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Media Planners Open Their Playbooks

Click here to read profiles of the media planners.

With more media choices appearing every day, the role of agency planners and strategists is becoming more important to TV sales executives looking to grow their businesses.

Though they are not as prominent as media buyers -- particularly during the upfront, when buyers negotiate billiondollar deals over cold pizza late at night-planners help decide how much TV their clients need and pick which networks' ideas they believe will engage consumers and which won't.

And while sales executives run up big tabs at Manhattan steak joints wining and dining buyers, the planners who design their clients' media strategies crave-and deserve-a bit more attention. After all, if a network's not on the plan, it's not on the buy.

has gathered some of the top planners and strategists from the country's biggest media agencies to find out what's on their minds. Do they prefer new media to traditional TV? What do they do for their clients? What types of measurement do they need? And what can networks do to make their jobs easier?

Their answers provide a road map for ad sales executives who want to engage with clients on issues other than price. An edited transcript follows.

TV sales people spend a lot of time with buyers but are fascinated by media planners, especially the 25-year-olds who pack the Adult Swim party during upfront week. Can you help them understand what senior people like you do?

Gary Barsky, senior VP, managing partner, Universal McCann: We are responsible for architecting media plans that first and foremost deliver our audiences effectively and efficiently. We need to have a deep understanding of our target audiences, the media channels they consume and of course seek to build media partnerships that reflect our brand positioning and communicate our brand stories in interesting and relevant ways. And if there's time left over, we may go to the Adult Swim party too!

Melissa Coffas, managing partner, group account director, Mindshare: We are responsible for both the individual brand strategy and overall business strategy. We determine what channels will deliver against our clients' business needs and objectives and the role each channel will play.

David Fasola, managing partner, group account director, MediaCom: Well, I still struggle with explaining to my mom what I do, but let me give it another shot. My role is to really connect our media strategies and plans to the client's business. On Volkswagen, we are extremely fortunate to have a great partnership and a deep understanding of the brand and business. It is people like me that need to articulate the brand's strategy to help identify opportunities that best fit. Over the past year, we developed what we think is a clear articulation of the VW brand positioning and the types of media environments we are looking for. As we have briefed this to partners, the response in terms of ideas has been tremendous.

Mason Franklin, managing director, MEC: Today everyone is busy regardless of age, but we carve out time for things that invigorate and inspire us. My personal passion is photography, and has been since I was a kid. So, I'm particularly drawn to gallery or museum exhibits and openings, where I may have the opportunity to see an important photographer's new work and hear them talk about it. It always gets the creative sparks flying in my head!

Aimee Garriga, group planning director, Maxus: One of our primary responsibilities is to ensure that all media activity delivers upon the brand's objectives and aligns with their overall strategy and approach. It's critical to have an understanding of the brand's consumer to ensure that the media approach and idea is relevant and the brand can make a connection to the key target. Another key responsibility is to ensure that the client's media dollars are placed in proven channels.

Kevin Howard, group account director, OMD New York: I have always found this to be such an intriguing aspect of TV sales-particularly network. It is extremely rare that a network sales team will reach out to the planning or strategy departments at media agencies. While they certainly need to be focusing the vast majority of their efforts on the TV investment specialists who manage the TV budgets and have final say on the network selection, I feel excluding the planning groups is a huge opportunity often missed. The senior strategy/planning leads are in the position to think at a more strategic, partnership level since we are not burdened with hitting CPM and weekly GRP goals by daypart. Big ideas and deeper partnerships that can go cross-platform should be discussed and have a much higher rate of successful sell-through if the senior planning/strategy people are involved.

Rob Jayson,president, strategy at Zenith: The more senior the planner, the more their responsibilities change to putting themselves in the role of the brand marketer and thinking holistically about the needs of the brand and the consumer. As planners start off their careers, their initial task is to understand how each medium works, what the role of every contact point is and how to better and more efficiently plan each medium-it's a more bottom-up type of view. As you become more experienced, the role evolves to focus more on the brand and the consumer needs. The basic deliverable for planners is a brand flowchart-but the more you know about the brand and the consumer, the more you realize that our responsibility is much wider than that. It's to deliver a brand experience to consumers to change their behaviors and beliefs in order to achieve brand marketing goals.

