What to Watch for in an Insertion Order

Back in the good old days of traditional advertising, agency dealings with vendors were largely governed by years of tradition, verbal agreements, and an exchange of a little paper. More often than not, that paper took the form of an insertion order.

The insertion order, for the print medium, would detail standard things pertinent to everything related to the ad buy. Often it would include billing procedures as well: reconciliation cycle, proof of performance, the address to which the invoice should go. And sometimes it would include traffic instructions: Where is the creative coming from? What is the ad size? What is the positioning in the magazine?

The insertion orders for broadcast were similar. Usually, there was an agreement that you were going to book a schedule, and a form went out requiring a signature that said the agency or advertiser or buyer agreed to buy the inventory. Traffic instructions would be sent separately.

In almost every case, the agency issued the insertion order.

When I was first buying online advertising, most sites did not yet have standardized terms and conditions or billing procedures. So the agency would send something to the site, or the site would make up a form that would serve as an agreement between the publisher and the advertiser.

Over time, as monetized web sites grew much faster than agencies handling the online medium, sites started developing their own insertion orders. Since most agencies and advertisers handling online didn’t come from a traditional advertising heritage, they really didn’t know what else to do other than to accept the insertion orders sent to them by the sites.

Now, as the sites have grown up, and systems have grown up around them, they are structured such that the only way to do business with them is to agree to their insertion orders and the terms and conditions therein.

Well, let me tell you folks, you better read these over carefully. They aren’t always terribly fair for you, the agency, OR your clients.

At each of the agencies I’ve worked at, we’ve always had our own insertion orders and have gotten most sites to accept them. But these insertion orders I’ve used were usually mutually agreed upon between the vendor and the agency after some negotiation.

So let me tell you what to look out for in an insertion order sent to you by a site, what you want to see there and what you don’t. This will also help you determine what you want to include in your own.

  • Beware of a clause giving the site the right to cancel your advertising at any time. This is something some sites will write in so that if another advertiser (usually a competitor) offers up more money for the same inventory, they can give it to them.
  • Look for a makegood policy. On the advertiser’s behalf, you should require makegoods for each day the site is unable to comply with the terms you have both agreed to. The client should have the option of makegoods in the form of additional days, increased impressions, and credit for future campaigns, or cash back for undelivered impressions.
  • Make sure you stipulate that it is the publisher’s responsibility to verify that all rates are correct before placing any advertising – especially in regard to the difference between net and gross. Many sites don’t deal in gross, but most agencies with traditional advertising backgrounds do.
  • Look to see if the site will ensure an equal distribution of impressions for each day of the campaign. Some sites guarantee delivery only for the campaign overall, rather than during the life of the schedule. That means if you buy 100K impressions on a site and they serve them all on day 30 of a month-long contract, they are in the clear.
  • See about getting the client right of first refusal to continue to purchase this inventory upon completion of the buy. Most sites won’t let you do this, but give it a shot.

There are, of course, more things you should look out for, but these are the basics and should pretty much CYA on most buys.

And hopefully you won’t have to be calling your lawyer.

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