How to Write a Media Objective, Part 1

It’s that time of year when objectives and strategies for the upcoming year need to be developed and presented. If you’re in media, this means trying to translate a marketing objective into a media objective — and if you’re in digital, into a digital media objective — from which a strategy and various tactics can be developed. No problem, right? Wrong.

The first lesson you learn in media is how a simple, straight-forward task can be overcomplicated. Have you labored over where behavioral targeting belongs within a plan: is it a strategy, tactic or part of a larger strategy? Why do you even need digital objectives? And, what’s up with engagement these days? Oh, I digress, but for a very good reason. Before you decide where behavioral targeting fits in the puzzle, make sure you understand the elements that will make up your plan, a.k.a., the objective, strategy, and tactics.

The initial culprit for poorly written marketing and media objectives is the poorly written business objective. If the organization’s business objective is written inadequately, then all other elements will most likely be off-kilter. It serves as the foundation for the rest of the plan and should be measurable, attainable, realistic, and trackable.

The second culprit is the overzealous marketing objective that uses a lot of modifiers (i.e., adjectives and adverbs), commas and unnecessary words to sound intelligent (e.g., “utilize” instead of “use”). Objectives should be direct, precise, and to the point. As a rule, commas, modifiers, and words that a 10 year old wouldn’t use or understand should be reconsidered. Don’t worry about not appearing intelligent; if you’re responsible for writing your group’s objectives and strategies, someone has already deemed you worthy.

Poorly written objectives create a domino affect where subsequent objectives try to make up for the initial statement’s incomprehensiveness and, thereby, sound just as absurd. For example, it’s impossible to write a media objective when the marketing objective is ambiguous. Have you ever read a marketing objective like the following: Drive consumer engagement within the target audience, increase exposure with new vertical segments, and utilize “high value” offers to drive up purchase intent.

When you encounter the wild, free-flowing marketing objective, the best way to counteract it is with a question. A simple question, like the following, allows you to get to core of the issue: “What is the one thing you would like to accomplish next year?”

The answer that may ensue is as follows: “Have our core buyer buy more. For example, if they each bought one more pair of sandals next year, we would have surpassed our business goals.” Ah, now we’re getting somewhere because the question you then ask yourself is, ‘how can I help them accomplish this?’ If you’re feeling ambitious, you may also follow up with, “Is there a second thing you would like to accomplish?” And the response may be, “Well, I’m glad you asked, I would like to identify a new market for sandals, as well.”

I haven’t been working in a bubble, therefore, I understand you may be met with a blank, cold stare for daring to challenge the original statement. However, clarification benefits everyone, including the person who wrote the original objective. Simplification is important, and, in the pursuit to sound professional, we often, needlessly overcomplicate what we need to say. If you’re in a position where marketing objectives impact your work, then it’s your responsibility to understand precisely what is expected of you.

Once you have clear marketing objectives, you’re ready to write your media objectives. If you’re in digital, you will most probably be expected to write digital media objectives as well (although a digital media objective is not always necessary). Digital media objectives provide a quantifiable way to support the marketing objectives. For example, if the marketing plan calls for trial of a new product, the digital media objective may state, “drive 25,000 downloads of $2 off coupon.” This is a quantifiable objective that clearly supports the larger goal and supports the strategies and tactics that will follow.

The question to ask is, when you meet in three months to review results, will you unequivocally know if you met the goal or not. If it’s not clear, then reevaluate your objective; if it is clear, then all the other elements will follow. For example, how many impressions do you need to buy to achieve 25,000 downloads? What are the best vehicles to deliver downloads?

Many times, people avoid quantifiable metrics because they want to avoid the possibility of not attaining them. Ultimately, this approach will backfire. It is much better to have a goal and a benchmark and a solid plan designed to achieve it, than to hope for the best. Leaving it open ended makes optimization a challenge and leaves you vulnerable when budgets are getting cut. It’s much better to miss a goal and reflect on the reasons than to not have a measurable one to begin with. In the same respect, be thoughtful of the numbers you commit to; if your budget is $5,000, 25,000 coupon downloads may be unrealistic.

Objectives shouldn’t be subjective. They should be clear, concise, and attainable. If all the parties currently involved left the account and a new group entered, there should be no confusion as to what the goals were and if the plan met them or not.

In part two, I’ll talk about not mixing your strategy with your objectives.

Anna is off today. This column was originally published June 17, 2009 on ClickZ.

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