Channel Changer

As we all know, advertising channels are mixing and matching so quickly that trying to reach a target audience through one, two or even three of them risks picking up only a fraction of the impressions needed to be successful.

This poses a tough balancing act for media planners trying to learn and recommend the best mix for clients while staying within smaller and smaller budgets. At the same time, the industry needs to rethink how these progressive media planners should be properly compensated for their efforts. Compensation models have, for a long time, been built around rewards for buying large volumes of certain types of media. If the compensation isn’t in lockstep, it’s tough for media buyers to shift loyalty to other media.

Today’s economic realities don’t help. We’ve all read about and/or experienced the fallout from agencies being forced to cut back on staff and marketers’ shrinking budgets. And while current economic conditions pose challenges, technology and new media channels present a separate set of obstacles and opportunities. Analyst firm Veronis Suhler projects that between now and 2013 spending on these new channels will post a compounded annual growth rate of 12.3 percent. At the same time, traditional advertising will decline at a compounded rate of 3.3 percent.

No wonder there’s confusion among media planners, advertisers and media networks. Something’s got to give, and I believe there is a workable solution. I contend that by working together, media agencies, marketers and the media outlets themselves can restructure their long-standing business practices and invest in key resources to accommodate these changing new media dynamics for the best interests of their clients.

Most agencies are still built around silos that focus on one medium — television, radio or print media, for example. For a long time, media planners could do a good job for their clients placing campaigns in one or more of those silos without much regard to how these media could be integrated. In that media climate, the media planner’s value was in understanding the subtleties in each silo.

If you’re buying TV, do you buy cable or broadcast? Prime time or daytime? If you’re buying newspapers, do you buy run-of-press (ROP) or zoned editions? Is it better to be in a crowded Sunday edition with higher readership, or a weekday edition with readership that’s more likely to notice your message? This was (and always will be) highly valued insight that clients pay for and rely on to get the most from their precious media budgets.

But the dominant media has steadily fragmented. New options have changed viewing patterns, hence advertisers access to their desired audiences. Cable TV, on-demand services, mobile, VCRs and DVD players, TiVo and DVRs, along with social media, RSS feeds and digital out-of-home have dissected the way viewers consume news and entertainment — and advertising — into ever-finer pieces.

There’s good news from this fragmentation, however. It gives planners and agencies an ever-growing arsenal of avenues into consumers’ lives. A richer media palette means planners and agencies can ask more creative questions and develop more integrated solutions: “What demographic groups does this advertiser need to reach? What time of day and night do they consume media? What do they read, see or hear?” New media gives them precision tools for reaching the right audience at the right time.

Today’s media planners don’t have to specialize anymore to be successful. They have a rich new palette of media channels to help produce new, unprecedented results for their clients. But they do need the infrastructure in place to fully succeed.  Agencies, media networks and brand clients must work together to make this change happen.