Media Business PlannersRide Waves of Change

Digital and data create new media options for advertisers, presenting opportunities and pitfalls for planning execs

jlafayette@nbmedia.com | @jlafayette

RELATED: The Strategists -- TV's Top Media Planners

Media planners say they are getting more information about consumer behavior, and that's changing the way advertising dollars earmarked for television will be spent in the future.

Why This Matters
Decisions by the top media planners and strategists affect how millions of advertising dollars get spent-and the shape the future of TV and video takes.

Broadcasting & Cable reached out to some of the top planners and strategists at the major media agencies in order to identify the industry's key issues and the people that will be sorting them out.

The planners—who decide the best ways for brands to connect with consumers—are increasingly willing to reach customers via video content on new platforms as broadcast TV ratings wane. But digital technology is providing new ways to both enhance the TV experience and measure its effectiveness. The surface has only barely been scratched on interactivity, addressability and t-commerce.

The changes are coming at a furious pace, and the planners say a key part of their job is to keep up. While the newly available data is needed to satisfy client demands for more precise measurements of the returns on their media investments, it also satisfies the curiosity of a group of professionals whose job is to be obsessed with new insights into human behavior.

Here, B&C business editor Jon Lafayette polls the industry's top planners on some of the media business' big questions. An edited transcript follows.

With broadcast ratings eroding again last year, how comfortable are you substituting cable for broadcast TV in your media plans?
Eric Blankfein, Horizon Media:
Cable television has answered the bell with quality original programming that is delivering broadcast-size rating, making the migration of dollars easier. Without question, our strategies have found opportunities to use more and more cable programming, and it's not just because of ratings erosion. We find the synergies of both environment and brand fit to be an increasingly powerful reason for us to migrate client funds toward cable programming.

Andrea Cardamone, PHD: The paradigm started to shift a few years ago so I don't think it will necessarily be a dramatic change from broadcast to cable. Most apprehension will be around shifting TV dollars to other platforms and devices where content is distributed and accessible such as online and mobile video, streaming services and VOD.

Tara Cioffi, Maxus: Cable is a dynamic arena that is consistently challenging traditional broadcast and because of this, I was comfortable with substituting cable and I continue to be comfortable. But in my mind, it's less about broadcast vs. cable and more about viewer engagement and interest. With niche networks, cable provides a larger opportunity to speak to clients via endemic content.

Mac Hagel, Zenith: In its simplest form, my job is to find the most effective audience for the brand and subsequent product/campaign I represent. Audience is attracted to content and cable now represents the most diversified and compelling content available with an ability to align and in some cases partner with by developing specific programs that help drive greater brand engagement. From a strategy standpoint, cable performs well for the clients I manage.

Jason Harrington, Optimedia: Cable has been a big part of our buys for many years. But ratings are only part of the reason. When you consider the most talked about content on TV, cable accounts for upwards of 60%. We would rather be where the conversations are happening, not chasing rating points.

Richard Hartell, MediaVest: Our total market activation strategies are about content, and through tracking consumer behavioral changes, we can best identify the message vehicles, including cable, to deliver best against brand KPIs [Key Performance Indicators].

Omara Hernandez, Initiative: When building our media plans we are more focused on the quality of the content and the opportunities it offers our clients to engage with their core consumer. While we certainly pay attention to ratings, our thought process is not bogged down in broadcast vs. cable, but rather which network brand or program delivers the right audience for our client's product-in my case autos.

Jaime Hukkanen, J3: Within most of our plans, we find it effective to maintain a balance of broadcast and cable. Within cable, there are of course varying degrees of quality programming, but many of which are comparable to broadcast. Some first-run cable programs command the same viewing attention, following and buzz from certain audience groups as many of your notable broadcast shows. What's most important when planning TV is identifying its role in your communications plan and planning accordingly.

Andrea McAteer, Mediacom: We already use a significant amount of cable in our plans, given the efficiency and incremental reach it provides. Adding even more cable will not make up for the loss in ratings from network TV, particularly if we are looking at a constant budget.

