As part of the process of figuring out where I wanted to work, I spoke to a number of senior people (clients, media agencies and media owners) who were generous enough to spare me some time to answer two questions:

  • Does anybody still care about media planning?
  • How can we make everyone care about it?

I knew that the answer to the first question would be ‘yes’ – if it was a ‘no’ then I probably wouldn’t be writing this piece. You only have to read some recent IPA Effectiveness Awards or sit in an econometrics debrief if you need any reassurance about the contribution that robust media planning can make to a client’s business. However, their answers to the second question reinforced my belief that protecting the skill of media planning and ensuring that teams have time to do it has become more and more challenging in recent years.

Media agencies have evolved significantly over the last decade, with the pace of change increasing every year and the diversification of products and services showing no signs of slowing down. The shrinking amount of time spent managing and delivering those services for clients has meant that agency people also have less time to take a step back and think more holistically about how best to deploy media for their clients’ businesses.

In parallel, training time and budgets have been equally stretched, with programmes changing to accommodate a number of developments in the industry – data management, tech stacks, programmatic and optimisation to name just a few.

Pressure from all sides

Media agencies are experiencing pressure from all sides – with in-housing, direct deals and management consultancies moving into their territory – not to mention their direct competitors.

Conversely, we are starting to understand more about how advertising and media work, thanks to the likes of Byron Sharp and Binet & Field – resources which should make the job of media planning easier.

We also have an abundance of data and tools, meaning that the basics of great media planning (right person, right message, right time) should be easier than ever to execute against. Perhaps the explosion of platforms, touchpoints and technology has created the perception that media planning is too complicated to properly engage with if there’s no let up on day-to-day delivery.

My conversations, very reassuringly, reminded me that clients really want and expect robust media planning and place a great value on it. We just need to make sure that we deliver it! It feels like we need to rebalance and focus what media agencies are ultimately here to do for clients – which is almost always maximising ROI of their media investment. We need to think about how we create and reinforce a culture that expects great media planning as part and parcel of what is delivered for clients.

In order to ensure that great media planning sits at the heart of our offering, I believe there are a number of things that media agencies need to do:

1. Data

Agencies must ensure that data and proof are woven in to the planning process from brief to execution, to remove subjectivity where possible. There are many instances of ‘I think…’, ‘I believe…’, ‘I remember that…’ which means that teams default to what they perceive to be the right answer without checking whether it’s actually the case. To help our teams at Havas Group Media, we are creating planning dashboards to help surface data in one place.

2. Operations

We must focus on operationalising the planning process as much as possible, to enable teams to spend more time thinking about what the data is showing and change the plan as appropriate. To a large degree, the planning process in a media agency is a combination of different tools, documents and thought processes. This is massively inefficient and makes it hard to ensure a level of consistency across the agency. To combat this, we are creating an operating system on a single platform.

3. Consistency

Agencies should create better linkages between planning and buying, to minimise audience loss as they move through the planning process. As multiple people (including clients) and tools are involved in the media planning process, there is a danger that the briefed audience is different from the planned audience which is, in turn, different from the bought audience. Our solution is to create consistent taxonomies across the planning process alongside the use of single IDs.

4. Measurement

We need to put robust measurement frameworks in place in order to best understand the impact of media investment on brand and business outcomes whilst avoiding over-reporting on media outputs. Much has been made of this – just because you can measure it doesn’t mean you should. There is a danger that plans are optimised to KPIs whilst losing sight of the original objectives. At Havas we have created a solution on Google Cloud Platform which models campaign signals as well as non-campaign variables (such as weather and the economy) to allow us to identify which ones correlate with campaign success.

5. Perspective

Our measurement frameworks must work over the short, medium and long term so that we avoid the pitfalls of an over-reliance on short term optimisation of media outputs. Most people are out of market for most products most of the time. Media planners shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that a sale or action isn’t necessarily going to happen in the short term. Our Audience Planning solution helps us to identify who is in and out of market, to help us work out which horizon we should be measuring against.

All of these things are within reach, but media agencies must prioritise and invest in them if we are to ensure that we continue to drive growth for our clients’ businesses – the key to our survival as an industry.