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What Makes a Good Online Media Planner

What Makes a Good Online Media Planner Scott Symonds

Recently, iMedia approached me and asked, “What makes a good Online Media Planner?” It’s a great question and something that lately, I’ve been thinking about quite a lot. As online ad budgets have grown, so has my workload as well as my media team and my need to hire good new people (hint: prospective media planners, this one’s for you).

First, I of course look for all the basic qualities that comprise any good employee list: relevant experience, friendliness, an eagerness and ability to contribute to the company, attention to detail, aspirations for self-improvement and career advancement, passion, thought leadership and ability to hold one’s liquor. Obviously this is a short list, and not exhaustive by any means. But you get the picture.

Next I watch for a few traits that are a little more specific to the online advertising world. Since online advertising is still a relatively new medium with strategies and processes quickly evolving, I find flexibility and tenacity of mind essential. Because every agency employee I know works on multiple campaigns with multiple clients simultaneously, the modern HR chestnut "must be able to multi-task" gets a necessary mention. And with new technologies, tactics and channels constantly popping-up, online work demands a certain innate curiosity for the new that is nearly as important as the insight to sort out the worthwhile from the worthless. 

So what makes a good Online Media Planner?

I don’t actually like the term ‘Media Planner’ because it is a holdover from traditional media where a planner is just that, a planner. In the online world a planner usually has to plan, buy and steward a campaign. So I prefer Media Manager or just Media to describe the discipline.

Then what makes a good Online Media Manager, Mr. Picky?

A good place to start is to establish Media’s place within the basic advertising agency department continuum: 


This is where Creative falls on the qualitative, aesthetic extreme of the agency personnel’s spectrum and Media is closer to the other end of that spectrum, near the quantified arena of Analysis. In this scenario, Media bridges the gap between Account (strategic leadership, client confidence and cross-departmental diplomacy) and Analysis (pivot tables, segmentations and mean regressions).

At its basic level Media needs to take the client’s needs as formulated in Account’s overall strategy brief and translate it into an effective media strategy and campaign plan. That strategy and plan then need to be negotiated and implemented in the most effective and efficient way possible to generate the results that feed Analysis and future media plan iterations. To do this well, the Online Media Manager’s job description, I believe, needs to be further broken down into three more detailed sub-disciplines.

Three parts to a good Online Media Manager

The Planner -- The Planner is the uncompromising idealist. A good Planner combs over the media brief, attacks the syndicated research and develops an overarching strategy. This person defines target audiences against client goals and consults the agency’s history of placements. The media planner then builds a detailed RFP seeking the best sites, the most precise page placements and appropriate ad size mix, creating a great plan. The Planner’s final deliverable is a deck of detailed media concepts and strategies that is ready for client approval.

Good Planners are detail-oriented, interested in trends and affinities, comfortable with numbers, fluent in targeting and reach strategy and should have some sort of passion relevant to an aspect of the media they work with. Lastly, they must possess the communications skills to present a compelling case for their strategy and plan to both the agency Account team and, of course, the client.

The Buyer -- The Buyer takes over where the Planner leaves off, but the Buyer has to deal with a more practical world. A good Buyer has to translate the Planner’s idealism into the best possible realization of what will actually work. The Buyer sends and follows up on the RFPs and creates a targeted competitive marketplace among the appropriate sites to secure the best rates, placements and creative units available for the client. Buyers look to leverage every available advantage at their disposal. The Buyer’s final product is a fully negotiated, ready-for-market plan or campaign.

Good Buyers are sociable, able to maintain productive contacts across many different groups. They have the ability to deal with multiple negotiations at once. They need to be responsible with the client money. They need to be mature enough not to let the marketplace power demand on their clients’ money go to their heads. Agencies take note: buyers are one of the more prevalent agency brand ambassadors to the industry at large. They are the agency face, if you will, representing the organization at industry cocktail hours, luncheons and conferences; thus, they should handle that responsibility appropriately. (Here’s where the ability to hold one’s liquor comes in handy.)

