The Media Plan: Heading for extinction or just evolving?

At the end of July, ExchangeWire posted an article on the Vendor/Agency relationship. Having just crossed the Agency/Vendor divide (MediaCom to Crimtan), the article raised a number of concepts that I found of great interest. It is certainly true that the nature of the relationships, and indeed the planning process, are changing fast; what follows are my comments on this changing dynamic.

So, what does the future of the media plan look like from my vantage point?

Traditional-style media plans will still exist for tactical campaigns around given events and particularly in brand. However, for advertisers with large Direct Response (DR) budgets, programmatic display is becoming increasingly like search – with an always-on approach. This fundamentally changes the nature of a plan, as optimisation and planning is more intertwined than ever before, and the “plan” evolves constantly, rather than in traditional monthly or other cycles. The nature of planning in a programmatic world is becoming less about different vendors and more about planning different programmatic tactics such as retargeting, search retargeting, look-alike modelling, geo-targeting, behavioural targeting, contextual targeting and more. The fundamental concept of planning and buying in a DR world is evaluating different media and making buying and optimisation decisions. These concepts remain the same in this case, though rather than only planning against media providers it is also about planning against the tactics employed.

Such tactics are now integral to the planning and optimisation process, and it is crucial that planners have full visibility and control over what tactics are being executed. The days of deploying multiple black box DR solutions for large display advertisers should be over. In many cases, these tactics can be managed close to the planners with a trading desk at either the agency or holding company level. However, in my view, utilising different vendors for different tactics will yield better results than simply using one.

Additionally, some tactics may be unique to certain vendors and so working with only one vendor would limit opportunity. Successful planning in programmatic display is based on the realisation that vendors have different strengths and the skill is in knowing which vendor works best for each tactic. This is great for the industry because using more than one vendor has the additional benefit of breeding healthy competition. This is already happening across the more advanced display clients and agencies in the UK, and this practice will surely only grow.

In order for this to work it is crucial that vendors are able to offer transparency, quick visibility and a strong service with the planner buyers. So what tactics, data and inventory sources need to be transparent to the planners and clearly communicated? Some may say that the volumes of data sources and inventory points make this impossible. However, I believe this is simply an excuse. Beyond a certain level of depth there is not enough optimisation data to make more decisions, and it is at that level that transparency needs to occur. In order to facilitate this area, Crimtan has finished a new set of performance dashboards that show performance broken down by line item, geography, segment, time and much more. However, systems are not enough without a strong service, and that is why it is important to invest resources into both trading and account management.

It is also more crucial than ever that vendors are able to show what sets them apart and demonstrate why they are a valuable addition to particular media plans. Unique Inventory and/or data relationships are key here, but equally important is having unique technology offerings that can optimise media in new ways. For example, by owning its technology and having an in-house engineering team, Crimtan is able to integrate its clients with unique data and inventory providers in a much closer way than the big self-service DSPs. The net result of this setup is that the agency planners (and by extension the client) retain full visibility and control of what is happening with the media they buy (a concern raised in the previous article). However, at the same time there is the ability to test new partners and innovate quickly (particularly important with emerging sectors and concepts).

Welcome to the future, then. A world where agency-led trading desks are able to work in harmony with vendors, and are therefore able to show their value. The media plan may start to look very different, but the fundamental concepts of media planning will still be alive and well.

This article first appeared in ExchangeWire on 15 August 2013.