The Media Planning Journey

Posted on August 1st, 2014 by True Media

So get this…I get my first client, spend two and a half weeks completely zeroed in on putting together a flawless media plan, rehearse my pitch until I have it down pat, nail the presentation and have the plan approved on the spot.  I guess you could say I was in the zone.
Seconds later, when I was out of the zone, I realized my shirt was completely drenched in sweat and it was painstakingly obvious to everyone in the room.  I’m talking “Chris Farley’s motivational speaker skit” sweaty.
The point of this story, of course, is you should always wear an undershirt (see: Common Sense 101).  The other point is that, as much as we hate to admit it, there is no perfection in the world of media planning.  You can read any article, take every class, shadow whoever you like; you’re not escaping without some peaks and valleys.
The Consumer Decision Journey graphic
If media planning was a world of perfection and absolutes, the above graphic wouldn’t exist.  We would still be using the “sales funnel” model where people become leads, leads become prospects, prospects become customers, and that’s the end.  However, in this digital age where discussions on products and services are never ending, the post-purchase experience is what facilitates relationships and builds loyalty with customers.  In my 7 months of media planning, I’ve come to realize that the journey of creating a media plan is almost identical to the consumer decision journey.  Let’s take a look at it step by step, but applied to the role of an account planner:
1. Initial Consideration Set:
If MRI, Comscore, Media Audit and all of our other research tools could predict 100% without uncertainty what mediums we should use, which channels, and what dayparts we should run on, what would be the purpose of account planners?  We could just plug in the target audience and let the computer spit out a media plan.
Doing research and understanding statistics is a crucial part of our role, but understanding people will always be more important.  Before looking at the numbers, we need to look at the situation from a big picture perspective.  Who are we trying to reach?  What is the message?  What is the best way to convey this?  Understanding consumer behavior and our industry should allow us to begin to answer these questions before we even begin phase 2.  The initial consideration set is the part of the plan where we look at the human element of the campaign and brainstorm potential solutions before diving into the research.
2. Active Evaluation
Now that we have a general understanding of what needs to be done, it’s time to get specific.  In my time at True Media, the things I did that could be classified as “rookie mistakes” most likely took place in this phase of the planning.  The reason being, this is one profession where assumptions just don’t work.  Whether it’s a logistical detail such as “was this rate sent in net or gross?” or a key insight to the plan such as “are there any magazines that target this demographic?” it’s always better to take 5 extra minutes to find the answer, rather than find out from your client 5 weeks too late.
Media planning requires a unique dynamic of being extremely attentive to detail, while at the same time being flexible enough to adapt to a constantly changing environment.  If phase 1 and 2 were executed properly, the next step should be a breeze.
The Anatomy of the Ideal Account Planner graphic
3. Moment of Purchase
Now, it’s time to take everything you know about the client and the consumers, combined with everything those research statistics, media kits, and sales reps are telling you, and make some media decisions.  The main challenge people face in this stage (especially those who are newer to the working world) is being confident in their claims (but you’ve done the research to back them up!)  Second-guessing, overanalyzing, “thrashing” as business author Seth Godin calls it, all can be expected when trying to please clients.  However, as cliché as it sounds, this is the time to trust yourself, expect success and be open to criticism.
4. Post-purchase Experience
So the plan has been charted, presented, approved and passed onto the buyer.  So we’re all done right?  Actually, you are at the most important part of the process.  This is the part where you go above and beyond what the average client expects from their agency.  This is where you stay in constant contact to keep them in the loop, handle any issues that come up along the way (and there will be), or just remind them that you are looking out for them.  Clients have plenty of options when it comes to choosing an agency; they want to work with people who not only know their stuff, but whom they enjoy working with.  No two clients or situations are alike, and no client-planner relationship will be successful unless it’s treated as such.  Show that you are invested in the client’s goals and objectives and the situation will be mutually beneficial.
The “funnel” concept, whether applied to consumer decisions or media planning, imply that there is a beginning and an end to the process.  As media planners, we strive to reach consumers at every point in the decision journey in the same way we make sure things are running smoothly at every point of the planning process.