Seth Walters, Mindshare: We don't really think about it as broadcast vs. cable. It's more about finding quality programming that delivers our target, is a good fit for the brand and has a strong social quotient. My core interest is in figuring out how we can effectively position ourselves across longtail cable networks, attaining additional exposure against an untapped audience for increased reach. Furthermore, as technology on the [Original Equipment Manufacturer] and [Multiple System Operator] side advances, we are thinking about how cable can serve as a possible gateway to T-Commerce, transforming the First Screen to the store shelf.

Diane Weeks, OMD: It really depends on a client's specific objectives. I don't think they are completely interchangeable. In general cable continues to prove itself with breakthrough programming across genres, with hits like AMC's Walking Dead. However, for many of our national advertisers we still need to rely on the environments, impact and fast reach that broadcast offers, particularly around premium events such as the Academy Awards. Cable is becoming more and more a viable alternative to broadcast, particularly when specific environments are required to reach a niche audience.

Ellie Williams, Starcom: Our recommendations are fueled by how consumers engage with the content and which types of programs are best at driving the client's business. For our client Best Buy, we focus on content that works hardest to drive critical business metrics such as in-store and online transactions, in addition to indirect business metrics such as search queries, positive social chatter and digital interactions with the brand. Currently there is an abundance of video content being produced by broadcast, cable and online media as well as companies like Netflix; performance drives their inclusion on plans, not the distribution channel.

What will it take to make you comfortable shifting a large share of your clients' dollars from traditional television to digital video?
Blankfein:
I think that our proprietary research, as well as various syndicated sources have all shed light on the fact that digital video has become a large part of consumers' lives. Brands have eagerly adopted our thinking around moving what is typically referred to as ‘TV' money into all video platforms, including mobile, cinema, broadband and place-based video. The catch for keepers of both strategy and investment like us is to make sure performance metrics and business analytic methodologies keep up with the evolving consumer consumption landscape to include these fast-growing video destinations. At the same time, the industry desperately needs a standard form of video ratings measurement and the lack of scale and the amount of quality video available as of now is still a concern.

Cardamone: I do think there will be a continued and steady shift in investment towards digital video but it still comes down to scale. Recent HBO campaigns, such as a recent one for Game of Thrones, prove you can achieve greater reach and recall by orchestrating your assets and creating synergy across both TV and digital platforms. We have to reframe our mindset so that we are considering tactics that enhance the type of experiences we are trying to create for the consumer within any environment. We are slowly moving away from the ‘TV vs. Digital Video' conversation and making advances toward considering a more ‘video neutral' approach to make an emotional connection with an audience that is not necessarily platform agnostic.

Cioffi: Measurement for digital video is in its infancy right now and as a result clients are hesitant to use it to make large-scale decisions. Clients need to feel comfortable in decisions regarding their money, and having an ample amount of data-using a currency that they can compare to existing measurement-would allow them to do so.

Hagel: We think of video as fluid and have been making a large shift to online video over the past few years. From an engagement standpoint it outperforms linear TV across metrics, demos, content genres and ad verticals. It's proven to have a reduced clutter environment in terms of competitive advertising and unit load, and provides an abundant amount of data and measurements. In my opinion, reallocating a larger portion of dollars to online video builds higher quality and more effective reach, but that said, we will have to continue to watch this space develop as more and more investment pours in.

Harrington: For premium video, we're making shifts, as it's less about the platform and more about associating with the right content. Unfortunately, the majority of digital video lacks the quality, scale or experience most consumers would regularly choose over TV content. If more digital video was built around the social and interactive nature of its platform, it might be an experience worth choosing over TV and ad dollars would follow.

Hartell: Money is earmarked for content that resonates and engages our consumer. Our total market conversations go back to what's best for each brand's communication goals, and convergence: the connected experience across screens. At MediaVest, we believe our role in convergence is to recognize the changing behavior and connect consumer experiences across screens, distribute content across paid, owned and earned channels in real time and then measure the impact on consumers and our clients' business.

Hernandez: We have already been using a holistic approach to video for quite some time now and don't have these battles of ‘shifting money from TV to digital video.' Both media have their place in the marketing mix and the decisions on where to place money have more to do with the goals we're trying to accomplish and audience we are trying to reach. For major national advertisers the need to plan and invest in both television and digital video options is not an and/or choice. If you're not in both places you're missing opportunities for your client.