We still like to hang out at the Adult Swim parties though.

Coleen Kuehn, president of strategy & planning, MediaVest: At MediaVest, we [planners] look at consumers as people beyond just demographics and use human insights to fuel experience design. We place content front and center in our planning, because it's content that matters, like the Kraft Wheat Thins integration on Colbert Report, that consumers want to participate in and share.

Kristina Lutz, senior VP/activation director, Starcom: Well, considering I'm too old to stay awake for the Adult Swim party, I'm not best suited to answer that! But more broadly, the old school breakout of planning and buying is not where the industry should be. I lead a multi-disciplinary team at Starcom that represents a unique evolution and reinvention of planning and buying functions. We see beyond the silos and hand-offs of media formats and platforms and keep experience creation at the core. We approach every marketing challenge through the broad lens of paid, owned and earned media, with the goal of maximizing the symbiotic power of messaging, content, social response, data and analytics to support and optimize each component's role in the experience plan. One of the keys to success in such a non-linear approach lies in the partnerships we have forged with key media companies.

Jennifer Nyhan, senior VP, group business director, Initiative: I see my main responsibility being not so much about putting together a media plan but more about really getting into and understanding my client's business. How can we best utilize media for the highest impact to our client's business? With how quickly media is evolving, how we get there is a constant work in progress and I spend a lot of time staying up on and learning about what's out there.

Steve Piluso, chief strategy officer, PHD: We've been to all the parties, and we have the liver damage to prove it. I was recently a Juror at the Cannes Lions [International Festival of Creativity] and had the privilege of serving with 29 C-level media professionals from around the world. Believe it or not, the evenings were filled with rosé and...MEDIA TALK. I think senior people LOVE interacting in small groups and talking about our we elevate our trade, how we do better work. We love to share ideas for making the work better and share our common challenges. These days I get a truly electric feeling from serving on a panel or just getting to "jam" with other senior media strategists in a casual setting. Maybe sad, but true. Senior media strategists are "idea" people. And we are stimuli for each other. No matter what company or client we serve, we have very similar challenges and love the opportunity to share, inspire and solve.

Jan Weinstein, senior VP and group director, Carat: Sometimes senior people like me to go to the parties! But to the point, we are best connected to our brand and media clients and understand what works, what doesn't and where we are still learning. While not necessarily mired in the details, we know the truth about must buys-which are rare, if any-and how to make the larger decisions like media mix.

Advertisers spend more money on television than other media in most communications plans. What's the temptation to take some of the money spent on a traditional media like television and spend it on something newer and sexier?

There is always a curiosity, an interest in uncovering emerging media opportunities/channels. Sometimes it's a way to deliver our messages in a fresher, less expected manner. Sometimes it helps to demonstrate a brand is on the cutting edge and innovative. Consumers want to feel brands they attach themselves to are extensions of themselves and the cachet that media provides can help deliver that. However, sometimes new and different is not always better. Does it deliver our audiences effectively and efficiently? That's where it all begins.

Coffas: I don't necessarily think it's temptation to do something sexier. The reality is that consumer behavior has evolved. Yes, consumers are still spending a lot of time watching TV; however, we need to engage them with other channels, particularly knowing that they are using multiple channels at the same time [i.e. Mobile, Social, Tablet while watching TV].

Fasola: The overall mix always needs to be driven by a combination of business challenges and understanding your consumer's media behavior. In many ways, it really isn't just about moving money away from TV, but looking to leverage its impact through other media touch points. A lot of opportunities can be sparked by our approach to TV and it's our job to make sure the content bleeds through the other media. These are the programs that have been the most successful and soon you will see some more great examples from MediaCom soon.

Franklin: This is an issue we face regularly. The media landscape seems to change every day, mostly driven by advances in technology and digital media. No marketer wants to be left behind, nor should they be. We often recommend a "test and learn" approach when exploring the efficacy of new mediums. It's always important to keep the consumer front and center when building a plan: what media are they using, at what levels, and for what purpose? Never lose sight of the brand's target audience. When plans are built around the consumer and what's important to them, we end up with something that will be effective and ultimately drive business.

