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Thoughts on the Planning Season

  |  November 4, 2003   |  Comments

This year, online's competitive edge may finally emerge.

We in the agency media business are accustomed to planning seasons. In traditional shops, slightly more defined planning seasons are driven by events such as the upfront. On the interactive side, there's a season as well. My shop is beginning ours across several clients. It has me thinking about new ideas, ways to do things better than the last time, and overall challenges we face. I'll share a few as I more or less think out loud.

A major issue we face is figuring out what part of the budget will fund us. This is often driven by what role the medium plays in the mix. It's not an easy question to answer, you're no doubt aware. More than most, we have an extremely flexible medium to work in. It can address multiple objectives, often simultaneously. It can contribute to building brands. It can efficiently deliver promotions. It can acquire leads, and it can drive sales.

Problem is, when you start talking that way, you sound sales-y. People stop trusting you -- particularly those in offline agencies when you try to integrate with them. That kind of talk is probably better saved for advocates on the client side who can help you filter your message through the rest of the organization in a more calculated fashion. Of course, we don't always have that luxury.

We need to figure out what we're going to try to accomplish this year. If the direction comes from the aforementioned advocate on the client side, it's likely we'll acquire leads for a database so they can deploy some sort of relationship management program. We make good money doing that, but it takes a lot of the fun out of planning because, ultimately, we're buying a bunch of costs per action (CPA). There's not a lot to that. A few items dictate pricing (how many segmentation questions this year? How many pages in the registration process?), and off you go.

If the brand team drives direction, you can plan on working pretty closely with the offline agency trying to deliver on some sort of brand-oriented goal. That can be a thrill a minute -- not. I shouldn't be so sour, but, honestly, navigating the waters with another shop that has no interest in what you do, how you do it, or giving up a sliver of its many millions of dollars so you can do any of it at all can be trying. Next year, I hope things will be different.

The relatively recent introduction of reach and frequency metrics to online advertising may help instigate a few changes. Much has been written about the embarrassment of riches a rating point would create for us online planners and buyers. It's probably safe to say you can't go a full business day without seeing some pundit's written opinion on the subject. Man, do I tire of that. (If I ever tire you out like that, please email me and tell me to move on, move out, or whatever).

Well, the riches have yet to really materialize. Anybody who expected them is guilty of the same blind optimism that hamstrung this industry from the get-go. But I digress. So why do I think reach and frequency and rating points will finally start helping us out?

When I was on the traditional side of the business and planning season came around, we always had planning rates issued to us. Demographic cost per points and CPMs for each medium were generated by the client's buying agency. We used that information to plan. We most often tried to achieve a reach goal.

I figured, Why not generate some online planning rates this year? We've been buying a lot of online media for a lot of years. We have cost history on a fairly wide range of sites that cover most categories we'll plan for this year. So why not pull that together, crank some old schedules through our trusty (and clunky) WebRF system, and voilà! Planning rates. Costs per point (CPPs) and CPMs by demographic.

Next step: guidelines. I can show another shop what a point costs, but they still have no idea how many to buy to be effective online. So, we'll tell them.

Thus far, I've had one media director see the output and utter in disbelief, "Why wouldn't we be buying the Internet all day long?" This was a 35-year-plus media veteran who's completely rooted in traditional media. I'm beginning to think his reaction will become more common.

Let's hope so.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Redetzke Mark Redetzke is vice president of online media for Zentropy Partners, a unit of MRM (McCann Relationship Marketing). He's led Zentropy's Minneapolis online media department since 1999, where he develops integrated online contact strategies and oversees all planning and buying. Current clients include Nestle Purina, General Mills, H&R Block, Microsoft, Overture and Sprint. Earlier, Mark planned traditional and online media for Campbell-Mithun. He's a frequent guest lecturer at conferences and graduate advertising and communications courses at St. Thomas University; the University of Minnesota; Minneapolis School of Communication Arts & Design and the 4A's.

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