The year ahead for ... media planning

Ivan Pollard goes 'back to the future' to predict what he thinks is most likely to happen to media planning in 2009 and in the medium term.

Does 1993 seem a long time ago to you? Me too. But all the way back then I wrote a paper for the IPA entitled The Evolution Of Media Planning predicting forthcoming trends. Maybe my past performance would be an indicator of how seriously you should take this current piece.

It transpires that either I am the lesser-known sibling of Marty McFly or a direct descendant of Nostradamus. Going "Back to the Future" was interesting. Here is what I said back then: "The convergence of media, telecommunications, electronics and computing is gathering real momentum and the 'Digital Revolution' will change our lives forever ... We will all have the choice of what to watch, when to watch and how to watch ... Our TV won't be limited to reruns of Dad's Army ... it will be the most important tool in the house. We will use it to call our mothers, pay our gas bill, order the shopping and go on a virtual reality date with Meg Ryan."

The idea of a date with Meg Ryan dates things a bit and the fact I believed it would be the TV, not the computer, that would be the access point to all this stuff was also a bit off. But remember, this was in the days before we all had a mobile phone.

But how did I think this would impact on media planning? Again, getting all historical on you: "Technology will exist to make media planners redundant. Imagine a world where your TV set knows everything there is to know about you and is constantly beaming back information about your behaviours to Big Brother ... the computer will decide which of the 27 car ads it has ... will be sent to your house ... because that is the one you will be most interested in right now ... Media targeting will no longer exist and we will all be out of work or have to reinvent our jobs."

Read "Google and the web" for "TV" and I wasn't that far off the mark. But what was that reinvention, what did I think the role of the media planner would become and why is that still relevant today?

"(Media) planners will be a new breed. Well versed in the skills of marketing and advertising they will mirror the role that account planners have in agencies but will focus on the communications plan rather than the creative process."

Again, not far off the mark. I also predicted the rise of specialists, the emergence of the power-buying groups, the proliferation of contact points and the rise of consumer control.

But I wasn't that smart. I missed social networking, the demise of the traditional media, the rise of data, the changes in globalisation, the speed of trends and a whole host of other stuff. So what do I think the future holds for media planning now?

In essence, the media planner has responsibility for investing a client's money, time, effort and creativity in the ways most likely to impart the greatest impact (in terms of the client's objectives) to a piece of communication. Or, in other words, to decide where to hang the picture so that the greatest numbers of the right people see it in the right way for the right number of times to make something happen.

Through this, here are four predictions for the medium-term future of media planning.

1. Media planners will be best placed to take the lead in developing creative executions. Why? Well think about that picture-hanging thing. There are so many pictures getting hung out there all the time that the art of the planner is to draw attention to their client's particular one. A huge part in doing this is in creating communications that are symbiotically related to their environment. Living, breathing, real, tangible things people can react to and interact with. In many ways, the environment we choose to hang our stuff dictates the nature of the stuff itself. This is especially true now that there are so many different things we can do - partnerships, sponsorships, advertising, propagations, co-creations etc. Those that understand the environment will be best placed to intelligently design the things that will flourish there.

2. Media planning will go back to the numbers. Why? Well, sure we can all get creative, but a huge part of the planner's job is to tend the budget to zero and measure the effect. We will be more and more accountable for this and as more tools (especially online) become available, we will get better at it. We have always been good at measuring if the message gets there, but now we will become equally adept at working out what happens after it has. Not just who and how many saw it but what happened as a result. So we will be masters of data, Jedis at manipulating it and genuine partners in clients' business planning and strategy.

3. Media planning will be done by everyone. Why? Because they will be able to do it. Maybe they won't do it as well as the specialised agencies but they will all have a go. Media owners, clients, advertising agencies, digital specialists, dry cleaners, accountants, everyone. They will all have tools, technologies and the temptation to do it for themselves. The specialists will have to work harder to add value. This will absolutely demand the ability to integrate all forms of communication, orchestrate their delivery and measure the impact.

4 The old media skills will lead the way. Why? Because at the heart of the business, the traditional skills of analysis, insight, value judgments, creativity and accountability that have been bred into the best media planning agencies of today will be vital for the best ones of the future. Those that can do the spreadsheet, interface with the buyers, collaborate with the sellers and bend them all to the client's strategy will still be the most valuable actors on the media planning stage of the future.

So there you have it - the future of our business. The economy will hit us, we will contract as an industry, our skills will continue to evolve and we will emerge from the economic downturn as stronger, more valued partners in the clients' eyes.

But then again, I could be completely wrong. Now, where is my flying skateboard?

- Ivan Pollard is a partner at Naked Communications.