How To Do Digital Media Planning & Buying

Like many of my recent posts, this one’s been brewing in my head for quite a long time, but between settling back into work after being in Toronto and moving into a new flat, blogging was put on the back burner for a while.

Now I’m back and granted I’ve only been at this blogging lark for a few months, but one thing I have noticed is the sheer dearth of media folk who are regularly blogging about media in the UK (or maybe I just haven’t found them yet!). Sure, there’s the individual blogs on Brand Republic, which are great, but apart from Feeding The Puppy, Dazzleships, Simon Andrews and Chris Stephenson, I haven’t discovered any other media planning blogs to regularly read. That means the adblogs I am reading are very comms, PR and creative focused and the digital discourse tends to run along the same lines.

Which leads me to an oft-linked post on the wonderful crackunit blog, ‘How To Do Digital Planning‘. When this was first published about a year ago, it was circulated as a great perspective and guide on digital, which indeed it is. And although many of the principles remain true across the entire digital discipline, I thought the ‘How To’ topic needed to be revisited for digital media planning.

1.  Above anything, you’ve got to LOVE it.

For the most part, digital media (and creative) is inordinately process-heavy and it can feel like a long time passes between getting a client brief and the campaign actually going live. Look past the sometimes tedious nature of the process and focus on the chance to demonstrate your passion. The opportunity for true media innovation and creativity is there with every brief and but it takes true passion to be able to work through the brief and sniff out the great idea. No matter how junior you are, you can make a valuable contribution. Passion is contagious.

2.  Media owners have long memories and move around a lot – it pays to return phone calls and to be courteous.

When I was working MindShare a few years ago, I had the pleasure of working with Tony Evans, one of the nicest and smartest people in media. Alot of agency people tend to treat media owners with disdain and something Tony said remains with me to this day. He said, “It doesn’t cost you anything to treat people well and that includes media owners. Get them a drink when they meet with you (you’d be surprised how many people don’t do this) and send them a thank you note when they take you to lunch.” Simple etiquette but it goes a very long way.

3.  Thou shalt not see the sites on ComScore as the be all and end all of online planning.

In the UK, there are over seven million websites with .uk in their domain name and countless international sites that have UK traffic. ComScore is great for getting an overall picture of what sites your target audience is using and a view on the range of available sites to plan and buy on, but remember that not all sites subscribe to Comscore so will not show up on their reports – which doesn’t mean that they’re not valid options for your campaign. Use Hitwise, NNR and media owner information when possible, don’t forget to trust your instincts and take advantage of your knowledge.

What we do isn’t an exact science and a part of being a great planner is being able to use your gut with the numbers as a back up.

4. Spend the time getting familiar with your creative agency’s processes and insist that they do the same for you.

This is an entire blog post in itself, but since the ‘Great Schism’, media and creative agencies haven’t been very good at talking to each other. It’s almost as though there’s a lack of respect for what the other does and this is even more endemic in the digital discipline. As I previously said, digital is so process-heavy, from both a media and creative point of view that if you truly want to get the best results for your clients, deliver campaigns on time and generally have an easier life, it makes sense to understand what the other side does.

5. Spend the time working with your comms planners and familiarising them with the ins and outs of digital media planning and buying.

Many comms planners can easily put together an offline media schedule, but they’d struggle to put together an online plan. Until you educate them as to what’s involved in online planning, they’ll continue to ask you to pull together last minute schedules and recommendations without having a clear idea of the amount of time it truly takes to do this. Set up a time to take them through the planning process and you’ll never look back.

6. Curiosity never killed the cat – be a sponge.

Digital changes so quickly that you need to make sure you’re on top of industry developments and changes. Read relevant blogs, websites and magazines. Subscribe to relevant newsletters. Set up an RSS readers – Netvibes and iGoogle are very good as one stop shop. Get involved with likeminded people and go to conferences, seminars and evening drinks.

7. Make sure you’re up on the financials.

It’s not enough to understand the difference between gross and net cost and client commission. Take a wider view and understand how agencies make money and your role in this. Understand how your timesheets (oh, the dreaded timesheets!) are linked into client profitability. Make sure you at least have some idea about SOX and its role in media.

8.  Be bossy – make sure you get digital involved as early as possible in the planning process.

The worst feeling is having a fully formed brief land on your desk and not having the opportunity to input objectives, metrics or ideas. It’s up to you to make sure that your comms planners and clients understand why it’s valuable to get you involved early in the game – there’s rarely a brief these days where digital doesn’t play a role.

