Up The Media Planning Creek With A Paddle

by Duncan MacRae

John Dugdale, head of media planning at brand entertainment agency Media Bounty, believes transparency is key to getting media planning back on track.

Has media planning lost its way? If we’re to believe the likes of Campaign, Mediapost or Mediatel and those mainstream pundits at the Guardian, then yes. It has.

With the new breed of planning, in the form of programmatic, champing at the heels of the old school, pedalling a more “transparent” offering to clients, perhaps the good old days really are numbered.


As an “veteran” (read older, because let’s face it anyone in this modern day Snapchat filled age of advertising over 35 is seen as positively ancient by those 20-something “I’m going to change the world of advertising” upstarts), I can honestly say, there’s never been a more exhilarating time to be in planning.

The buzz of negotiating a placement, a partnership, a booking, all based on the client’s KPIs, targets or aims is a skill born out of reputation, knowledge and human insight. Marrying the requirements of a demanding client, client service team and a myriad of media channels has always been a case of seeing how many plates you can keep in the air.

Now the “dark” processes surrounding rebates and volume discounts have hit the fan, the recent ANA (Association of National Advertisers) expose fanning the whiff of a scandal everyone already knew about.

In an industry that has vastly morphed since the days of limited options for advertising ( primarily TV, print or radio) it has always been positively encouraged  to let buyers book in volume, securing placements at a reduced rate to guarantee exclusivity of air time, early right hand pages or prime time slots. In return, buyers secured favourable rate reductions to guarantee they would fill slots, all under the guise of the “agency discount”. It’s no different in today’s digital market. Book a significant amount of CPMs, impressions or hits, and you are bound to be over-serviced; and I defy anyone who would consciously tell a client of the saving and not secure a healthy profit for his or her agency.

Those three primary media options now nestle in a long list with digital, programmatic, adwords, trueview, seeding, home page takeovers, partnerships, traffic drivers, out of home, experiential, social media driven activities, pop ups, bloggers, video bloggers, ambassadors and brand champions, the list goes on.  Many of these channels are so new that clients expect agencies to guide them through the maze and trust that their best interests and budgets will be taken care of.

If we’re being honest, it just gives agencies a bigger pot of hiding places. Since time immemorial, in the wheeler dealer world of discounts, bulk bookings have always secured a planner’s interest, but may be not for much longer?

Returning to the buzzword du jour, “transparency”, is it now time for the UK advertising industry to lead the way, promoting itself as an industry where no untoward business practice can thrive?

Or, as I suspect, will the behemoths of the super agencies try to brush it all under the proverbial carpet?

As the gatekeepers, we have a duty to guide planning back down the creek. With new school variants like Brand Entertainment agencies offering a plethora of multi-channel options, showcasing the cutting edge of media, we have a chance to embrace the challenge of being totally transparent.

Otherwise, we might well find Prof Mark Ritson’s prophecy rings true when he says:  “If I were a client I would not just take my media buying in-house, I’d lock the door and close the curtains too.”

Start paddling girls and boys…