Natalie Mortimer
Dec 18, 2019

How a media planner's job has changed in a decade

Three media planners in Australia tell Campaign they're more responsive, contributing more to business outcomes than at the start of the 2010s.

How a media planner's job has changed in a decade

The media landscape has changed drastically since 2010. Each year since has brought with it a new mix of consumer behaviour, media preferences and tech trends. That, coupled with the ubiquitous availability of data and the advent of increasingly sophisticated technology, means that what’s possible in media planning and buying and importantly measurement, has impacted the way media planners carry out their roles.

So just what kind of changes has the industry encountered?

More integrated, proactive, responsive

“A big shift is the way that we used to plan by channel; in 2010 it would have been very much that each channel would have run parallel to the others and we were quite siloed in our approach,” says Penny Shell, head of product and national planning at OMD.

“Now we aim for a much more integrated approach to one holistic campaign, which is planned around behaviours rather than by a channel. This enables us to have a bigger campaign impact, as obviously the fragmentation has diluted the ability to blast out a message in a couple of channels.”

Penny Shell, OMD

On a more day to day basis, one of the bigger changes that Toby Young, head of Next at UM has noticed, is how media planners now carry out post analysis on a campaign.

“I remember coming into the industry in 2010 and you would focus probably about 50% of your time on post-analysis, and you'd be doing these huge powerpoint decks at the back end of a campaign to look at what worked, what didn't and what could inform the next year's plan,” he recalls.

“Post-analysis still exists today, but post-analysis is now for a media planner the basics of what they do every single day in terms of trading and optimisation etc. A media plan today is always on and always optimised and it's the core function of what a planner does rather than at the end of a campaign.”

A media planner’s typical day in 2010 also involved more lunches, chasing down media kits and thinking of what the next big Sunday night TV campaign launch would be.

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In retrospect: How the industry changed in the 2010s

“We used to have to respond much more to campaigns, whereas clients today have more of an annual plan view, so an always on presence in the market, and so less of those launch tactics are needed,” adds Young.

Measuring toward outcomes

When it comes to measurement, it’s no surprise to learn that digital has transformed the way agencies gauge the success of a campaign.

“We can now understand the impact on clients’ business outcomes beyond just a media metric,” says Shell. “We can track our campaigns in close to real time now and we don't have to wait for 24 hours to get the ratings uploaded or even a week for out of home delivery. It's really been fast tracked and it's quite immediate, so we are able to be much more dynamic.”

In TV land, which has experienced major changes with the growth of streaming services and
on demand video, measurement has become somewhat of a challenge says Brett Poole, managing director of GroupM’s addressable TV business Finecast.

“Broadcast video-on-demand (BVoD) on TV devices currently doesn’t fall into any gold standard measurement framework. This has led to a situation where the fastest growing TV inventory is not being seen by buyers, in the traditional sense,” he says.

Brett Poole, GroupM

But progress is being made. “Measurement in TV will remain with the traditional providers and they will improve their capabilities to measure more effectively. For example, OzTAM in Australia has been publishing results from the VPM (video player measurement) that measures BVoD activity and will be launching Virtual Australia (VOZ) to the market in 2020, which promises incremental reach planning and measurement.”

For Young, the shift from focussing on media metrics to business outcomes is an important change that he’s seen across the decade, however he believes media planners still need greater training and access to measurement tools to better understand the outcome of a campaign.

“When I first started in the industry, measurement tools were purely focused on looking at optimising media metrics and now they are optimising business outcomes... one thing I think the industry still needs to do better, and something we at UM are focussed on, is democratising and applying those business outcome tools in the hands of media planners.”

Often, says Young, such tools “sit in a box” at the client side or an analytic agency.

“It’s a real crusade to get those measurement tools, especially the business outcome measurement tools applied in the everyday, but what's the point of them if they are not really changing what is going on in the media plans?”

The importance of creativity has grown over the decade, given that audiences are able to quickly avoid or block advertising that misses the mark.

“People are demanding more from what they want out of their entertainment and they are self selecting what they choose to interact with, so creative media is really critical to not just cut through but to get people talking about the brand,” says Shell.

Influencing creative work

And combining creativity with technology is generating some exciting executions. “The introduction of data in both planning and activation has led to a lot more interesting creative in TV,” says Poole.

“It is now possible to run creative variations on a national campaign depending on the viewer’s location. A quick service restaurant brand, for example, would be able to run creative promoting ‘family meals’ in suburbs over-indexing in family homes while running price sensitive ‘single meal deals’ creative to areas with a high penetration of university students.”

Interestingly, something that hasn’t really changed, says Shell, is what planners are basing their strategies on, with cultural trends and behaviours proving as important as ever.

“Today, of course, we can understand audiences and identify trends through an enormous range of data sources and that is really important, but I don't think we should compromise on that instinct from being able to read culture to identify what the audience wants,” she says.

“I think we can get a bit obsessed with going so deep on data that it can kill the creative in our strategy, and I still think that at the heart of a good strategy is something pretty timeless, which is identifying those cultural trends and that audience behaviour.”

Young agrees in so far that not much has altered in the basis for a strategy over the decade, but adds that machine learning is now being applied in more everyday situations and will be critical for the future in helping planners to create “real central sources of truth”.

Toby Young, UM

“What's exciting is that machine learning allows us to take the human bias out of the start of the planning process and by that I mean it helps to inform how audiences are affected and how channels work for those audiences,” he says.

“I really think that machine learning can help us to inform much better client briefs so that when the media planners get those briefs, they're seeing what the solution is, rather than people's opinions diluting where that opportunity comes from.”

Other future trends that will impact media planning will be the integration of commerce into more media channels, shoppable TV and voice activation, according to Shell. There will also be more global brand building opportunities.

“A really interesting prediction I've noticed rising in our agency is a global connectivity opportunity and particularly for Australia, this is a really exciting one. We are having really great conversations with our clients about building their brands internationally and being able to do that from this market is a huge opportunity for all of us,” she says. “Media planners can upskill in international media, apply those learnings here and deploy that insight into media around the world.”

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