Garriga: While television continues to deliver mass reach and builds awareness quickly, consumers have more media choices available than ever before. Marketers recognize that consumers' media habits are evolving, so it's important to optimize their media strategy and approach to incorporate other channels beyond TV. In the current media marketplace, it is essential that planners are media agnostic.

Howard: The temptation is real and happening more and more every day. The trade-off to shave a small percentage of a robust TV budget resulting in a minimal loss of GRPs to fund a fully integrated cross-channel program is one most clients will make in today's marketplace. While there will always be a place for TV in our media plans, the shift of focus from awareness to deeper engagement among our target audiences is often driving this decision.  

Jayson: It's critical to start every plan from a ‘zero-based' mindset-using data and analytics to determine exactly what role we expect the communication plan to play. What are the consumer behaviors or attitudes we are trying to change? The real temptation is to do last year's plan a little bit better, adding in a few more sexy bells and whistles from the vast array of potential digital choices, but that underserves the brand, because as we know, market situations and brand requirements change at an accelerating speed. We look at the data to prove our case for every contact point in light of the specific marketing tasks, and often, we find the evidence shows that TV really does have a strong, positive impact across many consumer metrics, from increasing recall and positive brand equities, to driving search volumes to the brand's site or Facebook page, to profitably increasing brand sales at a scale other contact points cannot match.

Kuehn: Marketers want to be where their consumers are, and with the proliferation of technology, marketers want to be seen as progressive. While traditional media like television is powerful alone, we can enhance the TV experience and amplify engagement through other channels like social, online and mobile.

Lutz: "New and sexy" doesn't always equal "effective." In fact, many times it doesn't. That being said, testing and learning is critical in the current media landscape. At Starcom, we don't think in terms of the traditional media mix, but instead look to create seamless, platform-agnostic, deeply connected human experiences-which oftentimes leads to testing new environments. A recent example is "social TV," or creating second-screen experiences. This is a relevant, engaging extension to TV-gaining momentum at breakneck speed-but the key is figuring out how to provide real value in exchange for the interaction we are asking from consumers.

Nyhan: Television remains the biggest portion of an ad budget; however, it's critical that planners not think in such medium-specific silos. Reaching today's consumer requires an approach that blends television, digital, mobile, social, outdoor, events and print and has them working in a coordinated fashion towards a client's business objective. Sure, we'll test new platforms or possibly work with a start-up media company, but it's not simply because its new or sexy-it's because we believe it might impact the consumer we're trying to reach.

Piluso: There's a tendency to "plan to what's measured" versus "measure what you plan." As there are not simple, correlative metrics like click through/last click attribution to buying something, there's a tendency to buy media that are more easily attributable to sales. It's not about being sexy, it's about being able to prove to a client that something worked. What gets lost is the idea that broad media increases awareness, relevance, affinity and accelerates responsiveness in measurable channels. This is difficult to measure or requires more elaborate models that also require additional investment of capital and time.

Weinstein: The answer is twofold. First, viewer habits are definitely shifting. Although still small vs. traditional TV, time spent with, for example, online mobile and tablet video is growing rapidly. It's critical to follow our consumers. Second, newer and sexier media, as you say, are that. Our planners and buyers want to stay current, test and learn, and small shifts in TV budgets can accommodate pretty large programs in new media.

At a time when agencies are flooded with data, TV measurement is still Nielsen and not much else. What additional information do you get from other media that you need to get from TV?

Pure and simply...metrics that demonstrate that consumers are connecting with our messages. How much time are they spending viewing our 30-second commercials? Are they driven to deeper brand experience after seeing our TV commercials? Are they more likely to go online and obtain more information? Does it make our other media channels more effective?

Coffas: We are always looking for deeper behavioral data and insights. It is also important to illustrate how consumers are interacting with a particular property outside of just a rating [i.e. custom content online, Social, Mobile and Tablet engagement and usage and how they all interact with one another].

