Back in the era of electric typewriters, carbon copies and first generation Macintosh computers that ran off of floppy disks, I started my career as a media planner/buyer. Those were heady days in the media business, full of excitement and promise, with indulgent expense accounts and three-cocktail lunches. Advertising agencies swelled with young upstarts like me, fresh out of undergrad, eager to carve out our niche in marketing, an industry that carried with it a thin veneer of mystery. We were carefree and a little drunk on the possibilities, kind of like the cast of Mad Men, but with bigger hair and flashier clothes.
I learned the ropes from a more experienced planner who generously shared her time and knowledge and helped me launch what would eventually become my life’s work. Most of our day to day efforts went into assembling media plans that included combinations of traditional vehicles like print, radio, television and outdoor. When cable television eventually came along, shaking up the TV-scape, there were some media veterans who initially doubted its potential to drive ratings. Eventually the diaries began counting cable viewers and everyone began to recognize consumers’ ravenous hunger for new ways of accessing programming. If they could have only predicted how the Internet of Things would drive those appetites.
Once we’d trafficked the creative and our media plans were securely in place, we waited for print tearsheets to arrive in the mail, and dialed up our station partners for occasional arguments over affidavits that didn’t quite match up. Strata and Neilson provided listenership and viewership data, magazines and newspapers bragged about their circulation numbers and the affluence of their readership, and on a really good day, we got access to professionally compiled market research. Most of the time, we were flying without a parachute when it came to media measurement and audience delivery. Remember, up until then, we had yet to see the onset of familiar advertising industry buzzwords like “content,” “engagement,” or “analytics.” Most advertising campaigns were built for two distinct reasons: to drive awareness of a brand or product, or to increase direct response around tangible metrics like numbers of phone calls or widgets purchased. Looking back, media planning was startling in its lack of accountability, compared to what we see today. Not to overly romanticize those earlier times, but there was an inherent simplicity to the way we did business.
Flash forward a few decades to an age of smart (and increasingly smarter) devices, omnipotent technology, streaming content, heightened consumer search behavior and increasingly complex conversion goals. Today’s media strategies are almost exclusively built around metrics and return on investment. Fortunately, planners have access to well-honed measurement tools to meet greater client expectations throughout the duration of a campaign. We often find ourselves needing to educate these same clients on the meaning of the metrics so that they are able to fully appreciate the value inherent in our reports. Truth is, the process has become way more labor-intensive than it used to be, but in the end, it’s driving all of us in the industry to be better prepared, more well-versed in the language of paid media, increasingly versatile and responsive. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The longer I’ve worked in this business, the more perspective I bring to the growing list of traditional and new media technologies at my disposal. I’m long past worrying about whether my credibility as a digital media planner/buyer depends on whether I’m a digital native or not. On the contrary, because I used to develop media plans in the days before smart phones existed, I’ve had the good fortune to observe first-hand how different types of media vehicles work together, and subsequently, I’m able to determine when and where digital media options will behave most effectively. Digital platforms become one more arrow in my quiver, vs. being the only type of media tactic I know how to implement. My clients appreciate my greater capacity for creativity and I benefit from a more diverse media planning portfolio.