Hyundai/Kia Audit Task in Play

Hyundai Motor Co. is reviewing independent media auditing firms to oversee its combined $400 million Hyundai/Kia U.S. media buying business, handled by Aegis Group’s Carat, sources said.

The review is being conducted by the Korean auto maker’s new World Marketing Group, which oversees the performance of its media shop, Carat in Los Angeles. Based in Fountain Valley, Calif., the group was created in February and is run by former Hyundai marketing coordinator Kenny Han.

Contending are Hawk Media in San Francisco; Advantage Media in Lakewood, Colo.; Media Management in St. Louis; and MediaAnalysis Plus in Denver, sources said. A decision is expected in June.

“Carat has said it can produce certain benefits over our previous media buying agency, and we want to monitor that,” Hyundai representative Chris Hosford said.

Executives at Carat and the other shops were unavailable for comment.

When Carat won the business in January, it promised the client savings of at least 10 percent compared with what was charged by its predecessor, Bates, sources said.

The client plans to sign up the winner with a year contract and will most likely seek quarterly audits. The audits will ensure that Carat is making good on its pricing guarantee, and will examine audience delivery, as well as Carat’s billing processes and other expenses.

Clients regularly audit the buying of their media resources internally. Because WMG is still in the formative stages, Hyundai/Kia executives may feel they lack the internal resources to perform buying audits, sources said.

“U.S. media auditing companies have tried to expand their services and offer to examine a client’s marketing plans and check the strategies,” said Charles Courtier, CEO of WPP’s Mediaedge:cia. He predicted that independent auditing in the U.S. will increase because “media buying has become so complicated, it really can’t be checked independently by most clients.”

Holding an audit shop review for such a big piece of business is “an unusual practice, but I think we’ll see more of it,” said one executive.

In addition to having Hyundai’s national media account, Carat is currently in negotiations with Hyundai dealer associations for their media chores. That business is worth $180 million. Bates’ contract for the dealer work lasts through Sept. 30.