountable as well.