9.  Don’t be afraid to negotiate.

Delivering value to clients is an essential part of what we do. The old adage of ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ still holds true in negotiations with media owners. Go into your negotiation with a clear understanding of what your position is, what you want to get out of the situation and don’t be afraid to push (within reason) until you reach your desired outcome.

Buying and negotiating is not a lost art and a skilled digital buyer who understands the schedule they’re planning to buy and the different angles they’re going to use to reach the number they want to hit is still a relatively rare breed. Don’t be that person who accepts deals at face value.

10. Let go of CTR as your primary metric.

As I’ve talked about in a previous post, there’s too much emphasis on CTR as a key metric for digital media activity. Speak to clients in language they’re familiar with but don’t be afraid to try to educate them. Reach, frequency, coverage, dwell time, interaction rate, conversion rate are important and sometimes more important than CTR, but it takes courage to move away from a metric that’s been hammered into clients’ head as the most important KPI to consider.

11.   Understand that BIG ideas are possible in digital media planning.

Just look at the Talk to Frank Bot, In the Motherhood show and the Toshiba Innovators series. All big media ideas that evolved into something very exciting.

Brainstorm with your team and push your schedule beyond standard formats. Get the media owners involved. Your output will be a lot better and you’ll wow your clients even more.

12.  Be able to tone down / up jargon heavy digital language when necessary.

Clients tend to get overwhelmed with digital and we don’t help the situation by banging on how great everything is in the most jargon heavy language possible. Tone it down until you’ve fully assessed their digital knowledge level.

What do you think?

14 thoughts on “How To Do Digital Media Planning & Buying

  1. “Let go of CTR as your primary metric”….thank God. So, so few clients/media agencies are willing to do this. Really pisses me off.

    It’s Return on Engagement we should be measuring, not massively flawed ‘ROI’ terms.

    Great post.

  2. Great post Le’Nise. Agree with all of that. And share your incomprehension at the dearth of media blogs out there – for an industry that is all about communication, where is everybody?

  3. nice post. you can apply a lot of that to offline media planners too – and frankly many that I know could do with taking your points on board.

    but Will – ROI… come on – an over reliance on click through rates is obviously flawed in so many ways but sometimes it does matter. for me, measurement only really works properly when you take a load of different ‘bearings’ and don’t treat ANY figure as some kind of evaluation panacea. ctr can be an important part of that but in isolation it often means nowt

    return on engagement sounds nice, but what does it actually mean? isn’t it still ROI by a different name?

    PS I work in a media agency and have been blogging since early ’06 🙂 (but to be fair I don’t really do many media posts!)

  4. Will – thanks for the compliment and the interesting thoughts. Return on engagement certainly is an interesting metric but we still need to tie everything back to client investment and demonstrating that we’re giving them the most bang for their buck.

    Neil – thanks for reading! Would love to find to more media blogs – have already been alerted to another one. Check out

    Graeme – thanks for stopping by. Agree with your comment on well rounded metrics and hope people start seeing sense.

    I’ve just added your blog to my iGoogle – thanks!

  5. Great post Le’Nise: equally surprised at the lack of media blogs (particularly media agencies: like Neil says, we are in the communications business. Also media owner sales teams: considering how eager most are to come in for meetings, i’m surprised that none of them have latched onto how much plannery types like reading blogs.

    I work at Zed, and I’ve only been blogging for a couple of months, and like Graeme, it’s not always specifically about media planning. There’s a few more Zed bloggers listed here though


  6. Great post, thanks! I liked your points about communicating with media owners and media agencies, which is exactly why as soon as I have 5 minutes, I set up some more talks with a bunch of media owners and agencies – as you said, digital is heavily process driven, and it pays massively to be able to understand how media owners are set up and be able to look at innovative partnerships before a brief lands on a desk. So many of the great comms ideas are intimately linked to media that to think you can afford to disregard it is just crazy.

    And also about CTR, definitely right – and back to @Will point, I’ve been thinking about ways to measure Return on engagement/interaction – I need to formulate that in a post or a slideshare fairly soon.

  7. Hi Le’Nise – a really interesting post, thanks for sharing. As the above commenters point out, CTR is indeed flawed. People need to realise that digital can be used for branding, but alas until we get some better, industry-approved metrics then that can at times be a hard sell.

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