Fasola: The truth is that today we have to look well beyond syndicated research to accurately report results back to our clients and how it is directly affecting their business. Therefore, it is on us at MediaCom to understand the role of each media and align the right KPIs to track the results. Within our analytics, we have been able to measure engagement across the other media more than TV, so continually looking at ways to measure engagement with TV programs would be one area we would love to explore.

Franklin: Data that helps us move beyond measurement of delivery will ultimately be most helpful because clients are concerned with understanding ROI beyond just pushing out messaging. To that end, media can impact two important areas that address the level of engagement generated. The first area is attitudinal metrics: How is the medium impacting things like image attributes and consideration? The second area is behavioral measures: How is the medium driving critical brand behaviors like store visits, or offer redemptions? Understanding the medium's impact on attitudes and behaviors provides us with a much more robust understanding of its ROI.

Garriga: It would be great to gain a better understanding of the impact of TV beyond the number of impressions that are generated from an individual spot or campaign. Similar to other media channels, it would be interesting to determine what actions were taken by the consumer after viewing a commercial such as whether they visited the brand's website to learn more information about the product, downloaded a coupon and generated word-of-mouth or recommendations.

Howard: Digital has changed the game with what we should expect from all of our media investments. Our clients' businesses are operating in real-time and they expect their advertising to deliver results in real-time. The Nielsen methodology and approach to measurement has remained fundamentally the same since the 1950s. With the Digital set-top box saturation, we should be able to find a way to mitigate any privacy concerns and get actual, real-time data on viewership beyond the standard age/gender buying demographics. While this will not provide any results on ad effectiveness, at least it will enable and empower advertisers to be more strategic about their program placements.

Jayson: First of all I think it's wrong to see TV measurement as stuck in the dark ages. We now get a wealth of data about TV viewership that brings a much greater depth of insight into how we can use TV smarter. We have done some great work with Rentrak set-top box data which gives us fantastic new information about how viewers respond in a second-by-second basis to the TV environment, and marrying that STB data to household consumption data or digital device data helps us get a much richer picture of the effects of TV. Understanding the social aspect to TV-show viewing is another invaluable data asset we have developed. Through our work with Bluefin, we can map out the social strength of every show, both in terms of total viewer involvement and response, but even more about analyzing the sentiment behind the viewer's interaction. And even better, we can now isolate viewer response to our brands' commercials when they are played in different shows. In terms of data we get from other media that we would love to see for TV, it is the ability to track the viewer's experience and response from exposure to interaction and then to brand purchase in a seamless manner that has really informed the digital experience. We can correlate TV exposure to brand interaction via set-top box data or marketing mix modeling, but it's not the direct trackable connection that we have from the digital world.

Kuehn: Measurement tools are still lacking. While progress is being made through data solutions like Bluefin, as an industry, measurement is not keeping up with consumer realities and proliferation of technology. We need to celebrate the power of TV beyond just reach.

Lutz: Where do I start? It's honestly hard to say when we'll see the utopia of consistent, relevant measurement across media types. But the good news is that we do have access to other data to make us smarter and drive better media decisions for our clients. Starcom has partnered with set-top box providers and has been on the forefront in the addressable space, both of which provide great opportunity for advanced targeting solutions and measurement in TV. Data is powering our new ecosystem and future success will depend on: (1) standardization; (2) clients' desire and ability to harness their own customer data; and (3) resources at both agencies and clients to process and aggregate the sheer volume.

Nyhan: Actually, we get quite a bit of measurable TV data outside of Nielsen. Second-by-second streams are part of some increasing set-top box data points that we can use along with DR databases that Nielsen does not have available. This is providing the opportunity for us to explore how to link TV and buying behavior.

Piluso: In digital, we can better measure engagement...time spent, or track interaction across ads and content. TV measurement is literally predicated on whether someone was exposed to a message...with little or no knowledge of whether they were exposed for the full duration of the message. And with no proxy for time spent/engagement, we don't have an immediate sense of whether ad copy is working in one environment versus another to adjust and optimize.

