Hitting the super six in media planning

The business of advertising is all about (a) What to say (b) How to say and (c) Most ignored, yet most importantly WHERE to say. While the what to say (strategic planning) has its share of brainstorming and nit picking and how to say (creative execution) its grand platform of glory, the where to say is often relegated to a mundane activity of droning off figures and figures at the end of presentations. All because, sadly no one ever thinks it is important to involve the media person at the strategic planning stage or the creative planning stage while working on a campaign. Often there is just a cursory representation of media in these meetings, in the form of a silent spectator who, if and when decides to speak up, will do so in terms of banal statistics and numbers and jargon that often puts the ‘creative’ heads to sleep.

The Media-Creative marriage

Advertising is communication. Effective communication is a lot about presentation of the message. One of the media planner’s most important jobs is to choose the best vehicle for the exposure of this message. Entire budgets may end up going down the drain if the valuable crores of rupees are not allocated appropriately to reach out the message to the potential consumer.

What one needs to make a brilliant campaign is to establish close communication between the media planner and the copy group right from the early stages of plans development. This will help in one, the copy group understanding the exposure opportunities and limitations early on in the planning stage and two, in the media planner understanding the intended creative approach to guide in the selection of media.

Today’s media scene

The dynamic nature of today’s media could be because of the umpteen number of entertainment and infotainment options that are today available to the consumers. Gone are the days of one doordarshan,, few leading publications, and even fewer options of entertainment and outings. The arrival of the various satellite channels and publications and the ever growing breed of more of such makes a planners job quite tricky and skilful. Paradoxically, today’s media fact is that though T.V. viewing has shot up (in terms of no. of hours), reading habits have not gone down. The high audience fragmentation; the ‘freebies’ survival tactics offered by many channels and publications who are giving ‘free’ spots and space to win more advertising revenue from clients etc. are only some of the snakes in the otherwise Eden of the media planners life.

No wonder, given this scenario, agencies often fall into the trap of getting caught in the ‘presented facts’ rather than delving deep within to look at and evaluate the core. For most agencies, making deals and bargains is the order of the day and the measure of their ‘media’ success. It would indeed be a rare pleasure if one came across the concept of reach and frequency from a young, maverick, planner today. The cost-benefit ratio has gone for a toss, often ending up in the agencies spreading themselves thin. It’s easier for today’s media person to be a part of a herd mentality (‘I must be on T.V. because everyone else is on T.V.) than to turn the clock in their favour with great plans and ideas.

Large Indian advertisers have gone one step ahead. They have started negotiating with most channels and publications themselves with the result huge amounts are being spent but these are hardly getting media visibility. There has been a steep rise in non-productive advertising expenses with media buying altering priorities to get better deals, rather than fine tuning planning, as is the conventional method.

The Science of Media Planning

So, what is scientific media planning? What could bring back a ‘planner to life’? What would resurrect the art of media planning in the face of stiff competition from media negotiating? A simple 6-Step process could help the young turks of advertising media give more brain meat to their media plans. This 6-Step process could help in making the intended campaign reach more incisively, drawing blood from deep or more sportingly you will hit a six with this super six step process.

Step 1: The situation analysis

As is the accepted ‘given’ in most agencies, a media person works on a ‘brief’ that he is given by the client servicing person, or if lucky, straight from the client, by being a part of the client meeting. A smart planner would exercise his grey cells further and clearly understand the marketing problem, delve into the company and its competitors, understand the dynamics of size and share of market, study the sales history, distribution practices (yes, it helps to know how the brand you are working on reaches its end user), method of selling, before finally coming to the identification of the prospect. Too much is never really too much, when it comes to gathering brand information, as the more we know the more innovative we can get in generating cut-throat media plans.

Step 2: Getting to the market strategy

Advertising is the means to achieve marketing objectives. Most of the ad people forget this and look at advertising as a creative field for fulfilment of creative urges. Very few of us realise the responsibility that rests on our shoulders in this profession. Good media planners however, do realise the value of the millions of rupees entrusted to them by their clients and judiciously spend each rupee to get the maximum mileage off it. Your media plan, as a good planner, must stick to this essence and revolve around activities that solve one or more marketing problem/s. To do this you must put the marketing objective in focus before you arrive at any media decisions. Based on these objectives you need to arrive at a ‘Spending Strategy’ which you would apply after the identification of the best market segment.

Step 3: Setting media objectives

Now that you have your spend strategy in line with the marketing objectives, the next big step is to translate these marketing objectives and spend strategies into goals that media can accomplish. To do this it is important to state the media objective in as clear a term as possible. For example if we are trying to sell a premium perfume that costs around Rs. 3,500/- for a 100 ml bottle, the media objective could probably be “To reach 80% women in the age group 25-44, in SEC A+ and A, living in major metro towns (specify the towns), ensuring that they are exposed to the message at least 4 times a week (average frequency). Compare this to a vague objective like “To reach all women in SEC A & A+”, wherein you could lose your focus as it does not offer you any direction to strategize.

Step 4: Determining the media strategy

Having got the objectives set now comes the time to translate media goals into general guidelines that will control the planners selection and use of media. Analyse all possible data available and arrive at the best possible media class that can deliver your message to the maximum of the audience set as the target in our objective. Should this media class be Television, Dailies, Radio, Internet, Outdoor, Magazines or do we need to innovate (innovation always helps if it is well thought out and relevant). If any particular medium is unable to reach out to all 80%, then we look at alternative media classes that will fill in the gap. Simply put, this means you need to choose broad media classes and determine the primary medium of message delivery and the secondary medium for message delivery to achieve the marketing objectives. Work out various strategies that can achieve our objectives, with the central point being simple audience delivery! Having done this, zoom in and select the best strategy alternative that will lead you to your next step.

