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Ten Ways Online Media Planning Differs From Print

  |  February 24, 2009   |  Comments

Planning an online campaign takes different skills and tools than traditional campaigns.

Probably more than any other media at the moment, print media -- particularly ordinary newspapers -- are suffering. Newspapers are bleeding, laying off staff by the droves. Even mighty Google has given up on its original Google Print concept. Seeing the writing on the wall, many traditional media people are scrambling to get themselves up to speed with online. Having met a good number of these folks and even trained a few myself, I can say the transition can be a rude awakening for someone used to traditional. It's not "just the same thing in a different medium." Here's a primer guide for those looking to make the switch.

Planning and Buying Lines Blur

With print, there are go-to resources with rate card information (e.g., SRDS). A traditional media planner can use this readily available information to plan a buy. Online, however, there isn't a single source with rate card information. About 90 percent of sites require you to contact them with a request for proposal (RFP) to even access their advertising opportunities and rates. In effect, the media planner begins the negotiation process with the RFP. This makes the planning process longer but the buying process shorter, and for efficiency's sake the online media planner and buyer might be one and the same person.

Research, Research, Research

Don't discard your traditional media planning resources because most print publications have companion sites. For online research, however, if you limit yourself to major data sources like Nielsen or comScore, you'll sorely limit your media plan's breadth. Utilize various planning tools, conduct searches, be open to pitches, read case studies and articles, and most important, pay attention to all the forms and placements of online ads you're personally being exposed to.

Cost Structures

Whereas in print CPM (define) refers to the number of readers or subscribers, online it refers to ad impressions served. What's a "serve," you ask? It's when one computer asks another to send a piece of information -- in this case, the ad -- to the Web page the user is opening. Like multiple ads on a newspaper page, a single Web page can serve multiple ads. With online media, you can also buy by a rate, such as CPC (define) and CPA (define).

Measure and Manage Ad Exposure

I interviewed Leslie Laredo, president of The Laredo Group, for ClickZ back in 2005. She points out that understanding the differences between print and online are crucial for the planner. Online media planners must be able to conceive of and communicate success metrics for each campaign objective and how these will be measured -- beyond clicks and conversions. Then they need to know how to control the reach through targeting and frequency capping.

Planning vs. Production

In the traditional world, creative often comes before planning, then the planner needs to build a plan to fit the creative. Easier said than done in the online world. Laredo adds, "Online requires more creative executions due to the amount of frequency. Planners should create a ranking system to account for all the criteria and variables considered in the buy (ad placement, ad size, creative executions, targeting)."

Consider the Whole Enchilada

Planning an online campaign is similar to planning an entire traditional campaign, that is search equals a traditional directory, banners/online display equal print, video equals TV, solo e-mail drops equal direct mail, and so on. Think holistically in these terms and you'll get a better idea as to which methods might work better for which goals.

Minimum Buy-Ins and Out Clauses

Both of these factor into online planning; the out clause can be a powerful tool for campaign optimization because it allows for poor-performing buys to be terminated and for those dollars to be shifted to high-performing or new buys, thereby maximizing the campaign's overall performance.


The nature and measurability of print makes campaign optimization rare, whereas in online it's expected and as a result, the planner needs to allow for it in the plan. This might be expecting a variance in ad impression performance and having secondary publishers preselected.

Let Creativity Flow

Online allows for far more creativity for the media planner. If you can conceive of it, a willing publisher is probably game to try it. Few buys have to be just black and white.

Empower Your Rep

When it comes to planning, a good online media rep can be more creative than you -- and certainly motivated to win your business. Think of your rep as your partner, and you'll get better ideas, proposals, and pricing.

Don't wait to get on the online media planning bandwagon. The Internet's not going away anytime soon!

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Hollis Thomases

A ClickZ expert columnist since 2005, Hollis Thomases (@hollisthomases) is president and founder of Maryland-based WebAdvantage.net, an online marketing company that provides results-centric, strategic Internet marketing services, including online media planning, SEO, PPC campaign management, social media marketing, and Internet consulting. Author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day and an award-winning entrepreneur, Hollis is the Maryland 2007 SBA Small Business Person of the Year. Hollis speaks extensively on online marketing, having presented for ClickZ, the American Marketing Association, SES, The Newsletter and Electronic Publishers Association, The Kelsey Group, and the Vocus Worldwide User Forum. WebAdvantage.net's client list has included Nokia USA, Nature Made Vitamins, Johns Hopkins University, ENDO Pharmaceuticals, K'NEX Construction Toys, and Visit Baltimore. The agency was recognized as a "Small Giant" by the Greater Baltimore Tech Council and was chosen as a "Best Place for Business Women to Work" by "Smart Woman Magazine."

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