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Media planning

Why read this? :  Media planning focusses on where, where and how your target audience see your advertising. We share the different media styles ad channels and how you match these to your communication style. Learn what your media agency does, and how to work with them. We also share the key measures you use to evaluate the effectiveness of your spend. Read this to learn more about media planning. 

Media planning

How this guide raises your game :-

  1. Learn when to use the 3 key media styles of broadcast, narrowcast and monocast media.
  2. Understand the role of the media agency.
  3. Learn how to review a media schedule and how to measure return on advertising spend.

There are 2 main parts to any advertising campaign.

First, there’s the message. It’s what you say to influence and persuade your target audience. Its aim is to change customer attitudes and behaviours.

Then there’s the media. It’s where and when and how this message gets in front of those customers Its aim is to reach customers in the right place, at the right time and in the right way.

Media will be one your biggest areas of spend in marketing. You need a plan for how you’ll do it, so it supports the rest of your marketing plan and brand activation.

In this guide, you’ll learn how media planning helps you optimise how you get your advertising in front of customers.

Blank Billboard seen from the ground against a clear cloudy sky

Ready to test your knowledge?

What’s your starting level of knowledge about media planning?

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 write one brief which covers both your advertising message and media planning needs.

You should have a combined briefing session with your advertising agency and media agency as they need to work together to answer the brief. (see our how to advertise guide for more on this).

They should also present their response back to you together (the proposal). Most agencies are used to working this way. Message and media should come together and tell a clear overall story.

The proposal should answer the key questions in the brief so you get a relevant, impactful and unique integrated plan.

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

The media planning key question

The key question the media element of the proposal / plan needs to answer is this :-

“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 why media buying is weird article, 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 2 agencies work closely together. Where and when a message appears impacts how customers perceive it.  Message and media combine to produce an overall effect.

To understand the different ways these 2 elements can combine, you can use a tool called the Communication Style : Media Style Matrix.

The Communication Style : Media Style Matrix.

This matrix model lets you look at how involved customers are in the media – the communication style, and how efficiently you target – the media style.

Communication style

The communication style relates to the advertising message. It can be broken down into 3 different styles based on the level of customer involvement.

Where there’s low involvement by the customer, they don’t interact with the advertising message. They passively receive it, so it’s all one-way. This is called a monologue communication style.

Communication - Media Style matrix Step 1

However, if the customer does have to interact with the message, say answering a call to action, this is known as a response communication style.

And where there is high involvement, this is called a dialogue communication style. For example, where it drives multiple interactions such as one a CRM program or on a subscription service

Media style

There’s also 3 different options in the media style, based on the level of targeting efficiency.

When you try to reach as many people as possible, and don’t worry about the efficiency of the targeting, that’s broadcast media. If however, you want to focus on reaching only the right audience, and be more efficient in your media spend, that’s narrowcast media. And if you want to target very specific customers or segments, that’s monocast media. 

Combining communication style and media style then gets you to one of the these options :-

  • Broad.
  • Focussed.
  • Individual. 

Broad

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. 

Broadcast media channels include :- 

  • TV (free-to-air channels)
  • outdoor
  • print (newspapers and general interest magazines)
  • cinema
  • commercial radio channels. 
Communication - Media Style matrix Step 2

These channels are most commonly used when the objective in the brief is to drive awareness.

They get the message “out there”. Customers generally can’t interact or engage directly with these channels.

The advertising message is repeated over a period of time so more people see it (the reach) and they see it several times (the frequency). Reach and frequency are important media planning terms we’ll come back to shortly. 

These channels usually have very specific advertising formats and specifications.

For example, TV or radio channels only 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 which appear at either end of an advertising break. Or wrap around adverts which go round the outside cover of the magazine for example. 

It’s the job of the media agency to manage all this for you. They deal directly with media owners and media sales teams. Their expertise knows what’s possible and connects that back to what you need your media to do. 

Focussed

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. It’ll have a clearer call to action.

The media spend becomes more efficient. It targets more specific customer segments. 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 which 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

Individual

In this final box, you find more of a one-to-one connection between the advertiser and the customer. These are channels which enable a direct conversation to take place. The customer 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

Automated systems like website interactions, social media posting, e-mail and CRM programs create a feeling that you’re getting a personalised experience.

But in many cases, you’re choosing from a pre-selected list of options. That makes it easier for the business to manage the process.  

Communication - Media Style matrix Step 3

These are highly efficient from a media planning point of view. Customers also like them 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 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

The media agency expertise usually covers 3 key areas :- 

  • data and insight about media behaviours. 
  • build media plans which deliver reach and frequency for your campaigns.
  • negotiate the best media rate and book and manage the placement of the campaigns.

We’ll give a brief overview of each of these areas. But check out our how to get the most out of your media agency article for a more detailed view on each area.

Media - Data and insights

In simple terms, you base your choice of media channel on the data you have about that channel.

That data tells you if you’ll reach right target audience for example. It’ll also tell you when and where that audience will be able to see your advertising. 

The media supplier’s sales team and the media agency will be able to gather data on each channel and match it to the customer profile in your brief.

They’ll also be able to look at the cost of placing those adverts in those media channels and calculate where and when the most customers (the reach) will see your advertising the most often (the frequency). 

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

Media - Reach and frequency

Reach is how many people in your target audience will see your advert at least one time. Reach is important as it gives a sense of the scale of the media coverage. You can’t guarantee reach will lead to a sale. But you can guarantee an advert which doesn’t reach a customer 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). 1+ OTS reach for example is the number of people who see the advert more than once. Whereas 4+ OTS is the number of people who see the advert more than 4 times. (A frequency / OTS of between 4 and 7 is pretty standard for most campaigns).

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. 

Negotiating and booking media

There’s 2 remaining jobs for the media agency. They need to talk to the media sales team of the media suppliers and negotiate how much media coverage you’ll get for your spend. Their job is to get you the most reach and frequency for the amount of money you put in. 

Often they’ll use their buying power with the media suppliers of how much they can spend across all their clients to help get you a better deal. 

Once fees have been agreed (usually along with reach and frequency targets), the process moves to actually booking the media. This is a formal administrative task where the media placements are outlined on a media schedule which you need to review. 

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

There will also usually be a Media Booking Authorisation form. You sign off the schedule and the form. Plus, you include confirmation of the payment, such as a PO number. This is important as the media agency want to know they’ll get paid. It’s normally them who pay the media company, and then you pay the agency. 

The timing of payments should be part of your contract with them. We cover contractual terms and conditions in our guide to marketing agencies

Your main focus though is on the media schedule itself. It’s the detailed plan on where, when and how your adverts will appear. It’s important you understand how to review it.

The media schedule

The media schedule is usually a spreadsheet which outlines where and when your media will appear. 

It covers both media channels and specific placements. So, you’ll see which TV channels for example, and which TV programmes and at which times your media will appear.

If it’s digital media, it’ll include website details (at a page level) and impressions.

If it’s a physical placement (e.g. in a magazine or on a billboard), you’ll get details of where and when it will appear. 

The media schedule may look slightly different depending on the media agency, but normally covers these areas :-

The media schedule - an example

1. 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. 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 planning 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 you spend your media money and understand the Return on Investment (ROI). 

You should have set clear goals and measures in your brief 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 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’ve 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 for help on improving your media planning by accessing 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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