A Case for Human Value in the Media Planning Process

In the business of buying and selling digital media, no doubt the year to come will bring more stories, news pieces, predictions, and announcements about the migration to programmatic buying. All the hoopla reminds me a little bit about the early coming of the web, when predictions raged that web advertising would replace all the media before it: print, radio, TV, outdoor, direct mail, and on (yes, I’ve been in this business that long). And while there has certainly been a shift toward digital that has hurt some of those other media, so far, they manage to hold on to their place in a media plan…which brings me back to programmatic buying.

I’ve had a few conversations lately with industry folks who work outside of ad exchanges, and their thoughts have led me to write this piece. First, let me summarize these opinions:

  • Programmatic buying is not an option for certain large advertisers, particularly those in regulated industries.
  • Programmatic buying works best for mass market and direct response advertisers, but less so for smaller and niche market advertisers.
  • Some advertiser decision-makers cannot get past not knowing where precisely their ads will appear – they still need to see “The Plan.”
  • Automated audience targeting doesn’t necessarily trump contextual relevancy or branded experience.
  • Audience targeting is only as good as the presumed user profile created…and profiling has been proven to be horribly wrong.
  • Mistargeted ads can do more damage to brand safety, integrity, and image than well-targeted ones do good.
  • Programmatic buying removes the opportunity for custom ad offerings or ad package creation that advertisers find extremely effective at times.
  • Too much of the hype comes from those with a vested interest: the ad technology companies facilitating programmatic buying are primarily fueled by VC money, which also supports these companies’ marketing and PR budgets.
  • Despite all the technological algorithms, can programmatic buying really outperform a seasoned professional digital media planner? (Maybe someone will host a “showdown” to prove the point once and for all.)
  • Is the appeal of programmatic buying that it’s more advertiser-performance-effective or more agency-cost-effective? And wherever the answer is not “Both” there is a problem.
  • Buy-side aside, if ad exchanges don’t also increase (and not erode or just maintain) profits for publishers, the inventory in exchanges will never be as good as what you can get direct.
  • There should be a way to improve upon the premium side to make it more standardized, automated, and efficient without so deeply compromising publisher profits.

Actually, there are a few companies trying to tackle this last observation: Centro, Mediaocean, and NextMark among them. I recently spoke with NextMark’s founder and president Joe Pych about his thoughts on the human value of digital media planning.

The Swinging Pendulum


“This year, I see the pendulum swinging back away from exchanges because a lot of publishers are saying exchanges aren’t working for them,” says Pych. “In a very short period of time, exchanges have gone from 0 to 20 percent of processing ad spending, but that means that 80 percent is still being handled at the direct level. Why? Because humans – both on the buy and sell side of the business – add a lot of value. On the sales side, humans help explain different advertising options to the planner; on the buy side, humans help explain advertising choices to their clients. Humans really need to be elevated, not diminished, in this process.”

“The problem lies in the complexity of the business (just look at the Luma charts to prove this),” continues Pych. “Whenever it gets simplified, as with exchanges, it gets more attractive to conduct business through.”

Pych rattles off a list of problems when trying to buy direct:

  • It’s a complex, 42-step process.
  • It’s still extremely reliant on Excel (not a very modern or electronic tool).
  • There’s a lack of standardization across publishers to facilitate this workflow process.
  • To date, there hasn’t been very good infrastructure to support the standardization of this process.

Ad exchanges don’t really address the workflow process either. “When we developed our Planner product, we did so after first talking to many planners and buyers to identify where they were experiencing the most pain,” explains Pych. He didn’t find pain in ad cost or improper targeting or real-time anything; he found pain in the process of buying – particularly at the independent agency level – so that’s what he set out to fix…for free.

“Our tag line is ‘Media planning made easy,'” says Pych. “When we debuted our platform at the iMedia conference, 50 agencies came up to us afterwards and expressed an interest in trying it. To me, that speaks volumes about the potential of this product.”

Fellow planners, where does your opinion fall? I’d be curious to get your feedback, particularly if you’ve already been doing programmatic buying.

Human Value image on home page via Shutterstock.

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