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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Another Look at Market by Market Media Planning

Someone recently was e-mailing me back and forth about various aspects of media planning. At one point, he wrote “I guess you will now bring up the topic of Market by Market Planning. After all, you basically made a career of it.” He probably did not mean it kindly. I was not offended, however. In fact, I am proud to plead guilty.

Market by Market Media Planning recognizes a few truths in the U.S. marketplace. The first is that there are 210 Nielsen DMA’s in the U.S. No two are alike. TV viewing levels, Radio usage, cable and satellite penetration and usage vary significantly from place to place as do internet usage and even sagging newspaper readership. If you really want to execute a proper media plan, you must know the markets that you are operating in and you get a fairly tight handle on what the national media that you buy are delivering in each key marketplace.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but the most sensitive market by market analysis tends to be done outside of the major agency hubs. How is that possible? Well, if you are plotting media strategy for a client that advertises in 15 markets in America’s heartland, you face a few challenges. You don’t have national media and its great efficiencies and your client’s pockets are not all that deep. But, if you do the proper digging you can level the playing field significantly for your greatly outspent client.

The really good practitioners of market by market planning are intense and real wonks. They know their markets cold. As a result, they do not deliver a media plan. They deliver plans. A very difficult man whom I once worked with paid me the most meaningful compliment of my career in a client meeting. He said, “Don, will deliver you as many media plans as you have markets.” He was not being a salesman. He knew me.

A good market by market approach often starts with a BDI/CDI analysis. It is pretty straight forward although many young people are not taught it anymore. BDI stands for Brand Development Index which is local sales in a market indexed to overall brand sales (so if Market X is 1% of the US and you have 1.5% of your total sales there, your BDI is 150). Similarly, CDI is Category Development Index is local sales for the category relative to total category sales. Sometimes, smaller players cannot get their hands on such category data.

As a general rule, you tend to add more weight to markets that have high brand potential and high category potential (the old fish where the fish are thesis). Also, you may want to add to markets with high brand potential but low category potential. Individual analysis is always required.

Then, the next step that many of us used was to provide relative costs across markets. A great case came up in the go-go 1980’s. At that time, Cleveland, the rust belt queen, was approximately the same size in terms of TV households as Houston, a Southwestern boom town. But TV in Houston cost twice as much per household reached as Cleveland. Our client let us add weight in Cleveland and he claimed that we squeezed significantly more cases of out that market over the year. More importantly, the money we saved by not spending more in Houston allowed us to prop up several mid-sized opportunity markets with decent radio schedules. Such opportunities and cost imbalances still exist in 2011 but how many dig to ferret them out?

Market by market focused planners use radio better than most. They look at distribution in each market and the relative costs of each medium in each market. Often, metro radio is a better play if money is tight or distribution not strong across the much larger DMA. When they use TV, they customize a day-part mix for each DMA. Outdoor often plays a larger role or is the sole medium in some markets.

If you execute well in each market, good things usually happen. I know that many of us who embraced authentic market by market activity saved clients millions over the years. How much did we increase sales? Impossible to say but it had to be stronger than a cookie cutter plan that is virtually the same everywhere.

National advertisers should key on market by market considerations as well but few do it well. Many people feel that the network TV or national magazine efficiencies even things out. But, in reality, they do not. Few, if any, products with national distribution have flat sales across the country. Everyone has strongholds and almost every product underachieves somewhere. Also, media delivery is not consistent either. If you buy a 1000 rating points on network TV, you may deliver 1300 in Montgomery, Alabama but only 730 in San Francisco. Many players add weight in the top 10 or top 20 markets. That helps in some cases but they would generally be better served if they did an extensive BDI/CDI analysis, did a relative cost index for favored media, and added the right medium to local markets where it had the best chance of doing some good.

Importantly, with on-line media, a great deal of work needs to be done to reflect market by market projections and their blending with conventional media.

Why doesn’t everyone do market by market right? Well, it takes time. And, today, time is money. Understaffed teams with untrained personnel get people on the air and many negotiate terrific rates. But great costs only take you so far if the messages are not landing sufficiently in the optimal roster of markets.

