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Media planning

Media planning focusses on where, when and how your target audience will see your advertising message. Read our guide to learn about the different media styles and channels. How do you match these to your communication style? Read how to get the best out of your media agency and what they should do for you. And finally, learn the key measures to evaluate the effectiveness of your media planning investment. 

Media planning

How this guide raises your game

  1. Learn when to use the three key media styles of broadcast, narrowcast and monocast media.
  2. Understand what a media agency does to support your marketing.
  3. Learn how to review a media schedule and the key measures that relate to return on advertising spend.

As we cover in our guide on how to advertise, there are two parts to any advertising campaign.

The message which you create to persuade, influence or change the attitude and behaviour of the target audience.

And the media which helps this message to reach your target audience.

Media is one of the biggest areas of spend in marketing. It is an important part of your marketing plan and brand activation.

You need to make sure your target audience has the opportunity to see your advertising in the right place, at the right time and in the right way. 

Media planning is the marketing skill that helps your advertising reach your target audience in the right way. 

Blank Billboard seen from the ground against a clear cloudy sky

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Take the 2 minute, 5 question Three-brains media planning quiz and see how much you know about media planning already.

Media planning in the advertising development process

In an ideal world, you’ll have a single brief. This brief covers both your advertising message and media planning needs.

As per our how to advertise guide, you should brief your creative advertising agency and media agency together. The two agencies should also present back their response to your brief (the proposal) together. This inter-agency approach is very common. 

Both agencies should review your key requirements across brand, objective, communications, rationale and project to create a relevant, impactful and unique message and media plan.

The two elements of the message and the media should combine to tell a clear overall story.

The advertising development process - a guide on how to advertise successfully

The media planning key question

The key question from a media point of view is “are we reaching the right people in a meaningful way at an efficient cost conveying what we want to convey?”.

The media agency’s responsibility is where, when and how the message will be delivered. As per our article on why media buying is weird, they’re buying space and time for your message. 

But clearly they need to know what message goes into that space and time. That’s why it’s important the creative and media agency work together. 

Message and media combine to produce an overall effect. When it comes to how communication or creative style and media style work together, we can look at the different options using the Communication Style : Media Style Matrix

The Communication Style : Media Style Matrix.

The communication style : media style matrix model lets you plot how involved customers are in the media, and how efficiently you target. Let’s look at each of those in turn. 

Communication style

The communication style relates to the advertising message. It can be broken down into three different styles based on the level of consumer involvement.

Where there is low involvement by the consumer and the advertising message is sent out in a one-way process to be passively received by the consumer, this is a monologue communication style.

Communication - Media Style matrix Step 1

If however, there is an expectation that the consumer will do something in response to the message, this is known as a response communication style.

And where there is high involvement – for example, where the consumer contacts the brand and expects an on-going conversation – this is called a dialogue consumer style.

Media style

From a media style point of view, there are also three options based on the level of targeting efficiency. Where the focus is on the quantity of people reached, and the need for targeting efficiency is low, this type of media is broadcast media.

If however, there is more need to narrow the focus of the media, this is called narrowcast media. And where it’s important to be able to target specific individuals, this is called monocast media. 

In general, most combinations of communication style and media style fall into one of three boxes.

Announcement - Brand building

This is where the communication style is monologue and there is less need for media targeting efficiency. This is the traditional view of mass advertising. The aim is for your message to reach as many people as possible.

Categories and brands which have mass appeal use this mix often. Think supermarkets, banks, cars, food and drink brands for example. 

The types of media channels which offer this broadcast capability include TV (free-to-air channels); outdoor; mainstream print like newspapers and general interest magazines; cinema and commercial radio channels. 

In the brand choice funnel, the aim of this type of messaging is to focus on driving awareness

Communication - Media Style matrix Step 2

With these, the customer can’t interact or engage directly. The advertising message is usually repeated over a period of time to maximise the reach. This repetition also helps customers remember the advertising.

