Five Common Planning Shortcuts that Jeopardize Results

It’s no secret that agencies are under increased pressure to condense both timing and costs when working with their clients.  A good agency knows where in the media planning process it’s less risky to take shortcuts and where taking days out of the schedule will do serious damage.

When agencies are under the gun, whether it’s due to downward pricing pressure from procurement or to scheduling challenges with brand managers, here’s some common mistakes they make:

1) Planning to “How Much?” Rather Than “How Much is Right?”

It makes me wince when client questions about costs are answered by media people with another question – “What’s the budget?”

This kind of response demonstrates a certain ignorance – that the media people haven’t yet figured out that it’s their job to advise on the right level of media investment.  It’s indicative that the agency is taking a dangerous shortcut, which is the assumption that they’ll spend whatever the client appears to be willing to spend.

2) Exploring the Target Superficially

When under timing pressures, agencies sometimes fail to explore the target as rigorously as they should.  A quick planning exercise leads them to a buying target with a broad age/gender demographic that they’ll use for buying broadcast media.

Some media vehicles are bazookas and some are lasers with regard to their precision.  Failing to do a deep dive on the target audience and fully explore their psychographics, geography, buying habits, ethnicity and other traits means that you’ll have trouble targeting the message all along the way, and your media buy will be inefficient.

3) Skipping Creative Executional Details

A common mistake we notice when we’re approached by an advertiser who is unhappy with their current agency is that, in the move from planning to execution, it turns out that all the assumptions the agency made about creative were wrong.  For instance, when it came time to sign insertion orders, it turns out half the websites on the digital plan rejected the agency’s interstitial ad because spec details were glossed over.  Or it turns out the OOH ad needed to carry legal disclosures that no one picked up on.

Your agency should know what’s really executable and what is just pie in the sky ideation that won’t get any traction in the real world.

4) Making Assumptions about Low-Hanging Fruit

Many times when I see the work a prior agency put into a media plan, I see another dangerous assumption at work – that only the low-hanging fruit and the easiest to convert will play a role in the product’s success.  Media selection seems focused like a laser on early hand-raisers, and the plan is overtargeted.

Remember what I said earlier about some media being bazookas and others being lasers?  When agencies focus the entirety of their efforts on reaching easy-to-convert prospects and eliminating waste, they often forget that comparatively few people exist within the bullseye of their target.  And they don’t have a plan to drive growth by addressing the concentric rings outside the bullseye.

5) Ignoring the Relationship Between Reach and Awareness

I sometimes see media plans that were clearly constructed to show solid overall reach numbers.  Where some of them fail is in failing to consider how well those plans drive awareness.

Your campaign is going to contain a variety of vehicles, each of which is going to cume reach at different rates.  Some of these media will be better at building frequency than others, too.  What if your goal is to get out ahead of your competition and make sure they’re aware of your product before they hear about your competitor’s?

People need to be exposed to a message an average number of times before they’re really aware of a product.  That average number of times is known as Effective Frequency.  When trying to build awareness quickly, an agency needs to pay attention to how quickly the campaign builds reach at that effective frequency – a concept known as Effective Reach.  Building effective reach quickly means building awareness.  If your media plan ignores this, it’s ignoring the nuances that make one plan more effective than another at getting out ahead of the competition.

You can push your agency to take shortcuts, but be on the lookout for these five common mistakes that media agencies make when they’re under cost and time pressure.

Tom Hespos is a contributor at The Makegood and Founder and Chief Media Officer at Underscore Marketing, a boutique firm that creates and manages digital marketing programs. Look for Tom’s column the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month.