Media Check

By Hannah Wallace May 31, 2007

After we launched USA Cable network 27 years ago, I’d meet with the marketing and advertising heads of major national companies to discuss the merits of cable television. The early days were tough—no credible ratings, just the promise of more discerning, upscale, targeted viewers with alternative programming. Some companies came aboard to experiment; many others were committed to wait and see.

What I said in just about every meeting was, “Take a good hard look at your ad agency’s media department, because that group holds the key to your future.” Perplexed expressions followed, giving me my desired opportunity to explain why they should care about a department that was generally taken for granted. The creatives—those who conceive and develop the actual advertising—were then the elites of the ad agency world.

My premise was that while creating the ads would always be a challenge, deciding where to run them might prove more difficult. Increasing media proliferation, a more competitive consumer marketplace and changing consumer lifestyles would support my proposition.

I had no idea how right I’d be. I believed cable would grow and take significant audience shares away from broadcast TV, but not to the extent that it has. I felt radio and magazines would continue to grow.  But I could not have even guessed about the Internet.

Media execs today, while deservedly in the advertising limelight, are also in the hot seat.  “Show me results” is the new client mantra.  It has never been more difficult to plan media than today, both nationally and locally.

That’s why I’m amazed at what I often see as a lack of analytical thinking going into local media decision-making. The pity is that the decisions made with smaller ad budgets usually have more at stake than those of large corporations. Every dollar in a smaller ad budget is critical and shouldn’t be spent lightly. Considerations involving demographics and psychographics (lifestyles) obviously need to be addressed. But what rarely gets evaluated are psychodynamics: how people consume a specific medium. Attitudes toward that medium and time spent consuming it are vital in today’s complex, overpopulated media environment. These factors and others affect engagement and subsequently recall. Ultimately, the relationship a given medium has with its users is critical, yet not pondered enough.

Advertising grows businesses, but getting the desired results needs smart media decision-making. 

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