Transforming Media Planners Into Programmatic Strategists

Media planning agencies know that programmatic media needs to be ingrained throughout their organizations.  Planners need a deeper understanding of programmatic media to drive better performance and gain richer insights for their clients.  As a result, agencies have been working with DSPs and digital consultants to teach their staff how to plan and buy programmatic media.  This type of operational training introduces the mechanics of programmatic media, but it doesn’t change the core behaviors of media planners.  They are unprepared to deal with a channel that is dynamic and requires constant attention.  Agencies need to push for more active behaviors that will transform their media planners into programmatic strategists and buyers.

Traditional media planners typically don’t have experience manipulating many optimization levers.  They tend to use email and the phone as their main tools to interact with publishers who move placements around or eliminate them entirely. Basically when performance is down, media planners will reach out to vendors and tell them to fix it.  But with programmatic media, direct solutions are at any strategist’s fingertips.  For instance, if a programmatic campaign is performing inefficiently, rather than calling a DSP first, a media planner can go directly into the UI to see if CPMs can be reduced, certain audiences are performing better than others, or a site performs differently based on the exchange it’s sourced from.  It’s important to train media planners to take one more step towards finding solutions to a programmatic media problem themselves.  



At the same time, too many levers can be intimidating for any programmatic media novice.  Many planners wouldn’t know where to begin.  The safest place to start is reporting.  Planners become more empowered to make optimizations after understanding reporting, which gets them accustomed to seeing the different ways data can be sliced and the appropriate optimizations available for each.  For instance, reporting may show that win rates for certain campaigns are higher than the average, which suggests that CPMs should be decreased to win fewer auctions.  Or conversions may begin to plateau after someone sees an ad more than 30 times in one month, which suggests that frequency caps should be reduced to no more than 30 per month.  

We’ve found that emphasis should be placed on training junior staffers first.  Entry-level planners don’t have the same learned behaviors as seasoned planners.  They tend to have a higher propensity to pick up new tasks within their first six to eight months when they’ve begun to understand the media planning and buying process.  This is a perfect time for them to begin learning programmatic media.  By the time they reach their first year and begin to plan and buy on their own, these evolved planners will have a more sophisticated perspective on buying in a programmatic world.

It’s also important for planners to continue their programmatic education independently.  The best and easiest way to do this is by talking to publishers.  Like agencies, publishers are also shifting quickly towards programmatic media and as a result, they have unique insights from a different perspective.  For instance, many planners don’t know how SSPs and exchanges work.  Planners can learn how they work directly from publishers and how each publisher prioritizes its own inventory along its own waterfall.  

Traditional media planners, offline and online staffers, need to be at the core of an agency’s programmatic evolution.  Simply moving programmatic traders into a silo within an agency will not create the seamless flow of insights that drive a media plan.  Training planners to be programmatic strategists gets agencies closer to becoming true programmatic agencies.

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