These types of channels will often have very specific advertising formats and specifications.

TV or radio channels for example only tend to accept certain lengths of advertising (15 second, 30 second or 60 second for example). Print channels often specify advertising dimensions like height, width and colour.

However, many of these traditional channels now offer extra options to remain competitive against more flexible digital media channels. So, options like sponsoring a TV show with ‘bumper’ ads that appear at either end of an advertising break. Or wrap around adverts that go round the outside cover of the magazine for example. 

Because media agencies have relationships directly with the media owners, they’ll often have better knowledge of which publishers offer these different options. And which may be flexible to more creative media placements. 

Specific - Relationship building

In this type of advertising and media combination, the aim of the message is often further down the brand choice funnel at consideration and trial. You want to make the media placement more relevant

The message will usually be more specific, targeted and persuasive and will have a much clearer call to action.

From a media point of view, the spend is much more efficient. It targets narrower groups of consumers. Groups who share a common media behaviour and interest. With broadcast you reach a lot of consumers who won’t be interested in the advertising. With narrowcast, you eliminate a lot of this media ‘wastage’.

If you take TV channels for example, free to air channels are viewable by anyone. They contain a broad range of different types of TV shows – news, sport, entertainment, documentaries, reality shows and so on.

But if you look at satellite or cable TV channels, often their content will be focussed around only specific topic areas. TV channels that only focus on food and drink. Or on sport. Or on history.

If your product plays in one of those content areas, then you can focus your media spend on those channels which are more likely to find a relevant and interested audience. The same thinking applies to channels like specialist print titles and digital radio channels.

Narrowcast - Locations and events

The narrowcast and response combination can also work well around specific outdoor locations and events.

Let’s say your offer is only available in Sydney for example. An outdoor billboard by high traffic areas like Circular Quay or Central station would get a much more specific audience of people who pass those locations. Say, compared to a TV campaign or a broader billboard campaign across the whole country.

You can see this type of approach also come out with specific events.

For example, it can also work well with seasonal events such as Christmas, Easter and Mothers Day.

These types of narrowcast media placements can also work where they are part of a regular fixed event like the finals of sports tournaments.

Or part of a planned campaign of events like a music tour.

Or even one-off events organised by the advertiser themselves, like a launch party for a new product.

Screengrab of Woolworths Mothers Day promotion including pictures of chocolates, a teddy bear and toiletries

One to one - dialogue direct consumer

In this final box, you find more of a one-to-one connection between the advertiser and the consumer. These are channels which enable a direct conversation to take place. The consumer is highly engaged. Their experience is that they have a one to one conversation with ‘the brand’.

In reality though, most of these conversations are relatively automated with marketing technology. The consumer is choosing from a pre-selected list of options. 

Automated systems like website interactions, social media posting, e-mail and CRM programs help create the feeling of a personalised experience for the consumer. But they are scaleable and manageable for the businesses that use them.

Communication - Media Style matrix Step 3

They are highly efficient from a media planning point of view. Consumers also react well because the experience feels more personalised and relevant for them.

These types of channels often work best when the challenge is towards the end of the brand choice funnel. They can help drive trial and repeat / loyalty purchase. 

Digital media channels

Many of these one to one channels are digital media channels. For smaller and newer brands in particular, these types of digital media channels such as search, social media and online display advertising are often better managed in-house too.

There’s often no cost saving booking digital media through agencies. With traditional media channels, media agencies can often negotiate discounts. But, with companies like Google and Facebook, the price is done through auctions.

And these tech companies have set up their Ad Manager systems to make them relatively easy to use and accessible to non-specialist users. 

Digital media channels for monocast and dialogue approaches are helpful to get to market faster. Or to test out concepts at low spend levels, like we do with our shop.

However, digital media can be a cluttered and competitive space. For larger brands digital may not always offer the scale that traditional channels offer.

