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What Is Media Planning – and Why Should Content Marketers Care? [Video Show]

When you invest in content, you want the most people to see it. So you launch it where it has the best chance to be seen by the highest number of the right people in the shortest time.

Unfortunately, that means your content fights with everyone else’s for attention.

Does it make more sense to publish your content in a quiet space or try to stand out in a noisy one?

The art of deciding where to place content for the biggest impact is called media planning. And it’s at the heart of every great marketing strategy.

Media planning is at the heart of every great #marketing strategy, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. #MarketingMakers Share on X

You might be wondering why I’m explaining media planning to content marketers. Isn’t that someone else’s job? There are entire roles and agencies dedicated to media planning. But if you don’t understand media planning concepts, you’ll have a hard time convincing those media planners to consider your owned media channels – the content marketing you pour hours and dollars into – in their media plans. And they absolutely should.

Traditional media planning continues to shift to encompass modern, multichannel social media and content marketing. Now that so many content marketers run their own media channels, media planning must shift to consider owned content strategies along with paid media options.

In episode two of Marketing Makers – the video series for those who make marketing work – I delve deep into everything you need to know about how media planning works, so you can talk with media planners about your content marketing and social media strategy in terms they understand.

I’ll share the critical insights about how marketers need to rebalance their message distribution across paid, earned, owned, and shared channels in this post. I also encourage you to watch the video to learn more about:

  • How the concept of media planning led to the creation of modern advertising agencies
  • Why agencies used to give away content creation services for free (and why they no longer do)
  • How media planning is changing in real-time in an interview with Marcus Collins, a marketing professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan.

What is media planning?

Media planning is the process of making decisions about where, when, and how often to deliver a message to an audience. The idea is to reach the highest number of the right audience with the right message only as often as you need to get the desired effect (brand awareness, leads, sales, or other business goal).

For most of marketing history, media planning involved paid placements on media channels (print, radio, and television).

But in the mid-1990s, media planning got a lot more complicated.

Back when print, radio, and television were the main places to put content, media planners faced relatively few choices. Sure, they had options for targeting their desired audiences (which shows, at what time, and so on), but it was reaching a mass audience scale.

But as hundreds of cable TV channels with smaller niche audiences sprang up, media planning began to change. Then came websites, email, search engine result pages, mobile apps, and social media. Decisions about media placement became exponentially more complex.

And, because the requirements and characteristics of each media channel were so different, the number and types of creative pieces needed exploded, too.

The more media planning changes, the more it stays the same

Still, the core concept of traditional media planning hasn’t changed.

Even in 2021, great media planning is about understanding which media channels gives you the best opportunity to:

  • Deliver the right message
  • To the right person
  • At the right time
  • So enough people take the desired action
  • At a cost that fits the available budget and goals.
Great media planning delivers right message to right person at right time so enough people take the desired action for an allocated budget, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. #MarketingMakers Share on X

It’s still about balancing the choice of getting attention in the middle of nowhere and trying to stand out in a congested media channel.

To get the balance right requires understanding how the foundation of traditional media planning has shifted to modern media planning, social media marketing, and the use of owned media as part of the strategy.

Media planning definitions

Media planning hasn’t changed drastically. It’s still the process where – through experience, research, and (in many cases) gut instinct – marketers determine where, when, and how often content should be placed on chosen media channels in order to provide sufficient value for the business.

You’re probably familiar with the concept of media planning and much of the vocabulary that goes along with it. But this show exists, in part, to answer all the questions content people might have about marketing that they haven’t felt comfortable asking. I’m offering these definitions for anyone who needs an introduction or a refresher course.

To reach your target audience, you might buy access to them (as with advertising). You might try to earn their attention (as with public relations and organic social media). Or you might try to attract them to your own media properties (content hub, website, digital publication, and so on).

To figure out which of these you should do and how much effort they require, you need to understand these marketing terms:

  • Flight dates refer to the start and end dates for your live content. You assess the content’s effectiveness after the time. For example, you might define a flight as one month.
  • Impressions describe the number of views of your content. Don’t equate impressions with unique viewers. If the same person views the ad or piece of content 200 times, that counts as 200 impressions.
  • Cost per thousand (CPM) describes the cost of those impressions. For example, if a media platform promises 100,000 impressions for $10,000, that’s a CPM of $100 (10,000 x $100 per thousand = 100,000).
  • Net reach refers to the total number of people who could see your content. Net reach helps you understand how many times your content could be seen by the same person.
Impressions are not the same as unique viewers. One person who views #content 200 times = 200 impressions, notes @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. #MarketingMakers Share on X

Let’s say you’re guaranteed 100,000 impressions with a net reach of 40% in a one-month flight. That means the media platform promises at least 40,000 of those 100,000 impressions will be unique people (who would each hypothetically see your content 2.5 times).

An ad repeated across a website or on TV is different from an article, show, or other type of content that once read or watched likely would not be viewed again by the same person. So, while a higher net reach is always a good thing, not all repeat impressions are equally valuable.

  • Click-through rate in digital media is the average percentage of people who click to whatever you call them to do. (Conversion rates involve another step. Viewers click the link, then fill out a form or take some action when they arrive at the page.) This is sometimes called a conversion rate if they are going to fill out a form or in some way have to do things beyond just clicking. With social media, likes, shares, and follows might be measured separately but they also may be considered other types of “conversions.”
  •  Media plan is the combination of all the media channels you use in a time period to achieve strategic success. It’s sometimes called an integrated marketing communications plan. When someone asks what your integrated marketing communications plan is, they want to know how you use your budget across various media channels to reach a specific audience in support of your specific strategic business goals.

Now you understand the foundational elements any media planner knows. But even though those core concepts haven’t changed, one fundamental shift shook up media planning again.

Media planning when you are the media

With the rise of owned media as a strategy, content marketers (and the brands they work for) have become the media. Your website, your blog, your resource center, and your social media efforts all be working media too.

Our media efforts become part of the integrated marketing and communications plan too.

For example, consider Cleveland Clinic’s Health Essentials blog. Launched in 2013, the publication grew from 200,000 monthly visits to 3.2 million monthly visits in just 18 months.

Today, the blog attracts more than 4 million monthly visitors, making it one of the most visited online health care destinations. With more than 1.5 million Facebook fans and a half million Twitter followers, Health Essentials has a bigger audience than many media publications.

Cleveland Clinic has become the health-care media. That means Health Essentials often wins when the Clinic’s media planners decide where to spend their budget for the best return on CPM and the best net reach.

There is a lot of pressure on marketers to look at every new app, social media network, technology, or even different websites through the classic lens of media planning. But chasing audiences isn’t as productive as it once was. There are simply too many channels.

If you chase audiences by placing content and ads on more and more media channels, you run the risk of fragmenting your audience to the point where it’s impossible to reach them at all.

If you place #content and ads on more and more media channels, you run the risk of fragmenting your audience where it’s impossible to reach them all, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. #MarketingMakers Share on X

For example, say your audience gets everything they need from your Facebook page. Now you’re locked into reaching them through Facebook, no matter the cost. Multiply that by Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, Clubhouse, and whatever channels come along next.  It’s easy to see how you would have to prioritize which small part of your whole audience to address at any given time.

But with a content brand, you’re no longer tenants on rented real estate. You’re the owners. You can create content that attracts and builds audiences your business values and who will, in turn, value your brand.

You can use the classic and well-worn media planning methods to determine that value. But instead of determining the best place to rent – you’ll choose the best plot of your owned land.

When you invest in content, you want to put it where you know the right people will see it.

That might be a noisy, busy place.

Or it might turn out to be your own backyard.

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 Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute