Media planning is an art and a science. The scientific side, albeit full of complexity, is fairly straight forward. Gather enough good data and research, know how to surface the needs of the campaign and the client, and the match-making begins to surface.
It's the artistic aspect of the job that is the hardest to learn and hardest to teach. It takes experience and plenty of trial and error to get it right. To muddle it up even more, this industry is moving at light speed. What was a best practice today might not be the right thing tomorrow. You have to be sharp, stay on your toes, and follow this industry like a hawk.
Because of these issues, there are plenty of media planning mistakes to share and learn from. I figured I'd check in with my team here at Fuor Digital to see what mistakes they thought would be most important to share with the iMedia Connection readers.
Here are the most important mistakes (and solutions) they offered, based on their varying experiences in the online media planning world.
Mistake: Rushing the process
Insights from Sara B., digital media coordinator (1.5 years' experience)
The client just confirmed its budget and it wants the campaign to go live as soon as possible, which means throwing together a consideration set and gathering proposals in hours, not days. Normally, you'd have the time to really build a well-thought-out plan. But it's crunch time, so you choose to go with the no-brainer and pick the partners who worked for this client's last campaign. A few weeks later, partners aren't performing as expected, and reporting is a nightmare due to missing placement tags and incorrectly implemented tracking. Only now is it clear that those extra days of planning and execution might have been worth it to avoid the time it will take to rectify the errors.
The solution: Set your client's expectations up front. Let them know how long you will need to properly execute the campaign from budget approval to start date, and stick to it. Create a timeline with due dates for both parties and follow up as often as necessary.
Mistake: Not applying campaign goals to all aspects of the campaign
Insights from Tomas, account manager (2 years' experience)
Between the rush of planning and the constant arrival of new offerings, planning teams often incorporate strategies that are not pertinent to the campaign key performance indicator (KPI). For example: If the goal of a campaign is to have a user perform an action after being directed to the landing page, then the creative message must include a strong call to action (CTA) and properly communicate what the user is expected to do.
However, in some cases, a client's offline creative assets will simply be repurposed for the web and will render the digital ads without a CTA and expectation for the user. But, the media will still be held accountable toward the actionable conversions, and will most likely not perform to ideal expectations. Here, and in many other cases, the disconnect between the ultimate campaign goal and strategy implementation leaves that planning team and client underwhelmed by the campaign performance.
The solution: The planning team should frequently think of how its performance will be evaluated after presenting the end-of-campaign report rather than after presenting the media recommendation. By constantly evaluating how performance will be evaluated post-campaign, a planning team will hold itself and its strategies accountable to the campaign KPI rather than to the client's initial reaction to the recommended media plan.
Mistake: Not considering the executional logistics
Sara R., technology and analytics manager (2.5 years' experience)
With all of the campaign variables being juggled by a media planner, execution can often get lost as an afterthought. Once a digital recommendation is finally client-approved, the high impact, never-before-seen, super-custom plan with all the bells and whistles is passed along for execution without the realization that it will take hours and hours to implement.
For instance, I was recently working on a campaign and was given the download on the plan. I immediately realized it would be an execution nightmare but was only given two weeks' notice before the launch. Needless to say, the campaign launch was pushed back a week and a half due to unexpected execution issues.
The solution: To avoid this media planning mistake, be sure to check with your execution team before making any final decisions. If execution-intensive media cannot be avoided, make sure to account for the additional time it might take to implement and be prepared (and prepare the client) for minor issues along the way.
Mistake: Allowing personal bias and assumptions to skew objective media evaluation
Angela, account manager (3 years' experience)
A personal example: I don't play FarmVille and frankly don't understand why people get so excited about watering their virtual crops. (I grew up in Iowa and can tell you that, in real life, it isn't that fun.) So I groaned when a FarmVille integration was suggested for one of my clients. But when I did a bit of research on incentivized brand engagement within social gaming environments, I actually found that it fit our objectives perfectly and -- go figure -- the campaign was a huge success.
The client is often the biggest culprit of this mistake; clients might love seeing ESPN.com on a plan but then balk at a network of sports bloggers because they have never heard of it (and, therefore, assume it's no good).
The solution: It requires more work to do your due diligence in fairly evaluating new media opportunities. It takes a dose of humility to prove yourself wrong, and it's never easy to tactfully tell clients or bosses that something they believe as fact is off base. But as far as I have seen, going against the grain (while armed with intelligent insight and hard facts) is exactly how one gains respect and becomes regarded as an expert in digital media.
Mistake: Not knowing what you're buying
Caleb, digital media supervisor (4.5 years' experience)
Media buying gets even more complicated with emerging media opportunities that can sometimes be confusing on what you're actually getting into.
A good example of this is how roadblocks are purchased. A true roadblock would mean all ads serve on the page at the same time. Roadblocks are purchased so you have 100 percent share of voice (SOV) regardless of the number of ads or which sizes are on the page. So a roadblock is really a page view (one opportunity to expose a user to your 100 percent SOV message). Once you understand this media unit, it becomes clear that we should really be buying roadblocks as a page view vs. number of impressions by unit-size. This example is a single instance of how media planners need to fully understand what they're buying or risk wasting their clients' budgets.
The solution: Don't even consider a media opportunity unless you've completely gone through the ins and outs of the deal with the vendor. Work with good publishers that will fulfill their promises and act quickly to fix any issues.
Mistake: Jumping the "optimization" gun
Kay, associate media director (5.5 years' experience)
For better or for worse, digital media has been established as an on-the-fly optimization media vehicle. But while we can make quick adjustments, that doesn't mean it's always in the best interest of the campaign or client.
Valuable optimizations require thorough analysis and enough data collection to glean valuable insights. Multiple variables should be taken into consideration when establishing analytics and optimization schedules: impression levels, campaign objectives, KPIs, conversion cycles, etc. If your brand's average conversion cycle is 14 days, then a weekly optimization schedule is a mistake.
The solution: Set client expectations up front that optimization is an evolving process that requires ongoing analysis and adjustment. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Mistake: Leaving things on the table
Kelly, VP media (14 years' experience)
One of the first things I learned back in the day as a traditional media planner is that everything is negotiable. I took that statement literally, perhaps too literally at times, and became extremely successful at squeezing the very most out of every dollar I spent in the market. What I can confidently say is that I have always been able to garner an extensive amount of value for my clients and greatly enhance their executions with just a bit of finesse and gusto.
The primary value proposition for using media professionals is for brands to benefit from trained sophistication, expertise, and knowledge of the industry and expect that every dollar of theirs will be working its hardest. I closely scrutinize the digital media plans of junior team members for any lack of creativity or incremental pizzazz that clients' budgets warrant. Planners out there need to realize it isn't the vendor's responsibility to give; it is your responsibility to get.
The solution: Go out there and get for your clients. Work harder for your clients' budgets -- and make the vendors work harder for you. Take the time to negotiate and negotiate hard. There are endless opportunities out there, and if you don't start asking for them, your plans will never be as good as they could be.
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