The future of media planning, we are told, is up for grabs, under duress, commoditised, marginalised. The percussive dissonance between planning ambitions and buying demands is almost deafening.
When I am asked what the future of media planning should be, I’m sure there is an expectation of a response that revolves around audiences, data, ideas and ecommerce – and, yes, on one level this is true.
But my belief is that the only future of media planning we should be discussing is how to have better-quality conversations.
To realise our potential, we need to get ourselves out of zealous assertions about speed and wake up to the need for strategic thinking.
And, to be specific, I mean conversations about the true value or impact of what we do, whether that is identifying an audience with unmet needs or discussing the responsibilities of an advertiser to support our media environment rather than just sit within it.
At our best, we have always been a discipline that talks truth to power, connecting brands to the reality of everyday lives as we seek to persuade, entertain or even shock and enlighten via novel and sometimes radical ways to communicate.
At our worst, we have fallen in step with the binary conversation of right and wrong, old and new, brand or response, broad or narrow when, in reality, we should be grasping the nettle of the tougher conversation: how do I get all forces working for my client more of the time?
In my view, our job is to establish a balanced picture for consideration, and when seemingly (in)convenient behavioural trends arise they should be explored fully from the perspective of an audience, not dramatically and breathlessly advocated across whole categories as the new silver bullet.
To do this, we must engage with a holistic and disciplined approach to evidence, actively fuel conversation and creativity, and to insist on rigour in execution and measurement of outcomes.
The media planner has always been the one who counts, who distributes and who has a forensic knowledge of what is possible at the mystic moment of greatest impact.
The best have evolved to also understand an idea, perceive an insight and magic up ways to confound the rules.
We must still answer the question of, who, what, where, when, but understanding people – opening up an aperture through which an advertiser can best place its brand in the path of need – is just the start.
New questions are bubbling up: what happens when my message and my opportunity don’t match? Where do I prioritise when media is a channel to market as well as a stage for advertising? How does marketing in all its facets work for my business? Is this brand or product even relevant to the need we can see?
Building sound media plans increasingly requires us to predict an outcome, not just distribute a message; to speculate is the opposite of the precision that media planning seemed to offer in the past.
In this sense, sound media planning will embrace uncertainty, assess risk and test hypothesis with an unwavering focus on what people are telling us with their actions, attitudes and wallets.
The future of media planning is better-quality conversations, and the conversation has moved on.
Frances Ralston-Good is UK chief executive of Hearts & Science