Weinstein: We are just starting to see the promise of addressability and data beyond demos through new technology. Ideally, we can tailor and target our messages to minimize waste in TV as we can in digital media. This will allow TV to be used more behaviorally, as well as broadly, when that makes sense.

What can TV networks do to make your job easier?

Barsky: Understand our brand challenges. Customize programs for us. Bring us programs that are a reflection of how our audiences engage with media... multi-platform and multi-faceted. Importantly, show how you can deliver measureable results!

Coffas: At Mindshare, the planning teams and investment teams work together hand in hand; however, it would be beneficial if as part of a broader presentation they illustrate how all their channels-i.e. Digital, Mobile and Social-play a role and interact with their properties, not just their TV property in a silo. Also, we are always interested in networks bringing us talent opportunities for brands to utilize and leverage.

Fasola: We always talk a lot about partnerships. However, with that comes the need for the TV networks to have a greater sense of accountability beyond the media delivery. We need to work on programs that can span across various levels of a client's business. Networks also have access to shows, producers, and writers: let's really harness their creativity. We are always interested in creating ideas while remaining sensitive to the integrity of the program.

Franklin: Part of what my group does at MEC is helping teams develop integrated ideas that bring their brands' communication strategies to life. To that end, TV networks are important partners in helping us explore how we extend those ideas into the television space. Clients consistently demand the highest levels of creativity and innovation from us. So, in turn, we need our media partners to collaborate closely with us and bring their very best thinking and originality when it comes to idea development.

Garriga: Typically we meet with networks once a year prior to the upfront to get an update on their audience vitality, upcoming fall schedules and overviews of new programs. It would be beneficial to receive similar updates on their network throughout the year since TV activity may also be planned outside of the upfront. In today's world, it would also be helpful to meet with the broadcast and digital sales teams simultaneously in order to develop stronger communications from all sides and more easily develop a holistic idea that could live across platforms.

Howard: Evolve their thinking away from GRP goals, CPMs and pod positions and elevate to a more strategic, channel-agnostic approach. When I speak to a media partner, I speak to them as a content provider-not a magazine, or website or TV network. I challenge them to come back to me with a big idea that satisfies my client's objectives and works within the planning parameters provided. Once the idea is in place, and only then, do we begin to consider how the idea can best be brought to life through the various channels available to us. 

Jayson: For planners, it is still important for us to know all the details of the product from all networks, but planners need to know more about how to build off of that product in order to create an engaging experience for consumers. While placement of ads in shows is a critical part of the TV portion of any plan, planners regard the shows as only one element in the creation of an engagement experience for consumers. It would be great to see ideas from content creators on how we could better build on content in multiple ways from online, in-store to experiential or other ideas. TV networks still appear to be, for the most part, siloed organizations that have separate teams for each of their divisions. As planners, we are charged with creating a seamless, holistic brand experience, and greater coordination of the offer from TV networks would definitely help us to be able to deliver on that requirement.

Kuehn: Good partnerships are key in creating great content experiences. Networks can continue to be nimble, and help us bring experience-based ideas to life. It's through these partnerships that we deliver real-time engagement to our audience.

Lutz: First, we must crack the code in integrating planning, buying and media sales across screens. Networks that pull together ideas and sales in this way will be at an advantage as their content continues to migrate across devices. Second, I'd like to see more marketing talent integrated into sales organizations. Some networks have done this; others seem to ignore it. In my experience, the strongest ideas have been collective builds among Starcom, our clients and our best media partners. The more brains the better!

Nyhan: Continue to invest in original programming that generates ratings and work with us to surround that programming with interesting and engaging advertising units and new opportunities in things like social TV and TV Everywhere platforms.

Piluso: I find it difficult to work with TV sales people who don't have a strategy/planning background. It is far easier for me to have a conversation with a who is tasked with listening first, maybe throwing out ideas and getting into a genuine dialogue that works towards an idea or program that makes sense, then come back with the spots and dots. I feel many sales people are trained to listen, but they listen quietly until it's their turn to sell something off the shelf.

Weinstein: Simple. Be as good, if not better, at integration than the agencies they are trying to sell to. That is a win for everyone-most of all, our clients and the brands we are building together.