Media Planning: A Legend, Slapdashery, Bandied Buys and An Offer to Help

The loss of a legend

Erwin EphronIt was with great sadness that I learned of the recent passing of media research legend and mentor to many, Erwin Ephron. I never met Mr. Ephron, but hearing of his passing feels like I lost an admired colleague. I discovered his writings early in my career and later made his musings must-reading as I trained others in media analysis and optimization. Media planning, and the job it needs to do, was a sixth sense for him. And he explained it all so well. His pragmatism about making media plans as keen and sharp as possible, choosing the vehicles that improve outcomes, rather than those that are the most fun or to move expiring media inventory, was both an inspiration and a challenge.

While Mr. Ephron’s Recency Planning theory could raise as many hackles as rally admirers, one thing you could not dispute was the clarity of thought and integrity behind his philosophy. Which brings me to another sad and disconcerting observation: in today’s chaotic media world of hyper media fragmentation those types of buys seem to be more and more rare and not for lack of time, but sheer laziness. What’s easy, favored or already in the media-inventory bag trumps what really will work hardest for the client.

Slapdashery

Two recent occasions highlight this disturbing realization, which I suspect is far more widespread than I ever imagined even in my most sardonic moments. I was in Chicago attending an advanced media-buying seminar put on by a leading media measurement firm. The attendees all were from digital placement agencies and several were from some of the bigger agencies in NYC, sent there at considerable expense. After the trainer walked us through some fairly simple research steps to get to “the best buy” for a travel company, we were tasked with building out an online media plan using the audience profiling and digital media selection insights we had derived from the available research data.

Media planning is more than fulfillmentThe goal of the session was to increase the speed and quality of insights at every step of the online-media planning process, so it only took us a few minutes to complete the assignment, and then we shared.

To the instructor’s amazement only two of us used the data that indicated which sites would produce the best results for the cost. The remainder whipped out plans that included sites that never came up in the research. The instructor asked, “Why did you choose those?” and one response was, “Because I always use these sites,” and the other, which received most of the collective acknowledgement was, “Because I really like these sites.” Little or no consideration for the target (which actually was well outside the buyer’s demographic), the impact or the wasted impressions; they hit the reach and frequency goal and spent all the money budgeted for the campaign. Bingo!

In their plan book, an impression is an impression; if they could hit the goal with one or two favorite sites and stay within the budget, why bother with the more targeted ones? Since the two of us following the instructions had achieved a more targeted impression buy in the same amount of time for the same or less cost, the better question was, why bother at all? Seriously, how did “meh” inveigle its way into media buying when so much is at stake?

Will buy media for food

The second incident occurred locally, when sales reps from two different media were discussing the best approach to a particular media-buying agency. The key to success: bring them food. To wit, one account manager was chastised and then schooled on the positive outcome of arriving with food in hand. He followed suit and got a buy.

Media planning for foodFood appears to be the replacement currency for the now-too-expensive events and travel perks media reps used to slather upon buyers who made significant purchases AFTER those purchases were made, and presumably with great care.

Department store retailer John Wannamaker is widely attributed with the statement: “Half the money I spend is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” In this case, it’s the half or whole that is spent buying media that provide buyers with meals, rather than a high impact and engaging media investment for the client. I am sure these buyers will claim they can have their cake and buy strategically too, but I remain suspect.

For all the talk about whether media buyers are necessary at all, one would think they would be less consumed with their next meal and more with finding ways to establish value and optimize their client’s interaction with its best prospects across all media. You know there is a problem when media-buying focused bloggers and websites entreat their peers to maintain buying integrity and solid relationships with media sellers, as well as to continue to strive for a strong media mix.

We’d like to help

Now more than ever, as media sellers, we also have to be strategic media consultants and back up our media recommendations – whether in our media or a competitor’s – with considerable research. The market and media research we have at our disposal can be used to help determine everything from who your target audiences are and where to find them, to the media that will work the hardest for the available advertising dollars.

We bring in all the available data – demographic, geographic, psychographic and behavioral – to help you determine your core target, not one based on a broad sweep of an age or gender breakout. We also provide you with insights that help you discover niche markets, determine best-fit events for sponsorships and set you apart from the competition. We wince, but consider it a huge compliment when major retailers using media planning-and-buying agencies ask us to determine what their schedule is delivering in the market and if they are getting the most bang for their buck (it happens more often than one might expect).

Mostly, we focus on small- to medium-sized clients who can’t afford to hire a media planning-and-buying agency. We consider all media in our recommendations, because as Mr. Ephron noted, “Different media can do different things. That’s why we use them.” And since we aren’t actually buying the media, we can make our recommendations without consideration for what’s in it for us.

It’s a tall order, and one we take very seriously, because it’s your money and your business, and your success determines ours.

We are eager to provide you with the knowledge and tools you need to navigate the Seattle media market. If you have any questions, we encourage you to reach out; we’ve got answers! Contact us at seattlemediamaven@seattletimes.com

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