Hukkanen: We are already comfortable doing this. Although arguably, we are often times more comfortable than our clients. In order to gain greater consideration within the ‘TV landscape,' digital video sites, especially the big ones-like Hulu, ABC.com, etc.-are going to have to start providing greater flexibility in allowing media agencies to buy program-specific programming.

McAteer: On an agency level, many of our clients have greatly benefited from shifts to digital media, taking advantage of hyper-targeting to generate lower CPMs [cost per thousand viewers] and decreased waste. For the brands I manage, we've generally approached this by taking things in incremental steps; there will be no wholesale move into digital video. We evaluate our brands' targets, their use of digital video relative to other vehicles, the cost, and most importantly the efficiency of the acceptable content within digital video. For those brands where it makes the most sense we will then add it as one piece of our overall plan. Of course we have to deal with the issue of ‘like for like' GRPs. We have to solve for that. And the fact that Nielsen charges extra to measure this on a brand-by-brand basis and it is not part of their standard measurement package is causing issues for brands.

Walters: It will take two things to make me more comfortable with shifting significant investment from traditional TV to digital video: 1) More comprehensive cross-channel measurement, and 2) Fluid investment models with networks that have multiplatform distribution, allowing us to optimize across TV and digital properties based on performance. American Express has a video-first mentality, so we're already striving to evaluate our plans by the number of ‘views' vs. GRPs [gross ratings points]. The challenge to date has been establishing the value of a ‘view' on one platform vs. another.

Weeks: Three areas need to improve in order for digital video to see sizeable shifts from traditional TV: reach/scale, common metrics and guaranteed brand safety. Reach/scale and common metrics have been topics of discussion for a long time now. Once we have comparable reach/scale and common metrics such as GRPs across mediums, the discussion becomes more focused on environments and measurability, which will bode well for digital video. Guaranteed brand safety is a critical area that needs to be sorted at the industry level in order to give advertisers the comfort of shifting large shares of investment from broadcast.

Williams: Based on the premise that not all impressions are created equal, three years ago we started to re-evaluate video content based on impact and effectiveness. Today we have a custom measurement strategy that supports growth in video investments across all devices: TV, PC, mobile and connected TVs. Best Buy is already heavily invested in digital video, so our particular focus is to gain a deeper understanding of how people consume video on these digital platforms. We are working to enhance the consumer experience on these platforms through unique content and interactivity. Another proof point for digital video is watching my 60-plus-year-old parents who live in a small town in Texas stream content on their tablets. Mass adoption is close, if not here.

What sorts of metrics or analyses are clients asking for that they didn't seek five years ago?
Blankfein:
Clients are seeking engagement-flavored metrics more and more. We term this broadly as ‘stickiness,' regardless of the channel. We have also seen a larger appetite for performance metrics around more granular forms of media like unit length and high record-rate programming. It's being driven by an appetite to be more cost effective, less wasteful, and most importantly, more immersive.

Cardamone: Our ecosystem is so much more complex than it was five years ago. The connected consumer makes non-linear decisions. Because of this, cross-platform media measurement and attribution are hot topics. Clients not only want to better understand the relationship among paid, owned and earned media but they want to quantify it as well. The fusion of ‘digital video' with traditional TV GRPs is something we also might not have considered five years ago-like oil and water-but here we are.

Cioffi: ROI. ROI on everything: attribution to sales, media synergies, on threshold and saturation points, online vs. offline. The traditional metrics of GRPs, reach and frequency, effective reach, share of voice, etc. are now secondary to "Is my media investment moving my business?" Even now, ROI as a metric is morphing into something new and evolving as paid, owned, earned and shared become a truer reality. Linking in other "outcomes" such as viral reach to the existing outcomes such as "transactions" is going to be exciting.

Hagel: Five years ago, media reporting was conducted in somewhat of a vacuum with different solutions for each media channel, while today, clients are challenging us to deliver holistic exposure and metrics across all media types, effectively moving closer to one uniformed channel currency. In addition, engagement measurement and first-party client data targeting now drives how we plan and buy media focusing in on content alignment and syndication while tying media performance back to our specific customers/prospects vs. our standard buying demo. It's becoming an ever expanding cycle where we continue to evolve by creating data enhanced sub segment targets successfully focusing as well as augmenting our qualified consumer base.

Harrington: The questions haven't really changed. Clients still want to know the ROI. What has changed is our ability to answer the question more effectively through attribution modeling, media mix/econometric modeling and improved capabilities in data gathering and analysis.

