An Interview with Element’s Media Director

robStart with a consumer or business target. Perhaps someone like you or me. Then dive deep to understand their media consumption habits, or where they consume the media they like. Then toss in a constantly evolving media landscape, one that shifts a little every time a new social platform emerges, or as people cut their cables and head toward the web. Now consider psychology and sociology. Maybe a bit of cultural anthropology. You’re trying to marry a message to all those considerations, do it within a budget, and generally on a strict time frame. There’s the brand to consider, as where and how you display a message impacts the brand. Oh, and you have a client who really thinks QR codes are finally about to set the world on fire, and you need to nudge them gently toward something relevant. Got it? Great. You’re ready to start media planning. The point we’re making is that media planning is a highly specialized task, and few do it better than our own Rob Young. We sat down with Rob to try to get a sense of what he does and how he does it. Here’s a little of what we learned.

WHAT ARE THE MAJOR STEPS BEHIND BUILDING A MEDIA PLAN?

Fundamentally speaking, it’s a media planner/director’s role to place our client’s creative message—whether it’s broadcast, print, digital, outdoor, etc.—in front of the right people at the right time with the hope they take action. Sounds simple, right? It’s much more involved than most believe.

It all begins with a very clear understanding of our client’s best current customers as well as potential customers. Not only do we need to have clear definitions of standard demographics—age, gender, income, education levels, presence of children, etc.—but more importantly, we need to understand what makes them tick psychologically. What media do they engage with or ‘consume’ and why is it important to them? How and when do they consume media, and will they be receptive to our advertising in this context? These answers are not often easily found and require in-depth research gathered from third-party sources as well as primary research conducted by the agency.

Once we understand the target audience, we evaluate a myriad of media options based on criteria such as the ability to communicate our client’s message (think about the differences between TV spots, print ads, and outdoor billboards), the timing between advertising exposure and a prospect’s ability to take action (visit our client’s website, make a purchase, etc.), timing flexibility (think about bimonthly magazines vs. digital advertising and how often messages can be changed over time), advertising environment compatibility, relevance, cost-efficiency, and more.

WHAT EXCITES YOU MOST ABOUT PLANNING AND PLACING MEDIA?

Uncovering an insight about our client’s target audience, and their relationship to our client’s product that enables us to reach them in an unexpected and powerful way that produces results. And when we can tie in the creative so much the better. For example, while I was working in Chicago, my agency had the Altoids creative and media planning account. As most of you know, Altoids are “curiously strong” mints that come in a rectangular metal tin. Recognizing that a huge portion of downtown Chicago office workers were potential Altoids consumers and opinion leaders, our agency proposed to our client that we paint all of the tugboats that work on the Chicago River, which run through downtown and across the Lake Superior shores, to look like the iconic Altoids tins. After all, aren’t tugboats “curiously strong” for their size? The PR and media buzz garnered was considerable and consumers appreciated the smart approach to nontraditional media.

DO YOU TRACK YOUR RESULTS? WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE TO DO SO?

We always want to measure everything we do—including the return on our clients’ investments. The most useful metrics come from our clients and include sales numbers, inquiries, and brand awareness. In addition, we review Google Analytics and proprietary third-party tools.

WHAT VALUES OR QUANTITIES WOULD YOU SAY ARE NECESSARY TO WORK IN THE FIELD OF MEDIA?

First off, if you don’t love research, data, and numbers, you may not find a career in media all that fulfilling. From a research standpoint, you must understand exactly whom you are trying to communicate with and what it’s going to take to facilitate action on their part. There’s qualitative and quantitative media research and analysis that require lots of spreadsheets and specialized software. We solicit and evaluate a myriad of media opportunities on a dozen different criteria all tailored to each client’s specific goals.

To be successful, you should also be inherently curious and always be thinking about the most effective, impactful, relevant, and cost-effective way to reach your clients’ current and potential customers.

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