Media Planners Are an Endangered Species, But Don't Save Them!

The role of a media planner needs to evolve with today's increasingly fragmented digital landscape. Here are the skills you need to stay in the game.

“Get me the best spots at lowest rates” used to be the words from a marketer to a media planner. How true are these words today? We all have an answer to this question. With increasing media and audience fragmentation, integrated media planning is the need of hour and as marketers spend more and more in diversified media, their integration takes even more importance. The role of media planning in the strategic marketing process had to transform again with changing market dynamics. The media planner today is wearing multiple hats of media planner, creative person, content planner, analytics hub, and more.

Media Planner as a Business Planner

Media planning process involves various stages and I will try to showcase a “then/now” scenario along these stages to highlight how the role has evolved.

Stage 1: Market Analysis

Media planning had always started with deep market analysis and understanding in order to form a media/marketing strategy.

Now: It has evolved over time. With increasingly new ways of media consumption, the addressable market size has increased. For instance, mobile as a medium has reached places where even TV hasn’t reached yet. This holds even truer for developing countries like India, Indonesia, etc. All this has forced marketers to think about their distribution strategy along with the marketing objectives. A media planner today is co-creating the brief for himself as against following what a brand has briefed him.
I remember one example when one of my clients, a leading mobile manufacturer, briefed me to promote its music download services by defining its target audience to be the top either cities and of certain age. When I saw music download trends, only two cities were featured in the top eight city list. The brief got changed.

Stage 2: Goal Setting

After a market analysis, there is market-product and goal-setting approach, which is most likely determined by market segmentation and sets of measurable marketing objectives. Traditionally, the objectives were soft parameters like total eye balls, brand health, brand equity, mind share etc.

Now: Digital media, because of its measurable nature, has helped brands to set hard targets for themselves. Visits to a website, increase in number of search queries, repeat visitors were among the new goals that were introduced. Digital media has pushed traditional media further to work harder in terms of being measurable. Today, we even see these parameters taking shape in cost per acquisition, cost per acquired fan, cost per referral, cost per virtual check-in, and more.

Stage 3: Budgeting

This planning stage focuses on the marketing program, which specifies the budget and activities of marketing mix components. It was very simple with only a handful of media choices: TV, press, radio.

Now: Deriving an optimum media mix and allocating budgets accordingly is something which is on top of the media planner’s wish list. Digital itself is a very fragmented media. Choosing from mobile, display, search, social – and how much of each – has been the biggest headache of media planners now. With integrated planning, digital extends itself to other traditional media making it even more challenging for the media planner to decide.

Stage 4: Implementation and Control

It concentrates on turning planning into action and then collecting results and comparing them with previous goals. This allows success or failure to be quantifiable, from which future directions or avoidances can be recommended.

Now: Marketers expect a media planner to be deeply involved in execution of the plan especially when it comes to digital media. As metrics have become more measurable, it has been slightly easier for brands to take “right” corrective steps. ROI comparison has become stringent as a result.

Media Planner as Creative Resource

Gone are the days when “creativity” in message delivery was an ad agency’s responsibility. The lines are blurring and are blurring very rapidly. Today, the “how” part of execution gets equal or even more importance than “what” of a creative message to the audience. I have seen how media agencies have been able to influence a creative design and messaging. Digital media is forcing creative and media people to join hands and work more closely with the brand as against it used to be. Many agencies today, have their own in house creative team which is a clear sign of how quickly the responsibilities are overlapping.

Media Planner as Content Planner

Consumers’ need of good content has always been there and will always be there. With increasing ways of consuming media, the need to provide appropriate content in relevant vehicles is an area where everyone is struggling right now. Media planners, today, are expected to play that role of content creator or content planner. Given the fact that media agencies are closer to content owners than anyone else in the entire ecosystem, they can play and are playing a very important role in sourcing the right content for the brands.

Media Planner as Analytics Hub

Today’s media planner is more of a repository of rich consumer and market data and insights. These insights are not only about demographics which used to be the case a while ago. Today it’s more about their lifestyle, how they behave across different media vehicles, which vehicle is the most efficient in reaching a particular type of target audience etc. With increasing availability of insights through digital media vehicles, it is getting important and unavoidable for media planners to play the role of analytics resource for the brand.


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