Commentary

Why We Need Media Planning And Accounting Tools

Back in my traditional advertising days, developing and implementing media buys couldn’t have been simpler. Both agency process and media planning software were standardized, so it was not only easy to look at a number of different media scenarios, but it was also easy to implement the scenario the client eventually signed off on.

For instance, I had MRI research and IMS planning tools at my fingertips. I could put together a plan with several different types of media vehicles and multiple flighting options with minimal effort. Whether it was planning a $1 million campaign or a $100 million campaign, I could very easily see how variations in levels, flighting, weight within different vehicles and several other factors affected my reach and frequency. It was not uncommon for me to submit a prototypical plan to my supervisor, and have her say to me, “That’s great. Let me see what reach at the 3+ frequency level looks like if you use six radio networks instead of five.”

Within about 15 minutes, I could consult various reach curves and planning tools to forecast the metrics for the new scenario, and my supervisor could look at the new plan and decide on a direction.

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Think for a second about how much of a headache a similar scenario would be in interactive media. If a client asked me to tweak a plan slightly to see what the impact would be on reach and frequency metrics, I would likely be faced with having to spend quite a bit of time renegotiating rates, adjusting weight levels, talking to new vendors and generally wasting a lot of effort. In addition, the industry is still waiting for a reliable predictive tool for reach and frequency, which will be very helpful to planners who are putting together integrated online and offline campaigns.

Putting aside the reach/frequency tool issue for a minute, we need to examine how thorough our industry can be with regard to putting together multiple campaign scenarios for our clients. Granted, many agencies present multiple online options when they pitch clients, but in general, those are geared toward different levels of spending or using or excluding specific online vehicles. Rarely would a client see an interactive presentation with two different options – one for extending reach and one for extending frequency.

The ability to easily and quickly come up with a wide range of media options, while illustrating the relationship between the planning variables I mentioned a few paragraphs ago is one thing that traditional planners have that interactive planners don’t. And it represents a barrier to entry for any client considering interactive marketing as part of their media mix.

“Why does it take so long to put together an interactive plan?” is a question I hear from many clients when the subject of Interactive’s role in the communications mix comes up. It’s a legitimate question. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg as far as streamlining the media process is concerned.

Another friction point in the process is billing and reconciliation. When I was planning traditional media exclusively, the process was much simpler. When I issued an insertion order to a magazine or a buy authorization to the TV buying group, I knew that I wouldn’t have to do much else until the activity ran and it was time to issue a post-buy analysis. In the case of magazines, I would sign a standard insertion order and fax it to my sales rep. I would also fill out a buy sheet that was routed to an account coordinator. The account coordinator would enter the magazine insertion and its cost into our Donovan system. When it was time to bill the client for media activity, Donovan could easily generate a client invoice. It also took care of credits due the client, in case of changes in cost or in the event that an insertion didn’t run for whatever reason.

Again, contrast this with interactive. Since interactive-specific tools that link the media and accounting departments are hard to come by, billing and reconciliation can be a total nightmare. Accounting folks are barraged with invoices from media vendors and, unless they have some sort of central database, they can be clueless as to which invoices are okay to pay and which need to be adjusted or contested.

At many of the agencies I’ve worked at, this meant a hard-to-swallow adjustment in the way that media and accounting worked together. Media would have to absorb some responsibilities of the accounting department, resulting in fewer billable hours and an all-around slowdown in workflow.

Add all of these things together and it becomes clear that there is an open opportunity for a technology company to simplify and streamline the media process for agencies. Thankfully, some companies have recognized this opportunity and are hard at work to make this happen. Some initiatives that are currently underway or completed include:

  • Predictive reach and frequency tools for online media
  • Master databases containing data gleaned from RFPs, so that agencies can easily construct multiple plan scenarios
  • Tools for automating the RFP process
  • Accounting and reconciliation tools that help agencies process invoices and reconcile activity quicker and more easily

Next week, we’ll discuss the companies in this space, the tools they’re offering, and some of the tools that are in development.

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