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The manner in which some agencies handle competitive media analysis has the clandestine air of a spy novel. Below, Julie Chan, media supervisor

I help conduct competitive media warfare.

My tools aren't firearms or explosives but strategic media ideas. I don't arrange clandestine meetings with operatives, but we conduct our business with the secrecy of the CIA.

Our mission: to respond to competing brands' media strategy maneuvers, and to maintain and improve our clients' market share.

It's not easy being part of a competitive media "SWAT team." You can't tell anyone about that part of your job, let alone admit this function exists.

But it's a task that's becoming increasingly important in this era of strategic media planning.

In the old days, the lowest man on the media department totem pole was assigned the competitive responsibility: How much did our competition spend? What dayparts and publications did they use? That's nice. Come back again next year and tell us the same thing.

The inherent problem with this was that these analyses were not actionable. Brand managers would listen to your findings, smile, say, "Thank you," and that's it-nothing more than an informational presentation.

But today, more clients need to know weight levels against individual executions. The emphasis a competitor puts against a certain execution tells lots about its marketing strategy. Any drastic or quick changes in mix can say a lot about what they have in mind.

Here at FCB, we have a dedicated group of strategists called the "Chess Team," whose job is to act as the competitor and "live" two to three moves out in the future. The media department advises the "Chess Team" on media intelligence, weight levels, messaging mix and trends, as well as their strategic implications behind these moves.

By looking at the marketplace through the competitors' eyes, we can predict their moves and identify our clients' opportunities and vulnerabilities.

Quick response also is key to competitive media warfare. At FCB, we have our "Falcon Team," set up to respond to competitive campaigns.

No matter what the retaliatory message, the media group should always have a set plan A, B or C of attack. For example, plans could include newspaper lists or trade publications the client routinely uses, along with their weight levels.

Thanks to technology, we seem to be moving to a world of real-time competitive monitoring.

The big caution to clients is not to jump the gun and become too reactionary, but to trend this covert data and proactively plan a response: what strategy do we use if a competitor's campaign runs for two weeks? Eight weeks? Six months?

At FCB, we spend quite a bit of time analyzing competitive data. As technological advances are made, we can only be in a stronger position to outmaneuver our competitors.

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