Instagram post saying No Network cables? Thank Dr John O'Sullivan and the team at CSIRO - with a picture of a woman wearing a T-shirt that shows a WiFi symbol and the words Australian Invention

Media planning choice

There’s no single “best” media channel. Which media channel or channels you choose in your media planning depends on your marketing and communication challenges outlined in the brief.

When the media agency respond to your initial brief, you should review which combination of  broadcast, narrowcast or monocast best meets your needs.

And then review the media channels that sit under each of those media styles. 

This can often be the most challenging part of media planning. There are many media channels to choose from.

Question mark spray painted onto a tree trunk among a wood of trees

On the positive side, this media fragmentation means that the supply of media space often exceeds the demand. This puts you or your agency in a strong negotiating position when you buy media. Media sales teams will often try to make their pricing more competitive so you choose them over other media owners. 

On the negative side though, with so many options, it can be difficult to compare them all to work out the best plan.

Even within the 15 channels in our diagram above, think how many individual media companies and publishers sit under each of those channels. 

In many cases, this is why bigger businesses hire media agencies. Media agencies specialise in understanding all these channels and media owners. They can make expert recommendations on the best media planning mix. 

Media Agency Role

When you decide to work with a media agency, you look for them to bring three key areas of expertise. 

You look for them to bring data and insight about media behaviours. 

You also need them to put together a media plan that builds the right reach and frequency. We’ll come on to these important terms in a second. 

And finally you need them to negotiate the media fee and book and manage the actual placement of the advertising. 

Bring data and insight into media behaviours

In the agency response, the media agency should be able to take your target audience data, and identify which media types and which media channels will best fit to the audience. 

This could be as simple as an absolute number – x,000 men aged 30-45 watch football on channel x for example. 

You should certainly look for quantifiable and factual data about media performance from the agency. 

The media owners generally provide this to you or the media agency. They’ll tell you the size, demographics and behaviours of the audience who use that media.

Person holding glasses in front of them against a blurry street background

Media companies will also likely be able to provide information about levels of competitor spends as Share of Voice data is often made available across media advertisers.

But beyond pure size numbers, the media insights should also include richer data. Data about the context of where and when the media will be consumed. It should reference the relevance of the media channel to the brand identity and advertising message.

Media planning timing example

For example, will the time the advert’s seen make a difference?

Let’s say for example, your product is food-related. If it’s a healthier product, it’s probably best to look for media that targets the beginning of the day. People tend to eat more healthily at the start of the day.

But if it’s more of an indulgent product, it’s probably best to look for media that targets the end of the day. People consumer more indulgent products as a ‘reward’ after a tough day.

The timing could also relate to the day of the week or the time of the year. Do you want to target the typical ‘big’ grocery shops on the weekend? Or the smaller ‘top up’ shops during the week? Do you target special events like Christmas and Easter when people are more likely to be not at work?

Your media agency should be able to bring you insights about typical consumer and competitor behaviour patterns at these particular times.

Media planning cost consideration

Allied to this timing will be considerations around media costs. When advertising is in high demand such as evening TV shows, major sporting events or seasonal events, the cost of that advertising placement goes up. So, it’s part of the media proposal to balance the audience reach with the cost of reaching that audience.

For example, is it better to have one big reach media placement that sucks up a large part of your budget? Or a series of smaller reach media placements that build over time? 

Your media agency also have a role to play in measuring the advertising impact. What data about the media performance can they bring you? This might be views or impressions from broadcast data. Or more specific interactions like clicks and purchases from narrowcast and mono cast channels. 

Build the right mix of reach and frequency

As part of the agency proposal, the media agency should also make clear the reach and frequency of the campaign.

Reach is how many people in your target audience will see your advert at least one time. Reach is important since it gives a sense of the scale of the media coverage. While you cannot guarantee that reach will lead to a sale, you can guarantee that an advert that doesn’t reach a consumer will have no impact.

Frequency is how often they will see the advertising. Frequency is important as seeing an advert once is usually not enough to convince a consumer to buy. A consumer usually needs to see an advert a number of times over a certain period for it to have an impact.