Has market by market planning disappeared? No, but most people do not go far enough in their analyses. And, the best practitioners, as mentioned above, are often off the beaten path. People in places such as Burlington, Akron, Omaha, Salt Lake and Portland, Oregon are often doing great work for moderate sized clients. Each market gets a truly customized media effort and they have made their client more competitive in a tough environment. Ask your agency about market to market considerations and probe a bit. You may be pleasantly surprised or you may be justifiably annoyed.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ad Agency Media Teams--The View from Salespeople

A few weeks ago I received a long and detailed e-mail from someone whom I have known for over 30 years. He was an excellent sales executive who eventually morphed into a really good broadcaster. And, he is still active in the business. His e-mail at times was something of a rant but, despite the passion, it made a lot of sense. He finished with the following: “There is too much lazy marketing going on at agencies. They continue to do what they have always done. Yes, they are playing with social media but they have no clue about it. What they need to do is more Branding.”

I canvassed a host of other people who were in media sales and the frustration level was amazing. So this post will give you a view of agency media teams from a sales executive perspective. Everyone in my sample is successful and has been in the business a minimum of 15 years. They are from all over the country—good balance from each region. All are people whom I know and have always considered to be smart and fair. I interviewed or exchanged e-mails with 25 people and what follows is a representative sampling of their opinions.

First, let us hear from a man with whom I have done business for over 20 years. He is easily the most gentlemanly person with whom I have ever worked. His product is now a multi-platform offering that can work for many substantial advertisers. Here is how he weighs in on media teams in 2011: “My biggest complaint is the lack of sincere contact. Nearly everything is done through e-mail, voice mail and very easy for the 20 somethings to ignore or delete. Even an old geezer such as I knows that in this computer oriented world things are going to change and just keep getting faster and less personal. For companies with a complicated product offering like ours that requires some explanation, this presents a problem even if we can be of real benefit to their clients. Also, today there is a lack of simple courtesy….people often do not return phone calls or even e-mails. Lastly, the young people do not understand that if you agree to take a meeting you need to actually do it. My sales team makes the effort to make contact, travels to a distant city at our expense, and often gets stood up when they arrive. It is maddening.”

Another long time friend who sets the standard for high ethics said the following:
“I think one of the biggest problems with agencies is that they are not set up to effectively evaluate over-all marketing opportunities. In today’s world, the hugely different opportunities that are brought to agencies often scream for a unique evaluation for each one. So many different elements are brought together (TV, Internet, Print, Activation) but the agencies usually stick it all into a cookie cutter evaluation and potentially risk not recommending things that can deliver a ‘grass roots’ activation model that will really help the client as a whole. Instead they go to a traditional media buy with very little imagination included……there are far too few people out there who can really evaluate a multi-faceted package.”

A gregarious and deeply experienced exec shares this sentiment: “You have struck a nerve, my friend. There is no incoming and teachable entry level talent who are being taught how to interpret proposals and ask questions. There is a moat of experience between veteran media people who think out of the box and the one dimensional “my cost per point is X and that is all I care about" attitude of the new comers. "Training, you ask? What training"?

A vivacious and lively TV exec who sells coast to coast is more sympathetic—“First and foremost, EVERY MEDIA TEAM seems to be undermanned…too much to do…too few workers and this appears to be by design. This is a common theme from NYC to LA. I think everyone gets the “we have got to do more with less” concept but at some point (soon) clients will see clearly that the model is broken. And today the client is suffering because the agency is trying to keep costs at the lowest levels.” This is undeniably true. She raises another vital point—“Because they are undermanned, media departments do not encourage salespeople to come in and educate all on new innovations available to them. Interestingly, some of these new opportunities might dovetail with the client’s needs and by incorporating them into the plan/buy, the agency could look like a winner.”


Sales people who do not work for major properties simply cannot get appointments. One agency media chief says that he will only see people from Google, ESPN and Sports Illustrated. He loves their swag and the whole team sits in. That is great for those three outstanding properties but the agency does regional business at best and there are local people who could help him with his clients if he would give them a hearing.

Some sales people close to retirement are resigned to what is going on. A West Coast sales maven says “The golden years are gone. I cannot develop a relationship with the newcomers. Media is now a commodity in their eyes and something is lost forever when that attitude took hold”.

Another adds “The game is almost over. The technology will soon be in place where a lot more will be done electronically. I am a dinosaur, and know it but it has been one hell of a ride since 1970. No one under 40 that I call on can really sort out value. They have no intuitive feel for things. Others lack the math skills to unravel a multi-platform deal.”