The Steward/Manager -- The Steward/Manager is the brutally unbiased judicial branch of the Media triad. The Steward monitors the campaign for improvement vs. the client’s desired goal. The Steward has the task of working with Analysis to identify implications from all relevant stable data points and make the appropriate adjustments to improve the campaign. These adjustments may include increasing spend on sites that are performing well, canceling placements that aren’t working or renegotiating rates or rotations to sites on the bubble. The Steward can’t play favorites based on the effort required for change, the friendliness of a rep, or the cool factor of a site. The Steward’s final product is the most effectively managed plan possible over the course of the campaign.

Good Stewards are analytical. They need to know how to read and interpret data and identify whether something is a meaningful difference. They need to be familiar with proprietary and industry averages so they measure current campaigns against others. They need to be relentless in their desire to maximize the output of the campaign to generate the best results.

Isn’t that a lot to ask for?

Yes. But it’s not any more than smart clients and better agencies demand. And not anything more than a career-driven Media person should aspire to. And, actually, that is merely what it takes to be good. It takes something more to be great.

And last, but not least …passion.

In the end, if I had to pick the single most desirable characteristic in a potential new Media hire, it would simply be passion. It’s the characteristic most likely to distinguish good from great. Not "two years related experience" or an MBA. Passion is that certain something that makes the difference. The killer app. Passion for breaking rules in order to get great results, passion for teamwork within the agency and partnering with the client, passion for understanding the target audience beyond the research numbers. It’s when passion is combined with experience and a challenging and engaging work environment that you get a great Media person.

So, do you have the passion?

Additional resources:

Check out the iMedia Job Connection

As Media Director for Agency.com’s San Francisco office, Scott Symonds leads a team of online media managers in planning, negotiating and stewarding interactive campaigns across more than a dozen clients. Since joining Agency.com in 1999 (previously as Exile on Seventh), he has developed media plans and strategies for leading brands including eBay, Visa, Wells Fargo and more.

With over ten years of experience in media planning and buying, Symonds was previously Spot Buying Director for Zenith/Optimedia’s Northern California office. There, he negotiated and managed spot television, radio and cable buys for Saatchi, Bates and Zenith clients including Toyota, Lexus and Best Foods.

Return to Introduction

It still needs to be said. Do not sell into an account what you cannot or have no way to deliver. If you are a technology company, then be the best damn tech company out there. Never let your servers go down, invent the paradigm shift for goodness sake, but do not change who you are to win the business.

Remember you hired your sales guy or gal because she was good. Make sure she is selling what you can deliver. It's not good to toast that great new account just to find out that you (the tech co) now need to make a microsite with brand research ready to go. (Oh, and don't forget that contest.)

The best way to avoid this fate is to first and foremost know what you are selling and why? Yes, why. I find most sales that lead to unhappy accounts come from sales teams that only know what they are selling and have no understanding of why. Without the latter, our best and most aggressive teams will eventually sell beyond the company's capabilities in an effort to either please the client or win the business.

I mean, when in the throes of a pitch, what's a microsite -- we do technology -- how hard can a "small" site be? If that same person knew that you are a tech company because you have years of experience -- not just building advertising technology -- but also that your engineers and your vision is to lead reliability with your pending patent on load balancing, you might then start to think "Hey, a microsite isn't a good idea and might divert us and our resources away from what we do."

Your sales team isn't just there to sell what you gave them. They are your front line. They can provide very valuable feedback back into the business.

Next: Know your limits

Return to Faking it: No posers allowed

Yes, I mean alcohol. How often are we at conferences, dinners, after work drinks, et cetera with clients? A lot. But as buddy buddy as you think you are with your long term clients, trust me, they are not your college buddy, your best friend, or your parent for that matter. You are still representing your employer and your relationship is still based in the professional world. If you can stay up until all hours and still make the meeting in the morning with all your faculties, then rock on.

