What Mr. Ray, a media planner at Ammirati & Puris/Lintas, New York, and his media department colleagues spearheaded was not a market research project but a media plan.
For media planners, knowing product marketing increasingly is part of the job description. Mr. Ray is one of a new breed of marketing-based media planners -known as "marketing planners specializing in media" at Ammirati-found at agencies both big and small.
The forte of the new breed of planner is not merely creating low-cost, high-reach media plans but investigating and using the proper media-traditional and/or unconventional-needed to reach a marketing objective.
"Because of the multiple media options available today we needed people who were much more marketing-oriented," says David Martin, president-CEO of PentaCom, the Troy, Mich.-based division of BBDO North America dedicated to Chrysler Corp.'s media planning and buying. "The creative people and the media people must intertwine their work as much as possible. They have to understand that the overall project is part of a targeting process."
This is a decided trend at smaller agencies.
"Every account is run differently .... and it's going to be a long time before the big ones cross over" to integrated media-client relationships, says Erica Joseph, a senior media planner at Culver Moriarty Glavin, New York, who's spent time at bigger New York shops such as Lowe & Partners and Young & Rubicam.
CMG staffers say accounts from smaller clients such as Pivot Rules, an athletic apparel company, are ideal for marketing-based media planning.
"The traditional ad agency for Pivot Rules would plan to spend a certain amount in `X' media category and execute that," says Hope Ross, CMG's director of marketing and media services. "We made a barter part of our media plan."
To extend the brand's reach beyond a Father's Day campaign targeting women, CMG's media department developed added-value plans via in-store opportunities and through a partnership between McCall's and the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
The marketer donated apparel in exchange for print, TV and on-site ads, she says.
Insisting on marketing skills from media planners isn't just a small-agency, small-account trend, says Steve Farella, associate VP-director of media services at Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, New York.
"We're looking for jugglers-people who can keep the options suspended in mid-air," he says.
He's looking for "not [just] people who merely have decision-making skills but those who evaluate and make open-ended decisions."
Renee Lefer, a media planner at Jordan McGrath, says clients were asking for more information about traditional and new media, and that on large accounts there is much agency-client contact for those of all hierarchy levels at both sides.
Simmy Sussman, president of Sussman & Morris, a personnel agency, says the number of appropriate hires for media-planning spots are down by almost 30% because of late 1980s downsizing and learning curves on the new media climate.
She says recent hires out of her agency were often "mature media planners" making a return to the industry rather than recent college grads.
Not only must planners be able to think about media strategically instead of tactically, they must accept more face-to-face contact with the client than before.
The reason: clients want more accountability and information, particularly about media options, from agencies and their media planning departments.
"The planner can certainly speak about execution. When it comes to strategic decisions, I don't know if they're appropriate as spokespersons, though they can observe and be semi-involved," says Beth Rockwood, a former media executive at Young & Rubicam, New York, and now director of business development and media planning relations at CBS.
The demand for strategic thinking, combined with the job duty of client contact, makes some observers question whether recent grads and younger media staffers can handle the new requirements of media planning.
"It's all positioning," Ms. Sussman says. "The young planner may work on more pieces of the business, but the piece of business may be smaller so they have contact with the client. But it's a smaller client."
Yet there are some younger staffers, such as 25-year-old Mr. Ray, who seem to be doing fine.
Taking a proactive approach on the UPS account, Mr. Ray's team came up with the strategy to target small and home-based businesses. That decision led to a campaign running in small-business magazines such as Inc. and Entrepeneur, with TV spots under consideration.
"I had some experience with the category from work on other accounts and was aware of how untapped [these business segments] had been to date," he says. "We started polling several small-business magazines and organizations, brought them in for presentations to the client, and started pushing both our account group and creative team to work on the effort."
Mr. Ray says his client contact has varied by account size.
"With a blue-chip account, there are fewer people at the company appropriate to deal with the advertising side, so there's less involvement on my part," he says. "With package goods there's more contact with the client because there are more clients, in a sense."
College students interested in media planning as a career might not be able to get the client contact experience from their classes, but marketing professors are trying to teach how the media department's demands have changed.
"These days agencies are thinking of media as part of the creative mix," says Lynda Maddox, assistant professor of marketing and advertising at George Washington University. "In the past, we could all shy away from accountability. But now clients want to link the creativity and placement of the campaign to sales."