This frequency number is also sometimes referred to as Opportunities To See (OTS). It might be referred to split by the number of Opportunities to See. 1+ OTS or reach for example is the number of people who see the advert more than once. As opposed to 3+ or 4+ OTS, the number of people who see the advert more than three or four times. And more often you need a frequency of 5 to 7 for optimum impact.

GRPs and TARPs

Often the media agency will multiply the reach and frequency to give you a total number of advertising exposures. This is sometimes called GRP or Gross Ratings Points.

Sometimes this number is converted to TARPS – or Target Audience Rating Points. This is the percentage of an audience that viewed at a given time. 

It’s important to understand these terms since they are used to calculate the cost of the medial placement. Higher GRPs or TARPS cost more.

When you have this number, it helps you to compare the scale of your media coverage against previous campaigns you have run. Or against competitor media campaigns. (As they’ll likely buy media is similar places to you).

The media agency should also propose the optimal flighting for the campaign. Flighting is the pattern or shape of the media spend over the duration of the campaign.

For example, you can spend more at the start of a campaign, and then let it tail off. You can spread the spend evenly over the whole campaign. Or you can ‘pulse’ the campaign to run stronger in some weeks and less in other weeks.

Which flighting will work best will depend on your marketing and communication objectives. It will also be impacted by the category and target audience. And you will also need to consider the context of  how new the message is, and what competitors are likely to be doing. 

Negotiate the best fee and book the media

With broadcast and often with narrowcast media, your media agency has both experience and negotiating power with the media providers. 

They’ll be negotiating media buying rates as a total company – with your budget AND their other clients.

While you won’t get the full discount rate from the media provider (this is where the agency makes it money), you’ll still likely get a better deal than if you negotiate on your own. 

Negotiating the best deal on your behalf is where media agencies add a lot of value to your business. 

Person holding 6 hundred dollar bills in front of them which have been set alight

Media lead-times and specifications

They’ll also understand the timelines and specifications involved to get media into publications, on air or published in online channels. Each media channel will have different lead times of when you need to provide the advertising. TV for example often has a long lead time and may need to be booked 12 weeks in advance. Where digital advertising may be bookable only a day in advance. 

Each media channel can differ in terms of size, format and time of the advertising they take. It’s the media agency’s job to make sure the creative teams are aware of these specifications. And that the ads are provided in the right specifications to the media owners. 

Before the media agency book the ads, they’ll usually ask you to confirm the final plan and spend. There will usually be a Media Booking Authorisation form and they will ask for confirmation of the payment, such as a PO number. This is important as the media agency are normally charged by the media provider and then charge you back. It protects the agency when they’re clear you’ll pay them. The timing of payments should be part of your contract with them.

We cover contractual terms and conditions in our guide to marketing agencies

The media schedule

The media agency will book the media and should be able to provide you with a schedule or overview of where, when and how the media will be placed.

This could be the TV shows your ad will show in, the newspapers or magazines where it will appear, the outdoor locations or the key websites and online channels where the ad will appear. 

It will include detailed information that documents how, where and when your media budget is being spent. 

Each agency will have its own template, but you should expect to see the following seven items at a minimum appear on the media schedule

The media schedule - an example

1. The Campaign headlines

This should include the date and version of the schedule, the name of the media agency, client and campaign, and the start and end date of the campaign. It should also include the total campaign budget.

2. The Media Owner and Channel

Each advertising placement should specify the media owner, and which channel the advert will appear in. Note, that this can include multiple channels and some media owners may own multiple channels.

3. Detailed ad placement including audience and geographic coverage

This section should include the detail of each advertising placement including the target audience and the geographic coverage. For each ad that is in a different format (say a 15s, 30s or 60s TV or a full page vs half page print or digital ad, each placement should be listed separately. Geography should specify whether national, regional or focussed on specific cities or districts. Where abbreviations are used, the media agency should provide a separate key to understand what each abbreviation means to the client.

