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Getting to "The Idea"

Recently, Deutsche Bank and MediaPost published results of a report showing that 50 percent of media buyers and planners commit dollars to digital media vendors two months or less prior to the start of a campaign. Although not directly stated, the implication seems to be that this is negative, caused by lack of planning on the agency side or hedging of bets on rate increases on the sales side. 

I’m not sure of your interpretation, but it made me feel pretty good. Two months is significant improvement over the turn-and-burn of 24 hour or less RFP due dates that consistently flowed from agencies to digital media vendors not terribly long ago (some on the sales side still bemoan the existence of this phenomenon). That media planning timeline ultimately led to a similar creative development schedule and last second trafficking to hit a desired start date. Amazing there was ever a successfully implemented digital campaign, isn’t it?

Digital media is maturing. The marketplace factors at play are very basic. Certain categories of clients are more proactively planning all media, including digital, on more regular intervals. This creates demand for inventory that, in some instances, outstrips available supply. That naturally increases rates for a scarce commodity. 

It’s great to see the maturation and sustained, smart growth after the euphoria of the mid-to-late 1990s, followed by the doldrums of late 2001 and 2002. However, let’s not pat ourselves on the back just yet. There is still work to do that will make the planning, buying and implementation of digital media run more smoothly. Buying further in advance is just one piece of the puzzle. We have work to do when it comes to every agency person’s favorite topic: process.

I am a big advocate of the current trend in advertising where “The Idea” has been crowned king over the media being selected to communicate a message. It’s a wonderful philosophy and allows us to explore avenues, both in media and creative, we weren’t considering before. Keep in mind that for many in the industry this line of thinking is a drastic departure. There will be growing pains.

If you work in digital media, you are probably experiencing those growing pains when it comes to the best way to bring “The Idea” to life. We as media planners and buyers need to keep in mind that there’s much more involved in bringing “The Idea” to life than the planning and buying that our media budgets allow. Often, we get sucked into the silo of our media planning and buying process, thinking that simply because a campaign includes digital media in the mix we’re onto something ground breaking. We forget that the best media plan goes nowhere without the best creative executions being dropped into those placements.

I will admit that when you read what I’m about to say, it will sound simple and obvious. Let’s keep in mind that, as mentioned earlier, the term “process” in most agencies is akin to a four-letter word.

At the outset of planning, it’s important that we engage our traditional media counterparts, account management, creative -- even creative production. The best way to ensure a great idea comes to execution is to make sure all parties who will be influencing the evolution of “The Idea” are at the table early on discussing and agreeing upon how to make it happen. We’ve spent the better part of the last five to 10 years asking for a seat at the table. Now that (in most cases) we have it, we need to encourage cohesion from the outset. 

Trust me, I know there are parties who, begrudgingly, see the need for digital media but want you to stay in your silo, and let them stay in theirs. If this philosophy of “The Idea” is to flourish, these folks need to change quickly. Positive feedback from the client on your strategy is usually all it takes to get them to come around and want to participate.

Of special note are situations where your agency isn’t developing or producing the digital creative, or you are in a different office than the creative folks. More and more this is common. In the end, it doesn’t matter whose doing what since the ultimate objective of all involved is the success of the client.

Now that all are singing from the songbook, it’s time to discuss how the media strategies and tactics mesh with necessary creative executions. We have found it very beneficial to include strategies for creative rotation within our plans. This helps account management better plan their production budgets and provides important perspective on the necessity for multiple creative executions. Only having one creative execution available for a long-term media plan is a bad thing.

As is the case with traditional media, an understanding of creative wearout is a requirement. Keep in mind your objective and what metrics your plan and the creative are going to be measured against. Most mass media wearout models are based on reaching a particular quintile of an audience a certain number of times. This can be applied to digital media, but the metric you’re planning against may be sales or acquisitions. If the client you’re planning for doesn’t have a history of doing such an effort, check with others at your shop. Or get on the phone with a third-party research vendor. Ask the question in the correct context, and, more than likely, they have the data that can provide you the answer.

Some of you are chuckling now at the simplicity of what I just said. Perhaps it’s because you are already operating in this manner. You have already seen how interconnected the medium and the message are in this brave new world. If so, I applaud you. I’m sure your clients love you for it.

The rest of those chuckles are probably coming from those of you who can’t envision this simple scenario ever playing itself out. That’s OK. Let me invite you to the table…

Jerry Courtney is the Associate Interactive Media Director at GSD&M in Austin, TX. Courtney oversees the Interactive Media Group at GSD&M, ensuring successful integration of work and process with the Media Planning Department. Clients include SBC, MasterCard, US Air Force, UnitedHealth, AARP and SAM'S CLUB.

Jerry Courtney is VP within the Strategic Solutions Group at Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange.  His current focus is studying the dynamics of decision making from a people-centric perspective, understanding and visualizing paths to decisions as...

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