What Is An Online Media Planner?

I just returned from a college reunion, where I was voted “most likely to confuse people when he explains what he’s been doing with his life.” The experience of having to walk around Washington & Lee’s campus this past weekend and explain my job to everyone made me think maybe not everyone is clear on what exactly an online media planner is supposed to do.

Maybe planners have different roles at different agencies, but I wanted to attempt to sum up the role the online media planner should have in an agency today.

Simply put, online media planners are the stewards of a client’s relationship with other media. In many cases, these will be advertising relationships, but they can also be marketing, PR or business relationships of another nature.

If one had to sum up an online media planner’s responsibility in one sentence it would be thus: Find the most efficient ways to reach or exceed the client’s business goals and implement them.

Along the way toward reaching those client goals, the online media planner must wear many hats other than his or her planning cap. Some are interesting. Others are downright boring, but necessary.

  • Technologist — There’s no better person in your agency to explain the difference between a Java banner and a Flash banner, which is more effective, and why. But it’s not limited to that. Some clients will ask a planner anything from, “What is an IP address?” to “Why does my Microsoft Word crash every time I use the thesaurus?”
  • Marketplace Barometer — For some reason, planners are expected to intuitively know where everything in the online arena is headed, how much competitors will be spending online and what the “next big thing” will be. There are very few reliable sources for figuring these things out, but many clients will expect a planner to be able to predict the future. That’s just the way it is.
  • Historian — Just as some clients will ask you to predict the future, they will want you to know everything about what has been done online in the past. Spending levels, ad formats, contracts, performance metrics, CPMs and media levels are just some of the things planners are asked about. These questions are easy to answer when they pertain to the client who is asking, but become significantly tougher when they are asked about a competitor or someone else who is advertising online.
  • Statistician — Reach, frequency, CPMs, unique users, page views, cost per click, cost per sale and cost per dogwalk are among the figures with which planners should be intimately familiar. And some clients will expect planners to know, given a sum of money, how many online users will walk their dog that morning as a direct result of spending that money on Yahoo.
  • Negotiator — Clients want results, and they want them cheap. Planners many times are expected to drive the cost of a media buy down to the point where not a single site on the plan has a prayer of making a profit on the sale. Planners that learn these negotiating skills are the types of people you want to take to Circuit City to get a couple hundred bucks knocked off the price of that big screen TV you’ve been eyeing.
  • Networker — Planners are often asked by clients and other agency personnel about relationship issues that are clearly not media-related “Who do you know at DoubleClick that can give me information on what they spent opening up their London office?” and “Can CBS Sportsline help me get some tickets to the Met game?” are pretty common questions.

Putting humor aside for a minute, these skills are really what is needed for a planner to succeed in today’s market. Planners have the rare privilege of being able to see something executed online from beginning to end, playing a role in every step of the process. To many of us, that privilege contributes greatly to our job satisfaction.

The role of the online planner has evolved significantly since we broke off as a mutant strain of the traditional agency media planner. Personally, I like where it’s headed.

Related reading