However, you are no friend to your account if you show up dragging, nursing a cup of coffee, and talking about how you really hope the Pedialyte works soon when your client is hoping for great ideas and frankly, what they pay for: service.

Applying a sense of reason to socializing with clients is prudent. It's always a benefit to get your client out of the daily service grind. Just make sure you don't push you or your client beyond his limits. Trust me, it's just as bad for business if he pukes on your shoes as it is if you puke on his.

Embarrassment does not endear professional relationships. I have also seen accounts shifted and people fired for unruly behavior. It's true, not all of your clients want to go to the strip bar.

Next: Honesty is always the best policy

Return to Know your limits

You will mess up. Do not, I repeat, do not hope they don't find out. This is a Darwinian sign if you think that's a good strategy. Time and time again, people think they can cover up their mistakes and that no one will know. Did that work in the past?

I think the Brady Bunch made that clear with the broken vase show. When in doubt, think about Peter Brady waiting for the water to pour out of the cracks in the vase until it broke.

That's what will happen to your account: it will start leaking through the cracks until it's gone.

I can honestly say that business relationships can be made much stronger by admitting your errors. No one hired you because you were perfect. However, they did hire you to be a partner.

Now let me temper this with what a mistake really means. Do not call your client with problems or issues. These are not mistakes. These are yours to resolve. A mistake for a client is a deliverable that could no longer be met, either by error of judgment or resource. Step up and let them know. You will not be in any more trouble than you would have been and you may have the opportunity to strengthen your relationship by adding trust to the value proposition. And as we all know, trust is earned in business, so start now.

Next: Embrace change

Return to Honesty is always the best policy

You will be faced with lots of it. Your main client may leave. Your key account person may leave. Through the life of any account, change will abound. You need to see change as a part of business, not a threat to it. If you recognize change as part of your day, then you don't need to have a panic attack when employees resign.

Blood pressure medicine or a keen knowledge of breathing into a bag should not be part of your day … but change should be.

Should you have a change in staff or resources, make sure you tell your client quickly. All they want to know is 1) that you told them (instead of finding it out, again, the trust problem) and 2) that you are managing your resources on their behalf and you know what the plan is.

By the way, if you don’t know what the plan is right off, still call.

You must be the one to share change with them. "I was about to call you" does not work, ever. Second to that poor choice is "Oh, I was going to call, but it’s not that big of a deal. Sorry." Yeah, that doesn’t work either.

Next: Never be passive

Return to Embrace change

Clients want an active relationship. Heck, they are paying you! It should go without saying that you should be constantly working on meaningful ways to actively engage your client. For instance, outside of your deliverable and status meetings, you should be providing ongoing insight within your area of expertise, being a constant resource, and proactively thinking about their business and objectives.

What makes clients crazy, and eventually have them dining with your competitors' sales folks, is a passive relationship. Many of our clients may already have that in their own work environment; they don't need another one. 

Passive is defined as "That which is not active." How's that for being passive? Kind of pisses you off that they tell you what it's not. But this is exactly what creates a slow death for an account. Always be an active partner.

I know you can manage these somewhat obvious tips and probably have a bunch of your own. Do tell. Comment and let us know some other great ways to avoid the call or email that starts with "I'm sorry to inform you …"

Return to Introduction

Kate Thorp is CEO of Real Girls Media Network. Read full bio.

Sixty-three percent of adult mobile owners now use their phones to go online

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

This figure has doubled since mobile tracking first started in 2009, and it continues to rise.

In a poll asking both men and women to complete the statement, "I would rather give up (blank) than my phone for a week,"  

Seventy percent would give up alcohol

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

Sixty-three percent would say goodbye to chocolate


Thirty-three percent would abstain from sex

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

And 22 percent men and women would, disturbingly, go without their toothbrush

At least we can all agree on the importance of our mobile phones.

