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The stature of agency media planners and strategists is on the rise, due in part to recent media research that has advertisers demanding more answers from their agencies about media tactics.

Clients are looking for media strategists' insights into studies on reach and efficiency that challenge traditional views, agency executives say.


"Clients are regarding media in a different way-that it's not just plugging [gross rating points] into a computer or finding the lowest [cost-per-thousand viewers or readers]," says Bob Giacomino, senior VP-media manager, Grey Advertising, New York.

"There is a lot more emphasis placed now on how to use media in different and smarter ways-that media contribute greatly to the success of a campaign, that it's not just creative that sells products," he says.

"There's much more discussion and emphasis being placed on media," agrees Steve Sternberg, senior partner, BJK&E Media, New York. "That's due in part, of course, to the tremendous number of choices that exist [today] compared to 10 to 15 years ago. But it's also because . . . clients hear about these theories . . . and want more information about them."


Within the last 18 months, Erwin Ephron's continual-frequency media scheduling theory, also known as the recency theory, has been the subject of high-level discussions among executives at Coca-Cola Co., Kraft Foods, Pfizer and Procter & Gamble Co. and their agencies, industry executives say.

According to this theory, a heavy-frequency flight followed by a longer period when the brand is not advertised is less efficient as a full-time presence in media (see chart below). The reason why is because additional increases in weight generate smaller and smaller boosts in reach.


There are exceptions to this rule, most notably with seasonal products, says Mr. Ephron, partner at consultancy Ephron, Papazian & Ephron. But for products sold year-round, he contends, emphasizing duration over the "weighting" of flighting makes more sense, even for new-product introductions.

"The idea is to be there at the time that the consumer is making the purchase decision," Mr. Ephron says.

At the same time, Turner Broadcasting Sales executives are beginning to make the rounds of client-agency meetings, having been invited by agencies to present its "Media at the Millennium" study.

The study, conducted by A.C. Nielsen Corp. for Turner Broadcasting Sales, the ad sales arm for Turner Broadcasting System networks, contends that the decline in broadcast prime-time ratings over the last decade, together with the growth of cable TV, means that shifting spending from broadcast to cable can deliver audience reach without resorting to excessive frequency.

However, agency buyers note, top-rated prime-time network TV programs should be excluded from this theory since they offer not just gross rating points but also an immeasurable cachet.

"Viewers judge you by the company that you keep. Advertisers want to be associated with the cream of the club, and prime-time [network TV] is the club," says Howard Nass, senior VP-corporate director, TN Media, New York.

With broadcast TV's command of audience shrinking in prime time, Turner executives suggest 40% to 60% of TV ad budgets should be in cable.


Although the percentage of TV ad budgets put into cable has been increasing gradually, the idea suggested by "Media at the Millennium" represents a massive increase in cable ad dollars.

According to Competitive Media Reporting, last year cable TV networks received $4.7 billion, or 13.2% of the $35.8 billion marketers spent in all four measured TV media (see chart above). If cable were to secure 40% of last year's TV budgets, some $9.6 billion would have to be moved out of the three other TV segments.

"What I think is happening is that agencies are viewing [the presentation] as a beginning of a redefinition of how television is regarded," says Steve Heyer, president-worldwide sales, marketing, distribution and international networks, Turner Broadcasting Sales. "It's not broadcast and cable as separate entities, but simply television. And now the question is where should they [the clients] move their money to get the most impressions."


Still, no one theory or strategy has won complete adherence. Most media executives view these theories and others as "helpful" to achieving a complete picture.

"The biggest problem is that one theory does not cover all strategic challenges," says Allen Banks, exec VP-executive director of media, Saatchi & Saatchi North America, New York.

"Every client, every product, every service, has a different competitive mindset, a different consumer they're trying to reach, a different competitive setting," he says. "It's too facile to say that media buying and planning can be covered with one simple theory."

These studies and theories "have certainly enhanced client discussions about media, and more thought is being given to [being smarter in] using media," says Mr. Giacomino.

"They have helped focus people on coming to the agency saying, 'Let's try and get some answers that are meaningful to their product'," he continues. "The smart marketers will be willing to test these theories and determine whether it is right for their business.

"But these theories are far from conclusive," Mr. Giacomino adds, "and it's not fair to say that one size plan fits all clients. What I hope happens is that clients will be more willing to test these theories and find out if they really work for them."

Agency media executives appear certain that both Chicago. "The effectiveness of each schedule has to be evaluated in that regard."


It certainly would make the job of media buyers and planners easier if there was one overriding way to make media choices, says Bob Igiel, exec VP-director of broadcast, Y&R Advertising, New York.

Instead, planners are faced with putting the studies and theories into perspective for each client.

"We must put into practice these theories and studies," Mr. Igiel says. "Our job is to make sure that it's the right fit for the client and the product."

Whether any or all media theories and studies make sense for marketers will become clear as ad dollars are placed according to agencies' recommendations. But media buyers and planners are enjoying their moment in the spotlight, using recency and the Turner study as an opportunity to renew discussions with marketers about media choice in the new millennium.

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