Pat Reese, Chief Media Strategist, Rooster Strategic Solutions

Excerpted from a speech to NAMA, August 16, 2020

A good media plan is like a jigsaw puzzle. You set the boundary, collect all the pieces with the same coloring, and determine where each piece fits and how it interacts with the pieces next to it. Still, many marketers are puzzled by the choices available to them. To help get them started, I point out the following universal truths.

There is no single right answer. No magic formula. No blueprint or algorithm can spit out the “perfect plan.” What works for your company will likely differ from others – even your competitors.

There is no wrong answer, either. Last year Americans spent more than 12 hours every day with media. Which means that with a little due diligence you have a good shot at reaching your target audience no matter which pieces you use. Granted, some pieces of the puzzle will perform better than others – but the key is to open the box and get started.

A good media plan starts with good questions. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • What is your objective: Promoting a sale? Introducing a new product or service? Offering advice or tips? Building or expanding a database of prospects? In short, what is your USP, or Unique Selling Proposition – the one thing you’d want to tell your audience if they were sitting in front of you and you only had 10 seconds. Clearly identifying your top objective will help you choose the media that best supports it.
  • Who is your audience? Are you targeting a certain zip code, county, state, or region? Is your audience defined by a crop they grow, technology they use, or other business practices? And how big is this audience? A couple good resources are and The first can help discover how many growers, ranchers, or agribusinesses operate in specific areas. The second helps identify the number of consumers in rural areas, including the elusive “lifestylers.” Both are free.
  • When should you deliver your message? Is there a specific time that the product or service you’re promoting is used? Purchased? Serviced? Few if any small businesses can afford to advertise year-round, which is fine, as bundling media in concentrated blitzes is typically more effective.
  • What are your competitors doing? This is an often overlooked yet critical step. Knowing what, when, and where your competitors are advertising can help you decide if there’s a message that will make you stand out; a time where your message might get lost; a geography that they’re missing that you can exploit. Start by calling the reps at media companies; they won’t tell you what your competitors are spending, but they can give you an idea of what, when, or where they’re promoting.
  • Is your website up to date? If not, fix it before you start any promotions. Many of the media you’re considering – digital ads, e-mail, or social, for example – are designed to drive interested parties directly to your website. Customers who read a print ad or hear a radio spot are also likely to check you out on the web if you capture their attention. Either way, your website will serve as a first impression to your company. Make sure it’s a good one.

If you can only afford one medium, choose digital. Despite what some marketers believe, not all touches are equal. Digital information is consumed by more Americans than any other and offers an unrivaled amount of targeting. And while the phrase “digital” can mean countless things – streaming video on Netflix, listening to Spotify, reading a farm magazine on your iPad are all examples of digital consumption – the most common and most economical ways to purchase digital advertising are site direct and programmatic advertising.

  • Site direct advertising is the simpler of the two. You pay a specific site such as your local online newspaper, ag publication, grain elevator, or other company website to show your ad on their page. You can choose how many times it appears or how many potential readers will see it. For smaller companies this is a great place to start.
  • Programmatic advertising is a little more complicated. Similar to online stock trading, the advertiser uses software and data to buy ad impressions based on pre-selected criteria. For example, you want to reach customers who grow a specific crop, have the right number of acres, use a certain seed or color of equipment, or have a minimum gross farm. The computer program determines where and how often your messages should appear to meet these specifications.

    To be successful with programmatic advertising you’ll need a good partner. When I first started down this road, I encountered a company that pretended they understood and could target the audience I wanted. Turns out they didn’t and couldn’t. Since then I’ve learned to ask some pointed questions: What databases are you using, and how many potential customers are included? What similar campaigns have you launched, and how did they perform? How will I know it’s successful?

Whether you choose site direct or programmatic advertising, make sure your website is up to date. Use video whenever you can – it almost always outperforms static ads. And target the audience as narrowly as possible.

Social media is effective, but it’s harder than it looks. There’s a significant misunderstanding on the part of many well-meaning senior executives who, because they do a little personal tweeting, believe that social strategies are both cheap and easy. It’s not easy, and there is a significant cost in both dollars and time. A few important notes to get you started:

  • Understand that social platforms are different and are used differently. Here’s the donut analogy: Facebook is where you tell your friends that you love donuts; Twitter is where you announce that you’re eating a #donut; Pinterest is where you post your donut recipes; Instagram lets you show a picture of the donut you’re; LinkedIn will help you find a job making donuts.
  • All of these are two-way media. You’re communicating with your customers and should expect them to respond. Be prepared to answer questions or continue conversations. Make sure you’re staffed appropriately before you begin.

TV is still a great way to reach customers. Today’s consumers want to experience their programs on phones, laptops, and tablets as well as traditional TV sets. And every day there’s more sophisticated ways to interact with consumers. But don’t make it complicated. Buying spots on your local stations or on a station-to-station basis to cover the geography of your audience is still an effective way to get the word out and ensure that it’ll be seen and remembered. Early morning news and late news slots are particularly good times to reach an ag audience.

Radio may be an even better way to reach ag customers. The difference is the farm broadcaster who, in many rural areas, still carries a lot of weight. If you have a trusted and influential farm broadcaster in your area, choose a live read rather than producing spots. As with television, choosing a single station or buying spots on a station-to-station basis is more cost effective than choosing a network. The planner at is a good resource to see what kind of coverage is available to meet your specific audience in different geographies.

The demise of print has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, state and regional farm publications are routinely ranked among the best ways to reach farmers. A great way to maximize your budget is by asking the rep at the publication for remnant space. And if your geography is a single county – around your retail store, for instance – your local newspaper should be a no-brainer.

Don’t overlook Out of Home (OOH) options. It’s not just billboards, anymore – this category is growing every day. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good, old-fashioned billboard; for many small companies, this is the best way to show prospects where you’re located and drive traffic into your store. But when you look beyond the billboard, you’ll find a long list of other solutions: gas pump toppers, silo wraps, truck wraps, barn signs … there are a number of unique ways to get your message out to a local audience if you look for them.

Once you’ve asked yourself the right questions, checked out the competitive landscape, and reviewed the available media options, you’re ready to build a media plan. This is where a lot of marketers start to freak out … but don’t make yourself nuts. Remember, there’s more than one way to do this, and none of them are really wrong. Here are a few final thoughts to help you get started:

  • If you are an equipment dealership, retail location, or local company, you already have a good working understanding of your market area and your customers. Your primary focus should be on deciding which media vehicles are best to reach your audience.
  • Before you make your selections, remember the time needed to create your ad as this could narrow your media selections.
  • I always place more importance on the reach and potential frequency of a vehicle than I do on the cost – within reason, of course.
  • Remember that there is more than just one “correct” media mix to hit your objective, that testing is not a dirty word, and your media sales rep can be a tremendous help to you.

Lastly, if you run into problems – or still don’t know how to start – give me a call and let’s have a conversation.