Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements
(Amounts in Millions, Except Per Share Amounts)
Fees are recognized on a straight-line or monthly basis when service is provided essentially on a pro-rata basis and the terms of the contract support monthly basis accounting.
Certain fees (such as for major marketing events) are deferred until contract completion if the final act is so significant in relation to the service transaction taken as a whole or if any of the terms of the contract do not otherwise qualify for proportional performance or monthly basis recognition. Fees may also be deferred and recognized upon delivery of a project if the terms of the client contract identify individual discrete projects.
Depending on the terms of the client contract, revenue is derived from diverse arrangements involving fees for services performed, commissions, performance incentive provisions and combinations of the three. Commissions are generally earned on the date of the broadcast or publication. Contractual arrangements with clients may also include performance incentive provisions designed to link a portion of our revenue to our performance relative to either qualitative or quantitative goals, or both. Performance incentives are recognized as revenue for quantitative targets when the target has been achieved and for qualitative targets when confirmation of the incentive is received from the client.
The majority of our revenue is recorded as the net amount of our gross billings less pass-through expenses charged to a client. In most cases, the amount that is billed to clients significantly exceeds the amount of revenue that is earned and reflected in our Consolidated Financial Statements because of various pass-through expenses, such as production and media costs. We assess whether our agency or the third-party supplier is the primary obligor, and we evaluate the terms of our client agreements as part of this assessment. In addition, we give appropriate consideration to other key indicators such as latitude in establishing price, discretion in supplier selection and credit risk to the vendor. Because we operate broadly as an advertising agency, based on our primary lines of business and given the industry practice to generally record revenue on a net versus gross basis, we believe that there must be strong evidence in place to overcome the presumption of net revenue accounting. Accordingly, we generally record revenue net of pass-through charges as we believe the key indicators of the business suggest we generally act as an agent on behalf of our clients in our primary lines of business. In those businesses where the key indicators suggest we act as a principal (primarily sales promotion and event, sports and entertainment marketing), we record the gross amount billed to the client as revenue and the related incremental direct costs incurred as office and general expenses. In general, we also report revenue net of taxes assessed by governmental authorities that are directly imposed on our revenue-producing transactions.
As we provide services as part of our core operations, we generally incur incidental expenses, which, in practice, are commonly referred to as “out-of-pocket” expenses. These expenses often include expenses related to airfare, mileage, hotel stays, out-of-town meals and telecommunication charges. We record the reimbursements received for such incidental expenses as revenue with a corresponding offset to office and general expense.
We receive credits from our vendors and media outlets for transactions entered into on behalf of our clients that, based on the terms of our contracts and local law, are either remitted to our clients or retained by us. If amounts are to be passed through to clients, they are recorded as liabilities until settlement or, if retained by us, are recorded as revenue when earned.
Cash and Cash Equivalents
Cash equivalents are highly liquid investments, which include certificates of deposit, government securities, commercial paper and time deposits with original maturities of three months or less at the time of purchase and are stated at estimated fair value, which approximates cost. Cash is maintained at multiple high-credit-quality financial institutions.
Short-Term Marketable Securities
Short-term marketable securities include investment-grade time deposits, commercial paper and government securities with maturities greater than three months but less than twelve months. These securities are classified as available-for-sale and are carried at fair value with net unrealized gains and losses reported as a component of accumulated other comprehensive loss, which is a component of stockholders’ equity. The cost of securities is determined based upon the average cost of the securities sold.
Allowance for Doubtful Accounts
The allowance for doubtful accounts is estimated based on the aging of accounts receivable, reviews of client credit reports, industry trends and economic indicators, as well as reviews of recent payment history for specific customers. The estimate is based largely on a formula-driven calculation but is supplemented with economic indicators and knowledge of potential write-offs of specific client accounts.