5 Ways to Comms Planning

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Steve Schildwachter
Steve Schildwachter



Have creative and media been apart so long that they've forgotten each other?

Some will say, "No, how could that be? We hear every day about the changing media landscape, so how could anyone in advertising ever forget media?”

There's a difference, though, between what we hear every day and what we do every day. While it is absolutely wrong that legions of agency people robotically write only TV storyboards every day, it's equally true that few creatives get guidance on where and when their work will engage a consumer. Why? It could be lack of vision, adherence to a routine or the artificial separation of creative and media from the spinoff of media agencies in the 1990s.

The Creative Brief is Not Enough

Recently, we had a group briefing for a new project. There were many great questions about the consumer, like how he or she shops the category and what is his or her decision making process. Suddenly, the creative director asked an important question:

"Have we thought about Comms Planning?"

The very same question was on my mind, but it meant so much more coming from the creative director. She was clearly thinking about all the different ways to engage the consumer, and high on her list was how consumers could engage with their friends. As I've written before, social media is just technology that allows us to drive word-of-mouth better than we ever have.

I'd like to think she asked this question because we're one of the few agencies that still has a media department, but that's not it. There wasn't a media person in the room at the time. Besides, "media" may not even be the right word.

Call it what you will, but there’s no point in calling it anything unless you’re going to do something about it in day-to-day business. “Media agnostic” is a bad term, partly because it describes a philosophy instead of something practical. “Comms planning” is better because it says we’re going to do something. In fact, it was the first time I had ever heard an American ad person use the term "comms planning" in a regular, day-to-day meeting. It comes up in punditry all the time, but, as a business term, it's really British.

5 Ways to Comms Planning

If your normal practice is to just write the brief and hope that a media planner or separate media agency doesn’t prescribe only :15 TV ads when you thought shopper marketing was important, try taking these steps:

  • Leverage your work on consumer insights for the creative brief. It’s the same consumer and, if you’ve done your homework, you know this person. That insight can help you understand how he or she uses media.
  • Apply that insight to how the consumer shops the category. At some point, “the consumer” becomes “the shopper” and, along that journey, he or she uses different media. Think about how to engage this person along the way.
  • Learn about channels outside your comfort zone. Technology is driving all the changes in the media landscape, but not all of those changes are digital. Retail disciplines like shopper marketing are important, too.
  • Prepare yourself to adjust the creative message according to channel. This is just common sense: A great TV spot drives awareness, talk value may be expressed via social media and retail promotion may close the sale.
  • Think in terms of a business solution, not just a media solution. "Media" and "channel" are both words describing a means to an end — the delivery of something. They don’t just deliver messages or conduct word of mouth, they help you achieve a business objective.

The business objective depends on both creative and media. Don’t let them forget about each other.

Topics: Media Planning

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