Media Planning: Looking Back to Appreciate Today

A good media plan helps you hit the target.

​I’ve been planning and buying media for over twenty years, and I’ve seen this corner of the advertising universe altered in more ways than I can count. Most of these changes have been really positive, adding a much-needed focus on accountability to the media planner’s role. I’ve enthusiastically embraced the latest technologies and consume as much information as I can on a daily basis to stay ahead on the learning curve. I find myself enjoying parallel and concurrent identities as both a student and expert in my practice.

Those of you media veterans out there might remember the days of having to type up your insertion orders on an electric typewriter (with carbon in between the pages, so that you’d have copies for the vendor, accounts payable, and yourself…) And how about having to use FedEx to traffic actual “camera ready” ad creative to the print vendors? There was no such thing as file sharing in 1995, at least not where I worked. Not to mention all those antiquated research tools we used to use. Media kits were glossy, printed sales pieces that took up a whole wall of shelves in my office. SRDS, the bible for media planners, looked like an enormous phone book. My belated apologies to environmentalists everywhere. Forests of trees were sacrificed in the name of media planning.

I’m hoping that by recalling those obsolete techniques, as ridiculous as they might sound today, it might help us all to better understand the primary purpose behind the media department: to make informed recommendations that will convey our client’s message to the desired target audience and ultimately achieve the end goal. After all, the core principles that support developing a solid, strategically driven media plan have not changed, despite all of these new technologies.

This view is supported in a recent article from the Chicago Tribune:

“At its core media planning hasn’t changed. It’s still about maximizing ROI and getting a message in front of the right audience at the right time. It’s the methods that have changed, and quite drastically.”

Just because we are now able to place ads onto digital platforms that contain contextually, behaviorally, or geographically targeted content and compel our audiences to perform specific conversions via web and mobile-driven calls to action, doesn’t mean we should forget why we are doing this in the first place.

A good media planner understands that our clients expect their investment in paid media advertising to boost awareness and drive new business. Throughout the process, we must be accountable, provide ongoing metrics, and optimize our recommendations based on multiple data sources. Depending on your perspective, the vastness of digital technology has either made our lives a whole lot easier or way more complicated.

As for me, I am happy to be riding this ever-evolving wave of media inventiveness, exploring the benefits and realizing the occasional pitfalls of the latest and greatest advertising vehicles, constantly seeking to improve on my reporting techniques, reaching audiences with more narrowly focused placements, always with an eye to spending my clients’ media dollars most efficiently. I don’t miss the old days, or the old ways, but I’ll look back on them once in a while to better appreciate where I am today.

Anne Richardson

Anne Richardson is the owner and media director of Richardson Media Group, an agency specializing in media planning and buying, advertising campaign management, and SEO.


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Anne outside the door of the Richardson Media Group office.

In addition to her role as owner and media director here at RMG, Anne authors the majority of our blog posts and hosts our BSuite podcast. Favorite topics for both platforms include the entrepreneurial journey, sustainability + social responsibility, media planning, media buying, and forming productive agency partnerships.