Hartell: New consumer behavior and an evolved media ecosystem call for new measurement solutions. It's about measuring and trading on more than viewership-focusing on each client's KPIs and ultimately measuring behavior and real business results.

Hernandez: Brand health measures five years ago rarely tied back to specific media, and most of the measurement we were getting in the media space was all around digital metrics. As advertisers expand the number of media platforms within campaigns, clients are looking to cross media effectiveness studies to understand how each media type independently and holistically delivers on consumer attitudes and perceptions. In addition, multi-touch attribution modeling is allowing clients to understand how exposure to other media impressions, including TV, contribute to advertisers' key performance drivers and website traffic.

Hukkanen: Let me say that there are no metrics that are still in play from five years ago, and that anything we measure today wasn't even a discussion five years ago. Media has reinvented itself many times over in the past decade and metrics and analyses are a huge part of that. For everything we do, we ensure that we can measure its contribution to the business.

McAteer: First, the time frame for reporting has been one of the biggest changes. As we spend more in digital media, reporting is expected to be delivered in real time with much more granular levels of detail. That means a greater focus on analysis rather than just data collection-we need to be able to disseminate what it all means for the brand's business. An overall view on how media elements are working together is becoming more critical. In the past, we could issue separate reports for TV, print, radio, digital, search and so on. Now there is a need to review how the combined elements are working in tandem to deliver these results. Finally, we're thinking about ways to look at results beyond just at the brand level and instead across multiple brands, ensuring that we can help our clients determine where to invest their next dollar.

Walters: We're doing a lot in the advanced TV space. American Express launched a 24/7-365 Interactive TV brand channel with distribution to over 58 million households. Visitors have come to the channel in droves, staying for substantial lengths of time to be entertained and learn about Amex. To level the playing field and instill accountability, we've begun evaluating ‘time spent' and ‘cost per 30 seconds spent interacting with brand content' across channels. This enables us to look at the net-effective cost for driving a viewer to our brand channel, compared to engagement for a TV spot, a banner that drives consumers to our website, the brand's YouTube channel, an interactive ad, etc.

Weeks: As media has become more accountable and is now an area of focus throughout the C-suite, we have seen clients task us with broader business and marketing related challenges. The types of analyses that we have seen and increase around are: real-time reporting/analysis, predictive modeling and long-term brand impact. 

Williams: The "ask" is similar to what it was five years ago: Prove that the investment is driving the business. However, the metrics and data available to answer those questions have improved, although they're still not perfect. Starcom has created a client-specific, custom analysis to understand the convergence of all media and its influence on other media channels, consumer actions such as search, social conversations, and online traffic, as well as Best Buy sales. Our analysis supports similar findings in a marketing mix model, which gives our team the confidence these decisions are right for today's marketplace and our business goals. As the analytics continue to improve, we are better able to tailor our measurements so that recommendations can be altered and adjusted in real time to ascertain changing consumer behavior and evolving client priorities.

How is big data affecting the way you do the business? Has it provided any insights that contradicted conventional wisdom and change the way you do business?
Blankfein: You can't stuff this genie back into the bottle. Advanced analytics are now enabling us to identify key marketing and non-marketing factors that contribute to our client's business. It certainly differs from case to case, but we have learned through our own data analytics and supplied insights that channel mix recommendations are now being influenced to more timely and accurately reflect how people are living their lives, engaging with messaging and sharing information and opinions in this fragmented media landscape. As we get smarter on the data side, we have to remain nimble enough to use the data intelligently and fold in the insights to focused communication tasks. The biggest opportunity is to synch data directly into our planning, buying and performance optimization tools. That's a huge effect, yes.

Cardamone: Big data has enhanced how we identify, connect and engage with our existing and potential consumers. It has enabled us to go well beyond ‘traditional' demo buying and gain deeper insights through more complex segmenting and targeting across multiple platforms. While I don't think it has necessarily altered conventional wisdom, it has given us a lot more to think about. With an abundance of data out there that can be measured and analyzed every which way, the real challenge is determining which data actually matters. Asking the right questions and then determining the best application of that data -- based on client priorities -- can impact results in a meaningful way.

