A Guide to Developing a Media Plan

Nov 22, 2004  •  Post A Comment

By Roger Baron

Special to TelevisionWeek

As a media researcher with many years in the business, from time to time I am asked how a media plan is put together. The question usually comes from someone who has worked in only one part of the industry and is highly competent in his or her particular job but doesn’t have the big picture. Viewed from such a perspective, the whole process is a mystery.

Recently a friend asked me to write a brief outline on how a plan is developed. Assuming this may be useful to readers of TelevisionWeek, I thought it would be appropriate for this month’s article. But I fully realize a 1,000-word CliffsNotes summary of media planning cannot begin to reflect the diverse needs of advertisers or the highly sophisticated analysis, creativity and judgmental thinking that go into each step of the process.

Pre-Planning Meeting

It should come as no surprise that a media plan begins with an understanding of the product and the advertiser’s marketing needs as spelled out at the pre-planning meeting.

Target audience selection is a key element. Although the product may be something like bathroom tissue, which “everyone uses,” a media plan must be directed to the best prospects-the buyer, or for consumer packaged goods, the household’s principal shopper. The planner must balance reaching the target with the need to reach those outside the target who may have a lower but still important influence on the sale.

Setting the budget is another critical part of the preplanning process. This is one of those “How much is enough?” questions that has no obvious right answer. The decision is guided by an analysis of the competitor’s spending levels, the brand’s share of market (a guide to share of spending), its historic spending level, the category’s advertising-to-sales ratio, reach/frequency objectives and other factors. Budgeting often comes down to spending as much as the brand can afford and still remain profitable.

Finally, at the pre-planning meeting the advertiser spells out other marketing needs that must be accounted for. The brand may need a print medium to deliver a coupon. There may be a test market or a seasonal promotion to support. Or there may be a line extension or a product enhancement that needs a special effort.

Deciding Which Media to Use

Planners attend early strategy sessions to give media’s perspective. In some cases the whole direction of the advertising plan is shaped by a creative media idea. Most of the time, selection of the core media is fairly predictable. If the product category is dominated by television and magazines, it’s a sure bet next year’s plan will continue to use those media. They may represent 80 percent to 90 percent of the budget.

The remainder is open to judgmental creative options that spring from the planner’s involvement and understanding of the campaign’s objectives and strategy. They reinforce awareness and often have high short-term impact on the consumer and the sales force.

Creative elements add sizzle and excitement. Planning them is a fun part of the job.

Planning Each Medium

With the media decided, the next step is to plan each medium. Planners assemble the costs for the ad sizes that will be produced by the creative team. Television and radio costs (in the form of cost per target audience rating point) come from the buyers or SQAD. Monthly magazine and newspaper rates come from Standard Rate and Data Service or corporate contracts. Planners typically start with the highest or open rate for planning purposes, then fine-tune costs once the plan becomes more settled.

Each medium has different reach/frequency characteristics and different audience measurement definitions. Television and radio are planned in terms of gross rating points per week; magazines as monthly or weekly insertions; out-of-home as daily GRPs; the Internet as delivered impressions and so on. Because of these differences, computerized multimedia optimizers have had only limited acceptance.

However, within a given medium, optimizers are commonly used at the start of planning to determine the mix of television dayparts or the combination of magazines that will give the most reach for a given budget. This is adjusted to reflect negotiated prices, promotional opportunities, corporate contracts and other factors. The final plan may not have quite as much reach as the optimal, but it will be close.

Judgment Calls

Regardless of what media are used, for a given budget, planners must balance five tradeoffs: reach (the number of people who will see the ad at least once), frequency (the number of times the average member of the target sees the ad), the number of weeks of advertising, the size of the ad or commercial unit (the bigger, the more expensive) and geographic coverage (the number of markets or geographic area covered). This judgmental balancing of tradeoffs is at the heart of the media planning process.

For television, most planners think 40 to 60 target GRPs per week is the minimum weight necessary to sustain awareness of established consumer package goods. Support for new product introductions and categories such as fast food and movies use much higher levels in short promotional bursts. Planners cost out the base level over the required number of weeks, then add markets until the budget is exhausted.

But since the cost is also influenced by the dayparts used and the mix of 15- and 30-second units, it is a back-and-forth process until the planner is comfortable with the balance.

After the media elements are roughed out, the planner calculates the reach and frequency of the entire plan, typically over a four-week period. This is needed to answer the advertiser’s question “How many people will see the ad?” But for most plans, reach/frequency is more a byproduct than a driver of the planning process.

Fine-Tuning the Plan

Once the core media are set, the planner adds supplemental media and adjusts the timing of exposures to reflect the marketing objectives and interaction with other corporate brands. Finally, the planner combines all the elements into a presentation for the advertiser.

The finished media plan includes the target audience rationale, objectives, strategies, tactics, competitive analysis, alternative plans, a budget summary, a media flowchart, next steps/decision dates and anything else necessary to explain how the plan will meet the advertiser’s marketing objectives.

Roger Baron is senior VP, media research director, for Foote Cone & Belding.