Sixty-four percent of women think shopping improves their mood, compared to 40 percent of men.

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

According to this statistic, some things never change.
But when it comes to online shopping, men are out spending women 20 to 30 percent.

Men are more inclined to use mobile shopping technology than women

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

Data from a DDB Life Style Study revealed that 24 percent of men use the technology compared to 19 percent of women.

Forty percent of Millennial men would ideally buy everything online compared to 33 percent of Millennial women

This statistic, according to eMarketer, confirms that most men will still do anything to avoid crowded parking lots and long lines at registers.

Women are more inclined to regularly check out a brand's social page

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

Top Dog Social Media found that 48 percent of women and 43 percent of men frequently view a brand's social media pages.

Women are more likely to pay attention to marketing emails

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

In addition, 14 percent of women, compared to 8 percent of men, say they first saw their most recent online purchase in an email from a store. 

Men are more likely to find a product when browsing online

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

Thirty-three percent of men, versus 26 percent of women, first came across their most recent purchase through browsing.

More women make online purchases when items are on sale

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

Fifty-seven percent of men, versus 71 percent of women, purchased an item because it was on sale. 

Only 29 percent of online adults used social networking sites -- five years ago

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

Today, that figure has more than doubled to 72 percent. 

Women spend 30 percent more time on social networking sites than men

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

And that's not just time spent. It includes posting, clicking, and overall engagement with content online.

The majority of Twitter users are female, at 62 percent

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

In fact, 40 million more women than men visit the site each month.

Facebook is used by 67 percent of all adults online

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

Fifty-eight percent of Facebook users are female. In addition, 62 percent of "sharing" on Facebook comes from women. Although women are the primary users, eight in 10 females say their Facebook friends annoy them -- go figure.

Pinterest users are 80 percent female

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

This is according to DMR's list of "31 Amazing Pinterest Stats."

Google+ and LinkedIn are both ruled by male users

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

In fact, Google+ is 64 percent male and LinkedIn is 54 percent male.

YouTube is watched by 25 percent of men, compared to 17 percent of women

And men spend 25 minutes longer on average a week on YouTube compared to women.

Only 3 percent of advertising agency creative directors are women

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

Yet, women control 80 percent of consumer spending, according to Fast Company.

One in five married couples met online

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

But 20 percent of all divorces are blamed on Facebook.

Women email more frequently

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts 

Although men use the internet more on average, women rule email. This feeds into another female stereotype: Women are the chattier sex and are more inclined to share.

Online entertainment is ruled by men

This is acccrding to The Guardian.

And finally…

Of the 56 percent of Facebook users that check in at least daily, 7 percent say they check messages during an intimate moment

Men vs. women: 28 shocking marketing facts

This is according to Techi.com.

When it comes to the battle of the digital sexes, it's hard to declare a winner. But it's clear we're all logged in and ready for more.

Betsy Farber is an editorial assistant at iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Young woman wearing mustache," "Boss and employee having an arm wrestle," "Color photo of a man's hand," "Beautiful woman looking through magnifying glass," Hand with letter and notebook," "Sale-woman," "Illustration of a collage of social network buzz," Summer holidays, vacation, and technology," "Attractive brunette young woman in futuristic interface," images via Shutterstock.

Other image and GIF sources:"Saturdaynightlive," "Kitten watch," "Snooki" "Chocolate Family guy," "Stanley," "Bad Breath," "Shopping," "Colbert," "Napolean Dynamite Yes," "Pinkman What," "Tina Fey,""Pinterest," "Jimmy Fallon," "Ganganm Style," "Oversharing," "Chatty," "Barney Confetti," "Kristen Wiig."

Scott Symonds is the managing director of AKQA Media, which provides AKQA's full suite of global digital media, technology, and data science services encompassing paid and organized search optimization; digital media, planning and buying; and client...

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