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Media Planning and Buying Challenges (And How to Solve Them)


The media planning and buying process, especially in our multi-channel and multi-device ad landscape, is not without its share of challenges. It’s already a tall order to plan a media strategy three to six months in advance, but in the uncertain times we find ourselves in, we can’t afford any additional speed bumps. Unfortunately, media planning and buying calls for handling many different variables — consumer behaviors, evolving messaging, media circulation and frequency, audiences & reach. Even the most seasoned media professionals will find it hard to juggle everything necessary to complete the process.


What sets a professional apart from a novice is their ability to weather the various challenges that could otherwise derail their progress. With enough experience, you barely notice the bumps in the road because you have the knowledge and skills to troubleshoot the issues. At The Ward Group, we’ve been working to master the media planning and buying process since 1985. Over time, we’ve developed a few coping mechanisms to help us manage the challenges of an ever-evolving media industry. Here are just a few examples:


Challenge: Unclear Campaign Objectives & Strategy


Marketing objectives are meant to outline the intentions of a marketing team and provide a clear direction forward. Without clear objectives, you can’t produce a successful strategy — it would be like running a race with no defined finish line. Without a strategy, you won’t be able to provide media planners with all of the information they need to develop a deep understanding of your brand and its audience. In order to create a media plan for you, media planners need to know the answers to questions like:

  • What products or services are you promoting?

  • Which segment of your audience do you want to reach?

  • Is your target audience closer to the top or the bottom of the sales funnel?

  • Do you want to use online and offline channels?

  • How do you plan to measure success?


When our clients don’t yet have the answers to these kinds of questions, what do we do?


We start by looking at their organizational goals. Every objective — marketing or otherwise — must ultimately build toward your overall goals, so regardless of your marketing plans, they’ll always have this common trait. From there, developing marketing campaign objectives and a strategy for achieving them is only a brainstorming session away. During that time, we figure out which objectives are possible (and which aren’t), working at a high-level before we get down into the nitty-gritty of defining each objective. By the end, hopefully we’ve been SMART (that is, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound) in the objectives and goals we’ve set.


Challenge: Budget Constraints


Media planning and buying is an ongoing balancing act between creating campaigns that are actually effective and within budget, and sometimes, working with the media budget you’ve been given can really mess up your equilibrium. Budgets are determined in several ways. More often than they should be, budgets are simply an arbitrary amount chosen based on little rationale, but some companies will assign a specific per-item advertising value to each product model or set aside a percentage of total revenue for marketing activities. Some companies may even try to match their spending to that of their competitors or match spending to specific media channels.


Every budget is different and comes with different constraints, and sometimes buyers have to do more with less. It's our responsibility to work with publishers to drive down the cost of every TV, print, radio or OOH placement, and while we’re very good at our jobs, we aren’t literal wizards.


So, how do we deal with the reality of a tight budget?


First, we recommend starting with campaigns that target audiences towards the bottom of the sales funnel. If your marketing budget is tight, it’s usually because profit margins are, too. A bottom-of-the-funnel strategy will help you build up some early wins and generate revenue faster. With that in mind, we also focus on one problem at a time. If we try to activate too many channels or talk to too many audience segments, we’ll be spreading our efforts too thin to be more than marginally successful. Prioritization is key; figure out what the campaign must do and design your strategy accordingly.


Lastly, we’re huge fans of testing. When your budget is limited, you wouldn’t want to waste resources on a strategy that might fail. Before sinking your whole budget into an advertising method or strategy, we recommend testing it with only a small portion of your budget to make sure it’s worthwhile. Once you know it will be effective, it’s easy to scale up.


Challenge: Data Collection & Measurement


Given that most consumers interact with multiple channels on a daily basis, it’s important that advertisers are doing the same. It’s increasingly popular to pair TV and mobile ads or digital and radio ads together in an integrated marketing strategy. In fact, creating a cohesive cross-channel strategy is an important goal of the media planning and buying process, but it’s difficult when not every channel has the same objectives or metrics.


Multi-channel campaigns may bring new opportunities for your company, but when you’re unable to measure their performance, it's difficult to apply those results to future efforts. In gathering data from both online and offline channels, the challenge lies in measuring their real-world impact.


How do we approach the issue of data collection and measurement in integrated marketing campaigns?


A common misconception we see regarding multi-channel marketing is that you need to follow the same approach to measuring performance that you’d follow with just one channel. Not only is that not true, it’s also difficult to accomplish. Instead, when you know you’re going to be working with multiple channels, define your metrics as early as possible in the media planning and buying process.


When possible, set objectives that will apply holistically to a campaign's overall effectiveness, but also take time to look at each channel to ensure you’re measuring performance at every level. By analyzing each individual channel, you’ll be able to see how they’re contributing to your more high-level objectives. You may also want to develop an attribution model that can help you understand how each channel was engaged with by your audience. This will help you discover the best-performing touchpoints.


Solution: The Ward Group


Despite all the challenges you may encounter in the media planning and buying process, one solution you’ll always be able to rely on is...us! As media stewards, we treat our clients’ media dollars as if they are our own. That means we’ll never let you waste your money on ad spots that won’t work for your objectives, and we’ll always help you parce through the troves of data you receive about your campaign’s performance to find areas of improvement.


With over three decades of experience under our belts, our media planners and buyers have truly seen it all. If you’re looking for trustworthy, knowledgeable experts to guide you through the media industry, contact The Ward Group today.