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Planning and Buying: How Long Should It Take?

  |  December 20, 2001   |  Comments

Does it really take too long to plan and buy online media? How can media planners get off the deadline treadmill?

The last couple of weeks were busy here in New York. The end of the year is typically hectic for agencies -- we're cleaning up fourth-quarter activity, putting the finishing touches on first-quarter plans, and tidying things up for the end of the calendar year. This month, we also had two major trade shows: @d:tech and Internet World.

I spoke on panels at both these events. During Q&A for these discussions, a complaint was consistently voiced about the online advertising process: Buys take too long to execute.

I've never been one to point to interactive media buying as something I thought was inefficient in terms of execution time. As a matter of fact, during the industry's formative years, I often complained that client deadlines were too tight. My first job in advertising was at an agency that took months to plan the coming fiscal year for a client. We took pride in the fact that we did our due diligence on market factors, the competition, objectives, strategies, and tactics.

It was quite a surprise when I began working on online media buys and discovered the contrast between timelines for putting together a traditional media campaign and client expectations for timelines in placing an interactive buy. One of my superiors noted these accelerated timeframes and likened the online media planning and buying process to a fast-food order.

Yet at these recent trade shows, I kept hearing people ask why it takes so long to put an online media campaign together when TV buys can be executed in a couple of days.

Typically, my clients ask for a one-week turnaround when requesting an online media plan. This deadline is tough to meet. We have to condense the process of gathering competitive intelligence, of formulating objectives and strategies, to give online media properties adequate notice to create a proposal. In addition to processing the proposals, we must decide on creative units and a method to track the effectiveness of the advertising so we can measure return on investment (ROI). Finally, we must put together a client presentation and get approval to proceed. A lot of work to fit into one week.

Some efficiencies could make the process quicker and smoother. Most derive from knowing what vendors can offer ahead of time. Here are a few:

  • Build a knowledge database of data from previous campaigns. Know what your vendors can offer in terms of ad products, creative formats, pricing models, and added value. Keep tabs on prior campaign performance. This helps make rapid decisions regarding which partners to utilize in which campaigns.

  • Be familiar with all forms of rich media. Know which formats can serve which types of campaign objectives, and keep tabs on acceptance.

  • Simplify the back end. Work with your ad management partner to devise tracking mechanisms for various types of rich media. Developing new methods of tracking and serving new rich media formats is time consuming. Best to get it done before you're under the gun with a client request.

  • Be proactive with vendor meetings. Even if a client isn't currently advertising online, identify potential partners for the day it does decide to go that route. Meet with those vendors to learn what they have to offer.

If online planners do work on an abbreviated timeframe, it's because clients have grown to expect it. If we're more proactive with respect to their needs, things wouldn't get as crazy when a client wants your agency to pull something together in short order.


Tom Hespos

Tom Hespos heads up the interactive media department at Mezzina Brown & Partners. He has been involved in online media buying since the commercial explosion of the Web and has worked at such firms as Young & Rubicam, K2 Design, NOVO Interactive/Blue Marble ACG, and his own independent consulting practice, Underscore Inc. For more information, please visit the Mezzina Brown Web site. He can be reached at thespos@mezzinabrown.com.

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