Yet for years, agency media departments operated without computers, electronic data interchange and all sorts of proprietary software. Media planners and buyers operated by their wits, experience and sharp pencils.
The widespread use of technology has given rise to concerns that the people element of media buying and planning has been overshadowed by computers, spreadsheets and databases.
While conceding the proliferation of media has made it all but impossible to plan strategy or make buys without computers, media executives agree that all this technology is worthless without experienced people who understand and interpret what all the numbers really mean.
"Most of the software is a tool; that's all it is," says Jim Paull, senior VP-product and corporate marketing, Competitive Media Reporting.
"What most of this software has done is reduce the time working the numbers so buyers and planners can spend more time analyzing, trying different scenarios and planning strategy.
"The human contribution to the media buying and planning process is enormous .*.*. since so much of this business is interpretation," he adds.
"None of this technology is worth its weight unless there are people, experienced people, who know what to do ..... with all the information that's generated," contends Michael Lotito, chief media officer, Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York.
Mr. Lotito sees the software, in particular, as being a crucial aid to media buying and planning creativity. It allows "more educated options" to be presented to clients.
"Instead of just three options, now we can come up with a dozen or more," all of which have a foundation in the numbers produced by the computer software, he says.
The influx of computer software has only enhanced the analysis responsibilities that fall to media planners and buyers, executives say.
TIME FOR ANALYSIS
"We feel it's important that our professionals have enough time for strategic planning and execution and for analysis," says Marylouise White-Petteruti, VP-director of media systems, Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. "We prefer to keep our staff thinking, not crunching numbers."
Time to think, not react like robots plugging in numbers into set formulas, is a common theme voiced by media executives.
"You've got to constantly keep in mind that the numbers, the data, are not always the greatest," says Allen Banks, executive media director-North America, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York.
REQUIRES RIGHT INSTINCTS
"Much of this business relies upon experience, upon thinking of new approaches and strategies. We would lose a lot if we rely too much on the software to point the way. But nothing, I believe, will ever take the place of people's instincts. Those are not to be dismissed," Mr. Banks adds.
"The whole objective of technology is simply to make the easy stuff, the number crunching, easier, so that we can all concentrate on the harder stuff, like which buying strategy really will help move the business forward," says Betsy Burgeson, VP-director of broadcast media, Martin/Williams Advertising, Minneapolis.
"The whole objective today is to spend more time on building relationships with clients, understanding what their goals are and how we can all contribute to building brands, and spend less time on working numbers that can be taken care of by the software."
Collection and compilation of data and numbers is "way ahead" of what it was 10 years ago, but that doesn't mean that agencies simply hand over the data to clients, says Susan Bentzinger, VP-partner, Media That Works, Cincinnati.
"Computers can spit out a lot of numbers, but they aren't likely to tell us what it all means," she says. "For that, we need real people, well-trained in how to read the numbers, to decide what the appropriate action is to take."
"One thing that we're constantly talking to our planners and buyers about is challenging them to think about how the client would benefit from the buy," agrees Jeanette Amen, broadcast manager, CMG Communications, New York. "Going by the book, by the numbers, is not what's going to attain the client's goal."
LEARNING TO INTERPRET
Many of the new staff members of media departments already come to the agency with a tremendous knowledge of computers and software, notes Ms. White-Petteruti.
"Sure, we train them on our software and equipment, but the greater majority of training time is spent on how to interpret, analyze and work with the information that is generated," she says. "No two clients are alike; they all have different needs for their brands. We can't rely on formulas to tell us what the best strategies and plans are. For that, we need well-trained and experienced people."