Are Your Media People Unimaginative? Or Just Realistic?

“They weren’t giving us enough when it comes to big, out-of-the-box ideas.”

How many times have you talked to a client who recently fired an agency, who cites this as a reason why they’ve moved on to a new partner?

“They ask us for all these out-of-the-box ideas, but then end up buying a bunch of run-of-the-mill banners and sponsorships.”

Now, how many salespeople have historically leveled this complaint against agency media teams?

Outward appearances might indicate that agency media folks have problems thinking beyond the tried and true.  But I’d argue that something else is at work here, and if you work regularly with highly analytic media planning types, you need to understand this:

Good media planners temper all their recommendations with a healthy dose of reality.

Even though we all know that “there are no bad ideas in a brainstorming meeting,” many good planners have lived through the chaos of overinvesting in a big idea that wasn’t realistically executable.  And their practicality means they know that one boring program that actually goes to market is worth an infinite number of pie-in-the-sky initiatives that blow up on the launchpad.

While others are thinking big ideas, good media planners are testing them against reality.  Can we be in market with that native advertising campaign next month when I know the creative agency is swamped and can’t deliver assets quickly enough?  Can we really execute that social campaign when all responses will have to be pre-approved by legal and corporate?  Can we really do cover wraps on print monthlies right away, when we’re well past material closing dates?

It’s the planner’s job to consider all the possibilities and narrow them down to the most effective ones that will do the job for the brand.  Along the way, sometimes planners dismiss ideas out of hand, without adequately communicating why they’ve dismissed them to the rest of the team or to the client.  It’s just the way their brains work – they’re used to wading through a sea of possible programs to pluck out the one or two gems.  Sometimes they’ll reject an idea without really telling anybody why.  Yes, they know it’s their job to articulate the “why,” but with an effectively unlimited number of options, you’d sometimes be quick to dismiss without much of a reason.

What’s the point?  Just that sometimes, a media planner’s ability to inject realism into recommendations can come off as “tired thinking” or “lacking in big ideas.”

If you work with media planners, employ them as part of your team or sell to them, you need to know which it is – a lack of imagination or a healthy grounding in reality.

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.