Cioffi: At Maxus, we have a process called ‘relationship media.' Big data is anchored at the beginning and the end. Big data gives us insights at the beginning. One of its beauties is that we can see patterns with clarity without the bias of an assumption and it gives us accountability at the end. Is the plan working? How well? Where is it falling short? What can be optimized? The granularity of big data is amazing. We can disaggregate a consumer base into many meaningful segments-and track their changes. This is truly amazing vs. just a few years ago.

In terms of contradicting conventional wisdom is the idea that one uniform plan is working equally well in a host of local markets is not true. No matter how well reasoned the R/F/flighting/media mix logic you have on paper, markets are unique in how the consumers who live there react at the register. A lot of what I do is utilize big data on a DMA level and create plans based on that.

Hagel: At Zenith our mantra is ‘Live ROI' and we strive to reach, resonate and react in live time which is powered by big data or as we call it, using data as a weapon. It allows us to be quicker, smarter and cheaper in how we approach media on behalf of our clients. It moves us away from syndicated tools towards targeting off of actual live customers/prospects, which in turn enables us to knock on doors vs. mass media communication. The common question I receive from the industry is, What's your planning demo/target? My answer: Our target evolves daily.

Harrington: Data plays a major role. We are actively moving beyond Nielsen as a decision making tool. Tapping into other data sources like social, set-top boxes and search, we have uncovered many insights that have resulted in identifying both competitive advantages as well as overlooked, undervalued programming.

Hartell: We are using data to inspire and personalize how we build experiences for our clients. We've actually moved from optimizing and reporting at the end of the process to inspiring at the beginning of the process.

Hernandez: Data has helped to fundamentally change the way we work on behalf of our clients especially in the auto space. More than ever, we have the ability to gauge -- sometimes in real time -- how effective our campaign strategies are for a client or product and adjust when needed. The data provides a deeper look into how consumers behave and helps us shape future campaigns. This allows us to be more focused and ultimately deliver the ROI all clients demand.

Hukkanen: Big data has become the foundation to all of our media plans actually. Despite the fact that we've only been working with it for the past few years, I almost can't remember planning without it, and I know for certain that our plans wouldn't be as sound without it.

McAteer: This is a fascinating area of our industry right now. While it holds a lot of promise for uncovering insights, it also takes a commitment in terms of resources to make it a reality. We are undertaking an in-depth project for one of our brands right now, and while the project is being explored with a specific goal in mind, we really won't know the results until we uncover them and test them out in the market. We fully expect to find some surprises, but not anything that would fundamentally change the way we do business. However, with the size of some of our brands' businesses, even a small win can have a big impact to the bottom line.

Walters: Leveraging data to advance our work has become table stakes in media and advertising, particularly as a means for extracting insights and strengthening our communications plans. However, the biggest pitfall is that it should not be viewed as the end-all-be-all...data is not a replacement for instincts, nor does it take the place of unique and compelling storytelling. I liken it to book smarts vs. street smarts...the most successful strategists I work with strike a balance between the two, combining science -- learnings gleaned from data -- with art -- discovery around human behavior -- to tap into consumer passions.

Weeks: Big data helps us make smarter decisions. It has changed the way we do business in that often times the media agency is at the intersection of tremendous amounts of data-campaign related data, proprietary client data, and publisher and third party data. This means the typical account management structure no longer works, but rather, account leads need to be linked closely with business intelligence people that can best manipulate and interpret this data to come up with the best insights.

Williams: Data is affecting our business through multiple facets. Growth of data and improved analysis has become increasingly useful in campaign development around defining the business opportunities, gathering deeper audience insights and delivering more personalized messaging to our consumers. This approach is quite different from a few years ago when data collection focused on measurement at the conclusion of a campaign. Today, clients assume data should provide a quantitative answer for all questions. Media historically has been a business that fuses art and science, but the abundance of data available is tilting the client's expectations that all decisions are supported by quantitative analysis.

Consumers are changing at a hyper pace and predicting their behaviors is still not pure science. The gathering of data allows us to better understand performance of past decisions, but it does not necessarily drive innovation. I believe that being innovative in the current marketplace requires going back to some ‘old fashion' business basics, and building strong partnerships and relationships with key media partners. We work closely and upstream in our planning process with partners like Google/YouTube, ESPN, Twitter, Microsoft and YuMe to ensure that media buys are not just a commodity, but allow us to try new things that will work for our clients and stay ahead of the game.

