Pat Reese, Chief Media Strategist, Rooster Strategic Solutions

Author Jimmy Breslin once described media as “the plural of mediocrity.” Having spent a lifetime in the world of media planning, I’d have to agree that there are right ways to plan media, as well as wrong ways; good media planners, and those who stretch for mediocrity. But as a client there are a few questions you can ask your current or prospective planner to ensure you’re getting the most for your money.

How much experience do you have? Last year I celebrated my 35th year as a media planner. What’s even crazier is that I’m not the most experienced planner on our team. Our clients see this experience as a differentiator. We’ve seen a lot, tried even more. We’ve been mostly successful but failed more than we’d like to admit. We know what works and what doesn’t. Experience is critical, and that should include specific agricultural media planning. If you don’t understand what the products and services are, you can’t properly promote them to the right audience. You probably won’t be able to identify the right audience, either.

This experience should cover all forms of media, from traditional print and broadcast media to digital and social channels. Very few if any individual planners can claim to be an expert in all these fields. I’m not. I know enough to be dangerous, but routinely lean on others on the team who have more experience in particular areas of expertise, just as they lean on me in areas where I’m particularly knowledgeable. Having decades of experience in all forms of media gives us an edge as trends change. For instance, we know that traditional print effectiveness is starting to decline, so what should print-heavy clients do? Radio and TV are staying constant, digital has gone up a little, social has gone up a lot. What’s working now and what will work tomorrow? Experience gives us the answer.

Will you offer me fries with that? A good media planner should function as more than an order taker. We buy the media, that’s true. But it’s our job to listen to the client, truly understand what they’re trying to achieve, and know when to push the envelope. We should also help define the campaign, the audience, and the budget, negotiating with various vendors to get the best rates, and pushing for added value whenever possible. We should be well versed in marketing tactics that fall outside the scope of traditional media buying, including trade shows, product introductions, competitive research, data analytics, and strategic planning.

Are you a people person? Good media buying is all about relationships – with clients, coworkers, vendors, publishers, researchers, and more. You should be tough, but it’s equally important to be transparent and honest with everyone you encounter. Good communication and presentation skills are an absolute must. Having strong, established relationships with folks in the publishing system is also important, especially when it comes to agricultural media planning. I know all the media reps personally and have worked with them for years. I understand the publishing systems in which they’re operating, so I know who’s giving me a starting position and expects me to negotiate – sometimes down to 20 percent of the initial price – and I know who’s giving me their best possible deal, take it or leave it.

Are you colorblind? Big publishing companies have unparalleled experience with media, as well as some of the most sophisticated customer analysis in the Ag industry. But there’s a reason they don’t offer media planning. Clients wouldn’t trust them because a media company is liable to promote the media that fall within its company, using research that highlights its own channels. And even if they recommended a competitor, do you think the other publishers would share their rates? Likewise, it’s important that media buyers aren’t too close to any single vendor or publisher. All options should be considered. A buyer will often have to pit two or more media companies against each other to get the best deal for the client; any favoritism toward one publisher over another is a disservice to that client.

Do you work in a vacuum? The most successful media plans are developed comprehensively with input from a host of partners, many of whom are on the client side. This includes the marketing and communication teams, of course, but also representatives from sales, engineering, brand, research, web, training, and related departments. On top of that, the best plans are also born of in-house collaboration. At Rooster, I’m very fortunate to have recognized experts in digital, social media, and Ag customer data at my disposal, as well as experienced creatives who understand the clients and their products. This way, we can work together to ensure that we’re recommending the correct media to reach the right audience and meet the campaign objectives. In short, media planning is no place for a “lone ranger.”

Over the years, I’ve heard media planning described as an art and as a science. It’s both. Most planners haven’t been doing this long enough to understand that. If you’re looking for a more experienced set of hands to create a more responsive and cost-effective plan, I’d love to have a conversation.