Step 5: Selection of media vehicles

Having carefully picked and chosen the broad media classes, now you need to freeze on the exact vehicles that will deliver to the media objectives. It is best to know what you expect each of medium and the chosen vehicles to deliver. Herein you will address issues like who is each of these addressing from the targeted audience, what is the intended goal behind using this particular vehicle, etc.

After arriving at a probable shortlist, compare and select the best media within the broad classes- If magazine-which one? If television – which channel/s? If newspaper-which one? If radio- which channel/s? Analyse these options and allocate approximate spends to each of these.

Step 6: Media use decisions

Having chosen the channels/ newspapers/ radio channels/ websites etc., now answer crucial questions like what is the level of reach and frequency you think is needed to reach out to the target audience? Are there any specific days/months more important to help in achieving the marketing objectives? What is the optimum number of insertions/ spots required per week /month to fulfill the average frequency set in the media objective? Will having any preferred positions/ placements within the media help deliver a message better? The more specific our questions and answers are the more bang-on our plan will be!

These Super Sixes leave hardly any chance of erroneous planning you can encounter. The more you use these steps to plan, the more astute and precise you will get at the job of planning. With time you will realize that getting the best deal in media is not always about the best price at which you have bought media but is about how best you have got your target audience bought into your media selection so they buy enough of the brand you have been made a custodian of. So happy planning!

Jameel Gulrays

‘Brevity is the soul of wit’

I am borrowing this quote – ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’ – from English litterateur William Shakespeare to start my conversation on how to write advertising copies. These words were spoken by Polonius in Hamlet and written many centuries ago by the Bard, but these also happen to make up an enduring idiom, to sum up, a copywriter’s job. Apart from having a good command of the language, one needs to be smart in positioning the words. A dash of creativity with imagination in good measure makes an advertising copy stand out. And one must remember to follow the KISS (Keep It Simple & Smart) policy because being brief is the essence. One needs great ideas on which a product can piggyback and sell like hot cakes. Most of you would remember the famous, Tandurasti ki raksha karta hai LifebuoyIt was penned way back in 1964, but it is still in use today. The brand has been riding high on this one line alone for so many decades, and that’s the true power of words. In an advertising copy, imagination helps create an everlasting impression and etch the brand in public memory forever. 

Back Story

The Advertising Agencies Association of India or the 3As of I or AAAI was the national organisation of major advertising agencies formed to promote and protect their interests. The agencies that are members of AAAI together account for almost 80% of the advertising business. In 1984, advertising legend RK Swamy was the president of AAAI. There was a shortage of good copywriters in the advertising business back then. So, he suggested the idea to have a professional body for the training and development of advertising professionals. A sub-committee was formed under AAAI. It was headed by another advertising legend, Larry Grant, and Govind Sajnani and I were its two members. We first started a copy workshop under the aegis of AAAI. We realised that advertising can’t be taught; it is all about hands-on training, so we knew what we wanted and how we wanted to conduct these workshops and for whom. We decided to have not more than eight trainees for the training session. We released an advertisement in The Times of India, Mumbai, seeking applications for our first workshop. In response, we received whopping 500 applications. Well, selecting the right eight wasn’t easy to start. 

Eliminate to select

Many applicants had self-eliminated themselves by the way they had worded their applications. Next came the copy test to check the language know-how and the imagination quotient of the remaining lot. The pattern remained the same for all tests, but we used to change the questions. The first batch had to answer two questions – to write about AIDS but without talking about the disease or the aid pouring in from other countries to fight it and a profile of their favourite personality in 500 words. A personal interview followed the writing test. Out of 500, we managed to shortlist 16 people, and we decided to run two batches simultaneously. 

Write choice

I was in charge of three sessions in each batch, and my onerous responsibility included teaching them to write advertising copies in Indian languages. It was easier said than done. I have an interesting anecdote to share to elucidate this fact. Once, we had to design a brand name for a soap whose perfume, it was told, would linger on the body for long. A young copywriter came to tell me she had cracked it. I asked her the name that she had in mind. She told me, “It is Hug.” I smiled and told her, “I hope you know what it would be like to write this name in Devnagari script?” The name didn’t cut the ice and for obvious reasons. She knew quickly retraced her steps back to her workstation and put on the thinking cap to come with something that sounded good and read even better, in both English and Hindi.

Workshop funda  

Each workshop was of 13 sessions and was held once a week. We used to give many assignments, both individual and group, to launch a product or service and create its brand campaigns. These assignments use to give us an idea about a person’s talent, whether a person had some or none. At the end of the 13th week, the participants had to present these assignments before an advertising legend and based on that assessment, they used to get either a gold certificate, plain certificate, or no certificate and just a letter certifying that this person has attended the workshop. The first copy assignment was to write a matrimonial ad in 24 words for oneself to be published in the classified column to elicit responses from only three right people. 

We expanded our ambit to start creative, media planning, print production, film production, radio production and account management workshops under the three-member sub-committee of AAAI. We ran these workshops for 10 years. 

Looking back, it gladdens my heart to see that most of our students are well placed today. They are either Chairperson, Managing Director, Executive Directors and Senior VPs in India and even abroad. Their success gives me immense pride and satisfaction, and in equal measure. 

Are you ready to take a copy test? It’s simple. Write a matrimonial advertisement for yourself in 24 words. Once you are done, please email your entries to gulrayys@gmail.com. The best copy stands a chance to win a surprise gift voucher.