Media 'Planning'? Really?

Titles matter. Calling someone a “media planner” sets up the wrong expectations about this critical role. In a world where everything is moving to segment-of-one and constant agility, the term “planning” is a relic from a time when there was a push for an upfront plan so companies could get big buys done and just run their campaigns. 

Media campaigns can no longer be managed sequentially. But they absolutely do need to be managed -- every day, relentlessly, across dozens of channels, targeted segments, performance objectives, and changing environments. Media budgets are usually the biggest item in a marketer’s budget, and attract massive scrutiny from finance, which constantly questions whether an item is expendable or essential. 

“Media portfolio management” is what marketers need today. Taking a cue from how wealth managers stay on top of their funds, marketers should embrace the parallels to the financial world, and rethink their strategies, operations and organizations accordingly. The parallels are not perfect, but they are many, and they are instructive:

  • From few investment choices to an almost infinite range of options
  • From a constrained ability to make changes to real-time adjustment
  • From slow feedback loops to instantaneous tracking
  • From a planning-execution, eventual-attribution tracking cycle to a constant, relentless test/learn/optimize agility  



Media portfolio managers have already become more than “planners,” but the job remains unglamorous, tough, and always subject to challenge. Compensation to media agencies has been squeezed, as marketers move from commissions to mixes of retainer and performance-based measures. And more marketers are bringing media management in-house, to get more control over data, lower costs, and increase the transparency behind their biggest expenses. 

But to succeed in today’s incredibly complex media marketplace, media portfolio managers need the tools to optimize performance across their full portfolio, track performance across it all, spot aberrations, and constantly execute changes in real time. While advances have equipped media traders with sophisticated tools for subsets of channels (hello, Lumascape!), the same cannot be said for portfolio management tools that help optimize and orchestrate campaigns across all media channels.

Getting the breakthrough to manage media portfolios requires AI -- focused on bringing intelligence to radically simplify the integration, scenario modeling, transparency and actionability that fund managers would expect to have across their investments. 

The biggest hedge funds and wealth managers have spent millions to build proprietary portfolio management systems.  Very few media agencies or brands have the margins and talent available to develop and maintain such a system. 

But focused third parties are zeroing in on the opportunity. Instead of a fragmented set of media tools across channels, new operating systems are emerging that stitch together data sources, intelligently surfacing the trends in cost and availability across every channel, and then presenting scenarios of how to best optimize spend as budgets and objectives change. 

This all gets especially powerful when marketers manage media in an agile manner, as a full portfolio, and build the supporting organization and operations. One global CPG marketer is using Elsy, a media portfolio tool (disclosure -- a client) as the engine behind “media management pods” where data scientists, strategists, and execution managers work as a unit across channels and segments, moving away from the company’s previously channel-siloed approach. It has also tightened the bond between marketing and finance, moving investments up or down as daily models expose better possibilities.

The impact is becoming clear. Marketers who are combining AI with new operating models are starting to achieve improvements of 30%+ in their ROI from media spend, leading to more investment going back in -- without incremental FTEs.

Segment-of-one at scale is real, but, especially in media, you need the intelligent tools and operational capability to cost-effectively manage the explosion of complexity.  Brands who are considering moving more media work in-house, or media agencies looking to grow more efficiently, are taking the lead in adopting the media portfolio management perspective. 

New platforms like Elsy will become the backbone of future media operations. I now wonder whether this can also lead to an elevation of the “media planner” role to that of a strategic growth leader. I’d say a universal improvement of 30% in return on media spend would go a long way toward not only improving companies’ financials, but also towards raising the stature of their marketers.

3 comments about "Media 'Planning'? Really?".
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  1. Dan Ciccone from STACKED Entertainment, December 1, 2020 at 12:05 p.m.

    Very insightful commentary.  Unfortantely, most of these articles focus on metrics and algorithms and software and all-too-often, creative is absent from the conversation or the execution.

    Creative execution should be given much more attention than it is (and by creative, I mean the actual creative assets/messaging/imagery - not getting creative with the planning or buying).  More times than not, the planning team does not know what the creative looks like while in the process of planning or buying.  That's basically asking someone to plan a car trip through the desert, but they don't know if they'll have a Jeep or a Bronco or a Leaf to make the trip until they actually show up at the desert.

    It's difiuclt to execute a plan when you don't know what you're driving.

  2. Sarah Fay from Glasswing Ventures replied, December 1, 2020 at 2:12 p.m.

    One hundred percent, David.  The use of AI to synthesize data inputs and make media financial decisions in real time takes the guesswork out, eliminates days and weeks of manual work, and frees the "Media Portfolio Manager" to focus on the strategy and plan activation.  To Dan's point, there is a mismatch of time spent directing the budget vs. ensuring that the right creative meshes with the media choices and builds on the brand strategy. Smart teams will automate to solve for complexity and apply creativity so their media + creative = high impact.

  3. Glenn Hansen from BPA Worldwide, December 8, 2020 at 11:05 p.m.

    Where has the "schooling" on media planing gone?
    We have taken a first step working with Kevin Arsham of MediaCom to reintroduce it to the agency and in-house buying teams. It's complimentary and can be found here:

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