The Evolution of Media Planners

Recently I had the interesting opportunity to work with a leading Chinese online video site on a brand sponsored content collaboration project. Coming from largely a performance marketing background, this project was a first for me in many aspects. Most importantly, it was the very first time that I’ve been this closely involved in actual video content creation. Hence the project was both an exciting and frustrating challenge. Now in my years of management consulting and strategic planning, I’ve not had a point of view on a client question. But for the very first time in my life, I was asked questions like:

  1. “What do you think about this line in the script?”
  2. “Does this character’s personality fit what our brand wants to portray?”

When I first heard these questions, my mind completely blanked out…it’s as if my left brain dominant head didn’t know how to process these anomalies. Shouldn’t these questions usually be directed at creative directors? But it was also through this occasion that I understood when a media planner sells through a content collaboration project, he has to be both the planner and creative director (or at least facilitate the creative process between the client and media). In essence, the evolving role of media planners is to be strategic in planning and creative in execution.

The evolution of a media planner

Now strategic planning has always been a part of the media planner job. Our role has traditionally focused on WHERE to place ads. Not WHAT is the message of the ad. For example, in digital planning we first assess various media channels (portal, search, mobile, social, etc.), then we run target coverage data in iResearch/comScore for individual media publishers. Everything is about looking at the data to identify which media platform is most suitable for our target audience. Once the right platform is identified, then the next step is simply about pricing negotiations. We didn’t have to think twice about ad format because it was simple. Most portals only offer banner ads and most online TV (OTV) channels only offer pre-rolls.

Rising prominence of content and native advertising

However, times have changed…media publishers are running into competition left and right. Banner ads being cut in favor of ad networks and mini-site activities have shifted onto social platforms. Hence, media publishers have turned toward content cooperation and native advertising to prove their value over hard display ads. This is seen with many OTV channels becoming increasingly like production studios and TV stations. And social channels that employ their own social/viral creative teams to create content that fit the tastes of their users. This trend is shifting the creative responsibilities from the brand teams to media publishers. Hence, we’re seeing an increasingly diminishing role of “The Big Idea,” because from a consumer perspective, we are constantly being bombarded with all forms of advertisements. So “The Big Idea” can no longer break through the clutter.

Implications for media agencies

With the ever growing number of media publishers, media planners have to be increasingly strategic in media selection. But when the right platform has been selected, we have to put on our creative lens to discover the best form of ad format for the brand. Banners, pre-rolls, and low CPMs are no longer enough. Media planners have to pick up a new talent set: creative development.

  • We have to become proficient in content planning, product placement, and native advertising strategies.
  • We have to get used to working with core creative teams: film directors, copywriters, and art directors.
  • We have to learn to negotiate for more prominent content cooperation ideas instead of just larger banners and lower CPMs.

Lastly, we have to learn to facilitate the creative process between media publishers, creative agencies, and brand teams.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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