The article below is taken from the Star published on Sunday January 1, 2012. Those interested in pursuing a career in media planning can consider studying a diploma or degree in advertising or mass communication. Read below for a good insight into this career. You may email me at should you have any questions.

The business of commercials


In advertising, every message counts, and media planners are responsible for coming up with the best way for it to reach the consumer.

IT IS never incidental that newspaper pages on Thursdays and Fridays are splattered with advertisements from hypermarket stores.

Media planners see to it that way so as to maximise returns from the advertising dollars because most households would be doing their grocery shopping during the weekend.

Foong says the best person for the job has to be meticulous, loves challenges and able to adapt quickly.

Senior media planner Foong Zaai Yee says that strategic media planning involves the clever placement of advertisements — in which newspaper or magazine, how big or small it should be, in black and white or colour, and even which page it should appear on.

In the meantime, a similar conundrum awaits the media planners when deliberating about other media such as billboards, television, radio and the Internet.

“Media planning is not just about purchasing ‘spots’ (air time or print space) from media owners and inserting advertisements.

“With so many advertisements clamouring for the audience’s attention, we have to constantly think, think and think of ideas to stand out from the clutter,” says Foong.

To put it another way, media planners never really buy media but instead are buying a piece of the audience’s attention.

However, the evolving nature of technology makes this pursuit all the more challenging and interesting.

Furthermore, the emergence of social media has allowed advertisers and consumers to interact on the same platform.

Before the Internet, advertising used to be a one-way conversation from the advertiser to consumer. With Twitter and Facebook, it is more important than ever for advertisers to interact, engage and talk “with” consumers instead of “at” them.

Foong points out that the younger generation shows a changing media consumption pattern as less and less of them are inclined to spend time on traditional media like newspapers and television.

“Even if they do watch television, the younger generation are more likely to check the updates on their smartphones and tablets during commercial breaks, unlike before when they would reach for the remote to switch channels,” says Foong.

“So, the media planners would have to consider whether it is cost-effective to spend the same budget on traditional media.

“At the same time, media planners also play a role to educate their clients about these emerging trends,” she adds.

My job involves …

… coming up with media solutions and strategies to help my clients communicate their advertising messages to consumers. The creative agencies are the ones generating messaging ideas and storylines, while media planners provide recommendations on ways to convey the storylines to the consumers.

When a client wants to advertise a product with say, a RM1mil budget, media planners advise the client on how to spend the RM1mil in order to obtain the highest advertising return on investment.

Media planners do not simply pitch solutions to the clients; we have to support our proposals with facts and numbers or with successful case studies.

Working closely with the research department within media agencies, media planners study the target audience — their media consumption patterns, values, and the kind of lifestyles they aspire to.

Besides buying spots for advertisements and commercials, media planners devise many other plans to promote the product such as through television sponsorship or branded content programmes.

Nevertheless, the job specifications of a media planner differ according to the structures within each media agency. In bigger organisations, there are media planners, media buyers and media implementers working in the same team.

In these cases, the job scopes will be fragmented with the media planner solely in charge of coming up with proposals while the media implementers will be responsible for executing the plans.

Meanwhile, media buyers negotiate and purchase media space on behalf of the clients.

My morning starts with …

… checking e-mails and looking into works-in-progress.

As it is a fast-paced industry, you need to be in tip-top condition and clear your workload in a timely manner.

Ideally, it is a good practice to browse through the newspapers early in the morning to understand the market scenario, but sometimes I just do not have enough time to do that!

To qualify, you need …

… an academic background in advertising, which is useful, but not essential. There are people from all sorts of backgrounds from banking to geology working in the media planning industry and excelling in it.

Essentially, we are all consumers, and media planners have to be smart in using their common sense to gauge the behaviours and desires of the consumers at large.

Of course, those who have advertising background may find it easier to adapt but again, this does not necessarily mean that those without it cannot pick up fast.

The best person for the job …

… is someone who is very meticulous, because missing or adding a single digit in the client’s budget would be disastrous.

Also, media planners need to love challenges and must be open-minded in embracing changes. Technology is constantly evolving; even the business objectives of clients and consumer behaviours are changing from time to time.

Media planners need to adapt to that and be able to offer new solutions for clients. Working in the media industry involves long hours. You need to have immense passion for the job and be able to multi-task.

Furthermore, being in the servicing line requires media planners to be very patient with request from clients. It is very important to build relationships with the clients and make them see you as a business partner rather than just their media agency.

I love my job because …

… it is very dynamic and never repetitive. The best thing about my job is the exposure I gain from dealing with people from different backgrounds.

I would think that my job comes with a power to use media to change consumer behaviour; come to think of it, media planners have a hand in changing the people’s perception and behaviours.

It is also very satisfying to witness consumers participating in the media campaigns that I plan.

What I dislike most …

… are unreasonable deadlines and requests given by clients.

To stay ahead of the competitors, clients constantly change their marketing strategies. When that happens, it affects the overall media plan as well.

Imagine having all the hard work you put in the plan all end up in vain and you have to quickly come up with new strategies at the last minute to adapt to the new marketing strategy.

For instance, when clients are unable to meet their marketing objective (i.e. sales target), we will have to scrap the media plan, revise all the bookings and come up with a new plan.

Whenever that occurs, I will put myself in my clients’ shoes and remind myself that I work as their business partner.

I have to think from their perspective — if making last-minute changes will help to turn the tide for my client’s business, then I would be more than happy to do that.

Prospects for the future …

… are good. If they are willing to work hard, media planners can progress very fast in their careers as promotions are based on performance and not seniority.

Those who have proven that they are capable of handling bigger portfolios will acquire more exposure in three or four years compared to others who have worked longer.

Likewise, the demand for media agencies is increasing as the business industry is developing to be more complicated and competitive.

Media agencies are not just selling media plans anymore — many have now expanded their departments with a business unit to offer clients with business and marketing solutions.

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