4. Formats and specifications

With each advertising placement listed separately, the specifications for each, be that time or height and width dimensions, should be noted for reference.

5. Objectives and measurement

These should reiterate the objective for the ad and how it will be measured. For example, is the objective reach, in which case it might be measured on a CPM or Cost Per Thousands basis for example. Or is the objective conversions, in which case it might measured on a CPC or Cost Per Click basis.

6. Budget

Covers the spend per placement.

7. Timing

Should include the start and end date of each placement, when it will be measured and reported and a schedule so the client can clearly see when the ad will appear. This is usually done on a a weekly basis. 

For some channels like TV and digital, there are opportunities to capture data about how ads are performing in relatively real time. It would be part of the media agency role to track and monitor performance on such data where it is available and adjust to optimise. If a particular TV show is not delivering the promised ratings or a particular website the promised visitor numbers, the media agency should be able to negotiate a move or a readjustment so that you get the reach that you paid for. 

Media investment and Return on Advertising Spend

It’s likely that outside production or staff costs, media will be the single biggest expense in the business. So, it’s worth being close to how media money is spent and understanding the return on investment.

You should have clear goals and measures to determine if a media spend has delivered. 

For example, how many more units do you need to sell to cover the cost of the media spend?

If you spend $1m on advertising but only generate $100k in profit, then clearly that’s not going a great  success.

Glass jar knocked over on floor with coins spilled out onto the floor

Your Return on Advertising Spend is the extra profit from sales that was generated while your advertising was running.

You need to be able to compare the level of sales BEFORE the advertising spend with the level of sales DURING the advertising spend.

It’s also important to analyse whether your advertising has only a short-term return or also drives a longer-term return. (see our article on measuring advertising impact on sales and profits for more on this.) 

Advertising around an event or a sales promotion for example would likely only have a short-term impact. But if your advertising is much more about building brand equity, then it can have a longer-term sales impact. 

You should go back to your original objectives when you measure the effectiveness of your media spend. Analyse the results and look for correlations to build your learning of what the best measures are for your next campaign.

Digital media is a good place to start

It’s for that reason that we really like digital media channels as a good place to start in media planning.

You can go into those channels with relatively small investments and see what works and what doesn’t.

The data is readily available and it’s usually particularly attributable, since digital media by definition invites interaction. A click, a like or a purchase. 

You can analyse this digital data and look for correlations and trends in your sales and customer numbers. You’re looking for what works and what doesn’t, so you can do better next time. 

Scrabble tiles spelling out Digital Marketing laid out on a wooden table

Conclusion - media planning

For bigger campaign and businesses, media planning can feel like a very complex issue. There are so many media providers and a lot of terminology and process to work through. 

In order to deal with this complexity, you need to keep coming back to the media planning key question.

 “are we reaching the right people in a meaningful way at an efficient cost conveying what we want to convey?”.

It’s only as you learn what your target audience (the right people) responds to (in a meaningful way) that you improve your media planning. Test digital campaigns so you can start to build up these insights. 

Then you can start to spend more smartly (at an efficient cost) in broader digital and traditional media channels to grow your business. Which at the end of the day should be your over-arching business objective for media planning and buying.

Three-brains and marketing communications

We have worked on many marketing communications projects and have good experience across all aspects of communications, including media planning. We know how to connect these expertise areas back into driving your brand marketing and growing your sales. 

Contact us if you want to know more about how we can support your marketing communications and media planning to grow your business  through our coaching and consulting services.

To achieve clear and consistent marketing communications, the first step is pulling together a clear brief for everyone involved in creating your activity.

That includes key elements of your target audience understanding and brand identity as well as stating your business and project goals. 

Download our blank template with accompanying notes to get your started on the process of creating a great marketing communications brief. 

Download it here or from our resources section. 

Powerpoint and Keynote versions of this document available on request. 

Marketing Communication brief - blank template
Click to download the pdf

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