So, what does a Media Planner do?

Job profiles at Serviceplan

Consumers see adverts on TV, hear them on the radio, click on promising banners on the internet and like nothing better than to come across bargains in newspaper inserts. Advertising brings consumers into contact with companies and their brands. But surely there is something in between? How does all this advertising find its way into the media? Who is responsible for that? Media planners are. In media agencies, they are the specialists who know in which formats and media the advertising message in question can make the biggest impact and reach the right target group. Our colleagues from Mediaplus know the answers: Kai Löser, Group Head Consulting & Planning, and Kerstin Weiß, Senior Consultant & Planner.

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  • Media planners choose the right mix from many possible media and formats in order to communicate a specific advertising message as effectively as possible. In doing so, they determine which media the target group uses and how it uses them. Media planners can give solid reasons to back up their proposals, clearly conveying why their planning will achieve the client’s communication objectives while also making optimal use of the available budget. Is that fair to say?

    Kai: Yes, that sums it up pretty well. We like to compare it to a truck that transports the company’s or brand’s advertising message as efficiently and effectively as possible to the target group – at the right time and in the media that are relevant for the target group.

  • If you were to glance over a media planner’s shoulder, you would usually see huge spreadsheets containing a dizzying array of figures. At the same time, the media planner’s job is said to be extremely creative as well. Is that right?

    Kerstin: Yes, that’s right. As budgeting and planning are essentially figure-based, there is no avoiding Excel and all those numbers. And those numbers have to be right. In spite of this, it is just one aspect of our job. At the same time, our clients are demanding more and more innovative, outside-the-box suggestions for which we develop suitable approaches – for example in brainstorming sessions or together with our research department. This allows us to surprise the target group with creative solutions, which in turn means that we remain in their heads for longer.

  • What form can a creative media solution like that take?

    Kerstin: There are an incredible number of possibilities. At the end of the day, we try to use a medium in a way that is different for the target group. For example, you can set up something eye-catching on a large surface in the “out-of-home” area, or find an endearing way to blur the lines between a classic TV advert and the programme that precedes it. However, creative media extends far beyond just “special advertising formats” in media but is leaning more and more towards data-based digital solutions aimed at maximising the advertising impact among the target group. Last year, for example, we ran dynamic adverts on internet radio for one of our clients. Here, we used databases to identify where users are found, what kind of music they listen to, whether they are male or female, etc. Based on this information, we were able to target users with individualised adverts that they felt were geared towards them.

  • In cases like this, do you sometimes work together with creative specialists, for example with art directors?

    Kerstin: Definitely – liaising closely with our creative colleagues is absolutely essential! At the same time, we have to make sure that the special advertising form that we have in mind can also be implemented in the media. This means that we have to interact every bit as extensively with media partners – if not more.

  • If you’ve done the job for two or three years, would you say that you then have it down to a fine art?

    Kai: No, you couldn’t really say that. It depends of course on what kind of work the planner had been doing during this time. If they had only been planning print campaigns for a specific customer, then they would naturally have gained plenty of experience and a certain expertise in this area, but they would not be well versed at all in other media. This is why we make a point of having each team – and therefore each planner – look after a number of different clients. Everyone should have the opportunity to develop their skills in working with all kinds of media.

    As well as this, even though you are certainly more than capable of using the standard planning tools after the first year or two, there are always new things to learn in our job. This is because the media landscape is very fast-moving and changes constantly.

  • How do you become a media planner in the first place? It’s probably not a traditional profession that you can do an apprenticeship for, right?

    Kerstin: Quite right, there is no special training for media planners like there are for other technical or commercial professions in Germany. If you are interested in the job, you should definitely have good marketing experience. Having a business administration background is quite useful because you are constantly dealing with budgets, prices, costs, etc. At the same time, however, there are also colleagues who have a psychological background, which gives them particular expertise when it comes to advertising impact. But there is no one standard route towards become a media planner. I myself studied business administration, majoring in marketing. Kai did an apprenticeship as a …

    Kai: … As a marketing communications specialist in a media agency. This means that I effectively learnt media planning “on the job”, and then went on to study business administration with a marketing specialisation parallel to my work.

  • What does a typical day for a media planner look like?

    Kai: There is no such thing as a routine day, really. Our everyday work involves lots of different tasks depending on what stage of a project we are at. If a client decides to launch an advertising campaign, this begins with a briefing stage, which mainly consists of liaising closely with the client. This is followed by the strategy phase with lots of internal meetings, consultations with our research department and ultimately the preparation of a client presentation. If the client approves the strategy, we use tools to map out the detailed plans per medium in the planning phase. After liaising with the client again and booking the campaign, the focus then shifts to reporting and billing aspects. At the same time, of course, budgets always need to be controlled, client queries need to be fielded and meetings with marketers need to be organised. Or brainstorming sessions have been scheduled in order to come up with off-the-wall ideas. There really are no two days the same.

  • If you divide the work into solitary computer work on the one hand and communication with people on the other, what would be the breakdown?

    Kerstin: I would say that consulting and communication make up 70%. Of course, this includes communicating with clients, either by telephone, by e-mail or in person on site. As we said already, there are also lots of different things to be coordinated internally. I’m happy to say that “solitary” computer work doesn’t really come into it given that our entire team is based in the same office. But detailed operational planning, budget reporting and preparing presentations certainly take up around 30% of our working time. Bearing in mind, though, that not every day is structured the same. There are some days that are spent only working with PowerPoint and Excel – but after that, the focus switches to communication again.

  • What talents and aptitudes do you need to be a media planner? For example, do you have to be a nice person or be able to work under pressure?

    Kerstin: Being nice is a pretty good start! And you should definitely have good social and communication skills. And of course you need to be able to deal with pressure. When you’re a service provider, it is always possible that all your clients send urgent queries at the same time. This means that you need to be able to prioritise and to keep a cool head in stressful situations. You should be perfectly able to reach for the telephone if there are problems to sort out – and should have no qualms about making presentations in front of complete strangers. As well as this, it is important in our job to keep track of the overall picture while not losing sight of the details. As we mentioned, our clients entrust us with a lot of money, so trustworthiness and a strong sense of responsibility are also values that media planners should have.

  • What is in store for your line of work? Will we still need media planners in ten years’ time? Based on all the attributes that you have just mentioned, Kerstin, a media planner’s job will never be taken over by artificial intelligence or anything like that.

    Kai: Yes, we are not too worried about that. In fact, artificial intelligence within our operational planning tools is is likely to reduce our workload enormously, allowing us to save time. Which in turn will allow us to spend more time providing one-to-one advice to our clients. After all, even in ten years’ time, this will still be the number one priority for clients.

  • Thank you Kerstin and Kai for taking the time to talk to us.

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