The Best Media Plans Are Those That Are Strong at the Core and the Edges

Advice and reflections from the Media Plan of the Year jury chair

So the judging is about to begin, as agencies polish up (or hurriedly write?) their final entries for Media Plan of the Year 2015, due this Friday, July 17. (If you're one of those agencies who hasn't gotten in their entry, here's where to do it.)

As Jury Chair of this year's Media Plan of the Year Awards, I've had the good fortune to spend some time with fellow judges over the past few weeks and talk about what media excellence means today. We've written up many of their quite insightful points here.

I'll build on their thoughts in a simple framework: a great media plan today has to get it right at both the core and the edges.

The core is the thing that holds it all together. The indispensable flash of brilliant insight that says everything else we do happens for a reason—an organizing principle that simplifies every other decision, adds clarity and coherence to every other element of the plan. A great core reveals a deep understanding of relevant cultural context, of the people we're trying to connect with, and of how the brand appropriately fits with both.  

Today, of course, getting the core right means navigating our way through potential mountains of data. But as daunting as working with data is, we have to realize the massive potential of what it represents, and dispel the bad rap of data as de-humanizing. As Jaron Lanier said, "[data] is really just people in disguise". The transformative shift underway in our industry is data applied not only for optimization (of spend) but as a springboard for generation (of ideas). Watch this space.

The edges are the places where the brand comes into contact with the people most likely to be receptive to it—and who will ideally pass it on. Knowing the who, the when, and the how of the edges is a daunting task in an era of hyper adoption. We've had decades to understand what "good" means for a TV plan—getting mobile right is another thing altogether. 

There's a second challenge with getting the edges right. The idea of user experience didn't really apply to media back when everything moved through passive channels. Today, platform-specific UX thinking is critical to great media. Nobody has to pay any attention to us or our brands. A sand grain of irritation or annoyance kills the possibility of connection in a nanosecond. Knowing what's brilliant on LinkedIn vs. Xbox One vs. Snapchat is cost of entry for media teams today. The use cases are different, what's "good" is different—and very likely the talent that will deliver the best thinking on how to make it work best for the media plan will be different.

I realize as well as anyone the daunting challenges in getting the core and the edges right, especially when many of the conventions of our industry were set up in an another media era entirely. Today, complexity and disruption are in the room with us every hour of every day. But many of us who work in media are more than just coping—we're thrilled by the possibilities of our times.

I'll give the final word to MPOY judge Will Wiseman of PHD. "It's a great time to be good and a scary time to be bad. We're at a time that really rewards thoughtfulness and creativity. When a media agency has been the best version of itself, really cool things can happen."

Amen, brother.

Baba Shetty is  the chief strategy and media officer for DigitasLBi and jury chair for this year's Media Plan of the Year awards. To learn more, visit the Media Plan of the Year site, and be sure to turn in your entry before Friday's deadline.