BtoB

Media strategists plan on a complicated future

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Once upon a time, the job of b-to-b media buyer was among the easiest at an advertising agency. In those days-circa 1995 and before-setting a media schedule required little more than spreading a client's media budget among the top three trade books in a particular industry.

Reserved for newcomers or hangers-on, the job of media buyer required two key tools-the knife and the fork-because going out to lunch with trade publication sales reps was a critical part of the job.

"Thirty years ago in b-to-b, I would do a plan a year [per client], write the insertion orders and then go out to lunch for the next 11 months," said Ginny Cooper, CEO of media buying shop Cooper+Simmons Media Architects, engaging in a playful bit of hyperbole.

But the gist of her comment is true. An advertising agency's media department lagged well behind account service and creative in importance to the average b-to-b client.

The Internet changed all that.

It transformed media by introducing new companies such as CNET Networks and offerings from old media companies such as Thomas Publishing Co.'s Thomasnet.com. With myriad new choices plus a heightened level of measurable return on investment, the Web made the media buying job much more complex. And this added complexity has altered the tasks of the media strategist and also the skills needed to do the job.

"With the evolution of e-media and your traditional media being about developing a fully integrated campaign, media strategists have come to require new skill sets," said Jon Schaaf, media director at HSR Business-to-Business.

As the World Wide Web has continued to grow in prominence since its launch in the early 1990s, the way business people consume media has changed. Sarah Fay, president of Isobar U.S., points out that tech buyers used to keep stacks of PC World and PC Magazine by their desks or in corporate libraries. "Why would you do that today?" she asked.

Instead, when tech buyers need information, they can simply search the Internet, whether they visit a vertical site in the TechTarget network or a broad search engine such as Google. The advent of search engines has added another layer of complexity to media-buying decisions.

New emphasis on ROI

Additionally, the Internet has placed a new emphasis on return on investment because of the measurable interactivity offered by the medium.

"Clients are realizing there are different ways to reach their target audiences," said Vickie Szombathy, VP-media director at Starlink Worldwide. "It's not just media, and it's not just advertising. They look at media strategists to help them navigate through the jungle out there of all the possible things they can possibly do."

Other media strategists agreed that their jobs have grown more complex, particularly in recent years. "You're not taking last year's plan and changing the rates," said Paul Okus, senior media planner at Bader Rudder & Associates. "There are so many things to look at now."

There are a number of ways to reach a target audience. Take HSR's recent advertising campaign for Eclipse Aviation Corp., a manufacturer of corporate jets. The campaign used Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association media to reach current owner-operators, but it used the Web sites of Forbes.com and WSJ.com to reach high-net-worth investors, Schaaf said.

In addition to the breadth of choices, there are new ways to measure media products. There is "wantedness," as Irene Hindman, Bader Rudder's VP-media director, put it, and "engagement," as Kevin Arsham, trade media director at OMD, noted.

Also, once media plans are implemented, they are not set in stone. The media strategist in today's world must keep constant watch over the plan's performance. "They don't plan and place a program, and walk away," Isobar's Fay said. "You plan and place a program, and then the work begins."

"The online space is a continual optimization process," Schaaf said. "You can always make a campaign better."

The campaign Cooper Simmons helped develop for a projector made by NEC Visual Systems is a case in point. The agency tested several versions of the program. "We saw what worked, we rolled it out and the campaign came in at a cost-per-qualified lead of less than a dollar," Cooper said.

The proliferation of Internet options has also helped broaden the definition of what exactly qualifies as media. Bader Rudder's Hindman said the current iteration of media strategy often involves a variety of marketing disciplines other than pure media placement.

She pointed to a program her agency helped develop for animal health product marketer Merial. For a product aimed at beef producers, Merial bought airtime on RFD-TV, a TV network targeting rural areas, and ran a panel discussion. To ensure that target customers watched the program, Merial's salespeople took them out to dinner to places where the program was being aired.

"Was that media?" Hindman asked. "Was it public relations? Was it relationship marketing? Was it product placement?"

What it proved to be was successful, boosting traffic to Merial's Web site. "The client loved it," Hindman said.

'Like joining the Marines'

As media strategy has evolved, so have the skills necessary to do the job. Most say it's become tougher. "On the media side, I would say online media is kind of like joining the Marines. It's not just the Army," Fay said.

Most media strategists agree that the breadth of media choices available has made creativity a prerequisite for the job-although not at the expense of the analytical mind the job has traditionally required. "Yes, we need to be more creative, but I think the skill of being able to find the right media to reach the right target, that's never going to change," OMD's Arsham said.

Bader Rudder's Hindman added, "It's always been important that I'll hire someone I think is a salesman. That's always been true. You can have the best idea in the world, but if you can't sell it on both an emotional and logical level, then there's no sense in having the idea."

Fay said the ability to parse databases and draw marketing conclusions about how to reach customers and prospects has grown increasingly important. "Anybody who is going to be starting in high-tech marketing has to have a fundamental understanding of how to use database information. They have to understand their customer at that level," she said.

Cooper added one more thought. "Basically," she said, "what it takes is more of an entrepreneurial spirit. It used to be that media buyers were pretty much safe and secure. Today you have to be on the leading edge. You have to be able to try new things, and you have to be able to admit failure."

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