Let me start with an anecdote.

10 years ago, when I was working for a big network agency and leading some big accounts, my boss came to see me and asked me to put an important media platform on the plans. I wasn’t really sure why he was asking me to include this specific media platform on my campaigns’ media plans whereas, the target audiences on any of my campaigns, were not consuming this specific media platform.

This didn’t make any sense from a media planning perspective.

It was early December and annual deals between media owners and agencies were about to close. It means that agencies committed to spend annually a certain amount of budget with each media owners, in exchange for rebates, cash, impressions, clicks that will be given exclusively to the agencies, and we were not close to the amount my agency promised to this specific media platform. Now it made all sense but it started to trigger lots of questions.

Just for the story I had to put this specific media platform on the plans and convince the clients that it was a good idea. I played team work but this changed me.

This is when I realized that the Media Planning in agencies was not neutral anymore, actually it was influenced by extra revenues that agencies could make through deals with media owners and would keep for themselves in order to increase their overall revenues.

Today, nothing has changed, these deals still exist and actually they are even more present than 10 years ago.

As an agency we witness it regularly when new media owners present to us their platform and at the end of the meeting, they inform us how much additional money we could make thanks to the referrals we would receive. This is an extra push to convince agencies to put a platform on the plan. And the more an agency invest in a platform, the more the referrals become.

Are media owners to blame for offering this extra source of revenue? No, I do not think so. It is more those who say yes to it that are fueling this.

Now, let me ask this question: Is it not the role of agencies to recommend to their clients the best media platforms to put on a plan based on certain criteria, like target audience’s media consumption, media objectives and performance?

How can this be achieved if agencies are recommending the ‘best’ platforms based on the extra revenues they are going to make? Media planning neutrality is gone!

Agencies must recommend the best plan and stay unbiased but this is far from reality nowadays. Agencies have lost their media planning neutrality.

One of the reasons for these ‘deals’ to flourish nowadays is that agencies’ remunerations have reduced across the years and they are trying to keep with the same level of revenues thanks to the referrals, free impressions, free clicks given by media owners at the end of the year. However, agencies should not walk this path and should stick to what makes them media agencies: expert at planning the best channels to deliver against campaigns’ objectives.

Now that I have founded my own digital media agency, JOLT Digital in Singapore, I make it a point that our system welcomes all referrals, rebates, and free clicks and free impressions we can receive by media owners, so we can pass them to clients. With rebates, we pass a hundred percent to them.

We do this so we can maintain planning that is neutral, free from influences in media recommendations. With JOLT Digital, where we live by the vision of ‘Game-changing is in our DNA’, I aim to direct my team in implementing disruptive practices, which are not just meant to be innovative, but most especially, beneficial with the client’s best interest at heart.

It is essential that as media and marketing professionals that we retain our integrity. What must reign supreme at all times is the campaign results to be delivered. We are ex-clients and we can truly put ourselves into the clients’ shoes, putting faith in media partners, trusting we will all together deliver to the objectives with full commitment and passion.

The author is Sebastien Lepez, CEO and founder of JOLT Digital.