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How to Completely Screw Up Interactive Media Planning

In my years of working at marketing agencies (both advertising and PR), I have had the chance to do my fair share of interactive media planning.  And though I’m the first to admit I have a lot to learn when it comes to traditional media planning (an area I find very interesting, but have a knowledge and experience gap), the role of media planners is changing as media gets more fragmented and the way people consume information continues to change.  Knowledge of online media buying is no longer an optional skill for media planners today.  Unfortunately for me, I have had more than one opportunity to witness some pretty boneheaded media planning efforts when it comes to the internet over the past few months (many from top agencies).  As the role and importance of the Internet defines new divisions and concentrations within ad agencies and PR agencies – the traditional media planning agencies often seem left behind.  And, of course, agencies are not the only ones buying online advertising.  So as a resource to all, here’s my quick and easy guide on how to completely screw up media planning – which will hopefully help you to avoid these pitfalls in your future efforts, or use them to check and see how saavy your agency is:

  1. Ignore the small sites.  This is the easiest and most common method used to avoid doing any real work with interactive media planning.  Simply decide on a demographic (say, women 25-34), and buy ad units on the top four sites for this demographic based on easily accessible data, and you’re done.  Smaller sites often seem like too much effort to plan and require that you might actually have to contact someone to get pricing and units rather than just cutting and pasting from a plan used for a previous project or client.  Yet the benefits are a much larger share of voice on the site and possibly connecting with more of your target consumer.  Smaller sites can pay off big.
  2. Focus on the banner. Many online media plans just involve buying a bunch of banner ads in various sizes.  Simply get a good combination of the main ad sizes, throw in a couple of larger format ads (often called "monster" ad units) and that seems like enough.  Yet sponsorships or content syndication or other such extended advertising relationships often offer far more branded presence on a site and a stronger ad buy.  Focusing on banners exclusively often means you are ignoring the best advertising opportunities and leaving those for your competitors to take advantage of.
  3. Use the "value ad" as your online buy.  There is a temptation for many large brand advertisers who spend millions on television or print advertising to expect some free online impressions to be thrown into the deal.  Often, these impressions are thrown in, but they tend to be the leftover inventory on a site, and run of site placements that display your ads in random spots across a site.  As the saying goes, you certainly get what you pay for and in these cases, the free impressions are likely to be pretty useless.  Using this as the basis of an online media buy means you are missing out on using the online channel of a media outlet you have already determined is important enough to spend millions on for tv or print placements.  If the outlet is targeted enough for that, it makes sense to save some dollars and spend them on better online placements.  Anything less is a missed opportunity.
  4. Forget about blogs and social media. In the media world, there is nothing as risky sounding as advertising on blogs or social media sites.  You don’t always know what kind of content your ads may appear next to, there is a chance that you may get talked about negatively on a site you are advertising on, and you may spark a controversy with any missteps.  Yet most blogs and social media sites are run by extremely passionate individuals who care about what they are talking about, and they are vocal about it.  This is exactly the type of consumer you need to reach and incentivize to talk about your product or service.  Yes it is difficult and risky, but the payoff can be huge.
  5. Plan your media buy before you have creative. This is perhaps not unique to the online world, but does represent a point of contention that has been running for a long time in media planning circles.  Others may disagree, but I believe that planning any type of ad buy without knowing the key messages and creative platform is completely foolish.  Knowing the creative direction and how a product or service is positioned should have an impact on where advertising will be placed – unfortunately the two processes are often separated … most frequently because each happens within a different group.

technorati tags: mediaplanning advertising how-to howto marketing rohitbhargava

7 thoughts on “How to Completely Screw Up Interactive Media Planning”

  1. Thank you for pointing out most of the flaws I’ve seen in my career, although I’d add one more:

    6. Format doesn’t matter. For traditional media planners, it comes down to size. But size applies to more than pixels in the interactive environment. Give the creative team a chance by getting complete information on what can and can’t be done. Interactive is more flexible than you think.


  2. Rohit,

    You’re #1 is definitely something lots of folks miss: “Smaller sites often seem like too much effort to plan and require that you might actually have to contact someone to get pricing and units rather than just cutting and pasting from a plan used for a previous project or client.”

    I’d go a step further and say that in some cases, if these small sites really do hit the demographic you’re going for, its worth to approach websites that don’t even have monetization (besides maybe an AdSense or 2).

    Openly approach them and tell them that you’re not only eager to pay for a banner or some media placement, and helping them know how to price, deploy and provide metrics on ads for agencies.

  3. agree – applying offline metrics – reach and frequency to online – is wrong. applying traditional online (search/email/display) to emerging social media is also wrong. i would also add one more:

    7. ready, fire, aim
    digital is all about the ongoing optimisation.

  4. Just a thought here, but how about planning the media in conjunction with the creative team? If the team knows all their options before a commitment has been made, there’s no doubt that you’ll have more relevant creative as a result. And a creative team that’s more engaged in the process.

  5. Rohit, I’ve enjoyed reading your posts and congrats on the presentation recognition. I’m with Mark G. on this. Not sure you can expect to have creative product (maybe direction)before you start media evaluation or planning. My contention is that there should be a “contact engineer” that sits behind enemy lines in the creative group. I’ve seen it work on discreet projects and for specific clients, but the agencies I’ve worked with haven’t been able to sustain the model. It has to change and can’t be done well in silos.


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Rohit is the author of 9 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.


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