It is said the media business will change more in the next five years than it did in the last 50. What can you do to make sure you have the skill set to take advantage of the opportunities the new media world will present?
Blankfein:
Listen. Learn. Apply.

Cardamone: Next five years...more like next five days! It is moving faster than ever. Staying educated is important but being able to adapt is critical. As a planner, having both foresight and flexibility primes you for those roads less traveled. We need to think about our clients' business and the media landscape a few years down the road so we can anticipate change and create new opportunities because of it.

Cioffi: At Maxus, our motto is ‘Lean Into Change.' And by accepting these changes, it means we need to be prepared to walk away from the old. Maxus is a media agnostic environment steeped in collaborative teams. We learn from each other, push each other's professional boundaries. This gives me exposure to people on the forefront of new ideas and experts in the field. This is an opportunity to grow professionally, as well as provide a platform that allows my clients to grow.

Hagel: Set the pace! Don't silo yourself but rather engage with and understand all media-know enough to be dangerous-be a sponge whenever and wherever possible, put yourself in the best position to take an action at all times-there is knowledge and opportunity around every corner-and make sure to write everything down. Challenge the industry, challenge your agency and challenge your clients to take a qualified leap.

Harrington: Celebrate change as an opportunity to do bigger and better things, never stop learning and adopt a digital and social mindset to everything you do.

Hartell: As an industry, our role is to understand changing behavior, and I believe the future of our industry will be shaped by screens. Regardless of platform and technology, whether Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, mobile or myriad other services and devices reshaping media, I believe in learning by doing. Be an early adopter and more importantly, an early user.

Hernandez: With the amount of media fragmentation we're seeing it will be critical that a media planner have a strong understanding of all the various platforms advertisers will need to reach consumers. Getting this type of knowledge requires time and persistence, meeting with companies, pairing out what is a scalable opportunity against a passing fad. Making smart strategic decisions will require having a strong team around you and subject matter experts who are immersed in these areas. This is how I approach my own team to ensure we don't miss the next big opportunity or place the wrong bet on a new platform. It's my job to make sure the team is exhausting options across the entire spectrum and using them in concert whenever possible to deliver the best results for our clients.

Hukkanen: I think that to be successful in the future media world, it's less of a skill set as it is a mindset. As I tell everyone who comes into our organization...there are two key characteristics that will make you successful in this ever-changing media landscape: curiosity and passion. 

McAteer: This is what I love most about this business. You don't have to change assignments to learn and grow, since the consumer-and, therefore, the industry-is always changing. Yes, technology is accelerating the pace of change, but change has always been an integral part of the business. In terms of keeping pace, I attended [the Consumer Electronic Show] this year, as well as many other industry forums. Both MediaCom and GroupM host several sessions throughout the year on emerging trends for clients, employees and partners. And of course, the blogs, news feeds and articles in the trades make my commute on public transportation a great time to connect every day.

Walters: Generalists need to be adept at synthesizing complex information from experts so that they're able to have a conversational understanding of whatever technology is on a client's radar. I try to accomplish this by meeting regularly with the big players-for example, Google, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, etc.-and approaching them as extensions of my own team. Additionally, since change happens so fast, we hold people on our team accountable for being subject experts, empowering them to identify trends and up-and-coming companies with the potential to become the next game changer. Regardless of how the media landscape evolves, a strong understanding of brand positioning as well as the target's mindset and motivation are key to career success and client impact.

Weeks: Three key areas: 1) Be a consumer of all media. 2) Talk to people outside your industry/category. 3) Testing-Encourage clients to test, but be prepared with a measurement plan. Learning about why something didn't work is as important as learning about a success.

Williams: I am fortunate to be a part of an organization at Starcom that has the capability and focus to relentlessly change and challenge conventional thinking. I leverage my peers and team for experience and new ideas. I have the privilege of leading a multi-agency Publicis team across Starcom, Razorfish, Big Fuel and Tapestry, which allows me to be exposed to leadership and resources by some of the best in the business across a variety of capabilities. Being a successful leader in the media business requires understanding consumer technology and the changing business environment, along with listening skills, a confident team and the ability to find where all those points converge.