Ad intelligence firm SMI expands to Canada

Ad intelligence firm Standard Media Index has launched in Canada, with CEO James Fennessy (pictured) saying its goal is to become the standard currency for spending and pricing data.

First launched in Australia in 2009, SMI uses data pulled directly from media agency’s invoicing systems to offer what Fennessy describes as a “transformational” dataset for the Canadian market. SMI also has operations in the United Kingdom, United States and New Zealand.

Fennessy says that because SMI’s data is obtained directly from the billing systems of participating agencies, it provides a level of accuracy that is unavailable through standard rate card data—which can vary significantly from what advertisers actually pay.

Fennessy says that SMI’s estimates on data points on advertiser spend and media vendors’ revenue is typically within 2-3% of their internal figures. “Our value proposition is accuracy,” he says.

SMI has had access to Canadian agency data for “many years” through established global agreements with Omnicom, Publicis, Aegis and Havas, he says. However, the successful recruitment of both GroupM and IPG Mediabrands in recent months removed a major hurdle to opening in Canada.

“That really was what broke it open for us,” he says. “We already had [about] 65% of the marketplace, but we just didn’t feel it was a strong enough product to launch without getting IPG and GroupM onboard.”

The company formally launched Wednesday with endorsements from MAGNA managing director Brad Hugill; GroupM’s chief investment officer Sebastian Rennie; Omnicom Media Group’s chief investment officer Nancy Surphlis and Publicis Media Canada’s executive vice-president of investment, Valerie McMorran.

SMI says its agency partnerships in Canada represent about 94% of all national brand spending (approximately $7 billion), with Vision7 International—which operates the Cossette Media and Jungle Media networks—the sole holdout among major agency groups.

SMI continues to talk with Vision7 leadership, although Fennessy characterizes the current discussions as “stalled.”

A traditional “lack of transparency” around spending and pricing information in the Canadian media industry has left media agencies challenged by a lack of pricing benchmarks, cross-media spending trends and category insights, according to SMI.

At the same time, publishers are seeking ways to better understand competitive pricing, real market share and which advertising categories are spending and where to optimize allocation and attract new business, says Fennessy.

SMI will include spend data for 35 advertising categories, although it will not provide agency or advertiser specific data.

Instead, it aggregates all media spend from the billing systems of agency partners, to provide intelligence across all media types. Depending on the market, data can also be broken down by unit cost, media owner, ad type, buy type, advertiser product category, and other dimensions.

Among its most popular reports in the U.S. is a post-season breakdown of every NFL game for the season, including analysis such as the cost of a 30-second spot and the composition of revenue across the various advertising categories.

“That’s the type of thing that NBC, CBS, ESPN, etc. use as their bible to think about planning for next season,” says Fennessy. And yes, he added, that’s the type of data sets they can provide for hockey.

“Anyone that’s interested in hockey, whether it’s the NHL, opposing broadcasters or anyone who wants to pitch for hockey down the road as contracts come up, we’re going to give them a really granular view of the yield, the categories driving that share,” he says.

SMI is launching in Canada with data dating back to January 2017. Among its first major insights will be in-depth analysis of the market across major media channels and vendors in March and April versus the same period last year (a decline of 33.2%). Information will also drill down into specific categories such as retail, finance, travel etc.

SMI is currently seeking a country manager, with Fennessy saying he is using industry connections to determine a suitable candidate. The ideal candidate will be qualified in business development, and be well-regarded by people on both the agency and vendor sides of the business, he says.

The company will also build out both its client services and sales teams over the coming months, with Fennessy expecting its on-the-ground staff to number around six people by the end of the year.

Chris Powell