Finally, a mid-west sales star says “when I started in the business 35 years ago, I was in awe of the agency media teams. Now, the superstars are not going into advertising. I do not see that turning around in an economy that is over 40% financially oriented.

What do I think? Well, lots of things are moving toward commodity status and media is one of them. It is sad but in the defense of the agency people that I still speak with and like and admire, many are really overworked. The client suffers as one of my panel members pointed out. But with agencies suffering strong financial pressure, there does not seem to be an easy way out.

Courtesy needs to make a comeback. If someone made an appointment with me, I kept it. There were nights that I had to stay a couple of hours late as a result, but no out of towner was ever greeted by a receptionist saying that Don was not available. Also, as I always say, you can learn a lot by listening. Sales reps are always on the move, talks to hundreds of people, and work for firms that have some cutting edge products developed at headquarters. Media teams need to make time for them. Our world is changing and buying solely on cost per points is gone with the wind. Yet, sadly, it still goes on.

Sales people need to be concise and respectful of the media team’s time. But if they cannot get in to see the agency team, something is very wrong.

Will things turn around? I believe that the glass is half full, but it is hard to believe that the pendulum will swing back any time soon.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Medium is STILL the message

A few weeks ago, like many of you, I attended a screening of the film, “The King’s Speech.” Marvelously produced and acted by a great ensemble cast, it shows how Prince Albert, the Duke of York overcame a terrible stammer and was able to function giving speeches and radio addresses as King George VI of the United Kingdom. As a media person, one scene stuck me hard that most in the audience did not fully appreciate. His difficult father, King George V told his son that he must learn to speak better and master radio addresses as that was now part of what it was to be king in 1936. Being a good man, fair and decent, was not enough. You had to master the new medium to be a successful monarch (for a great biography of George VI, consider The Reluctant King by Sarah Bradford, St. Martins Press, 1989).

A few months from now we will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Marshall McLuhan. He was a Canadian communications theorist who was famous for two turns of phrase—1) the global village and 2) The Medium is the Message.

As a student, I vividly remember struggling with McLuhan. He was deep and not easy to digest. It is fair to say that he has been misinterpreted by more people than anyone else in the communications field. What I see him as is clearly the greatest media futurist ever.

Consider this statement way back in 1961: “print culture would be brought to an end by electronic interdependence. Electronic media would replace visual culture. Human kind will move toward individualism and fragmentation and our collective identity with a tribal base. The new group could be called a global village.”

The following year he wrote: “the next medium, whatever it is…..it may be the extension of consciousness, will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communications instrument could enhance retrieval; mass brick & mortar library organizations could be made obsolete, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip in to a private line to speedily tailored data of a salable kind”.

Wow! Move over Nostradomus! McLuhan forecasts many aspects of the digital world, Google and Facebook and he doesn’t use obtuse rhyming couplets to do it.

In 1964, his use of the term “The Medium is the Message” first surfaced. Here is my take on it. McLuhan felt that the media are extensions of our human senses, bodies and minds. Media, then, is the message in that the force of media embeds itself in the content, creating a “symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived”. He also said that the"content should not be studied as much as the media that caused it.” McLuhan always hammered away at the point that we do not often realize the social implications of a medium until “our values, norms, and way of doing things have been altered by the technology.” An example he often used was that when you turned a TV on in a crowded room everyone would get silent. Now with cell phones, e-mail, texting and twitter we communicate but do not talk nearly as much as we once did.

“The Medium is the Message” hit me hard at an early age but I did not realize it until 10 years later. One night in October, 1960 my father and I were driving alone somewhere. He put on the radio and the first Kennedy-Nixon debate was underway. We rode in silence for a few miles and my dad said “sounds like Nixon is getting the better of him”. When we arrived home my oldest sibling greeted us with “wasn’t Jack great. He had lots of facts and figures. He won the debate easily.” I was just a kid and did not want to argue with my college bound brother who devoured TIME magazine cover to cover each week and was very well informed.

About 10 years later, I saw Howard K. Smith of ABC News being interviewed. He said he was the moderator that night and by positioning could hear the candidates but not really see them. It was as if he were listening to the debate on the radio. His scoring was that Nixon had won easily on points. But the TV audience and the press the next day heralded it as triumph for the young Senator from Massachusetts.

Kennedy was better looking than Nixon which helped in a visual medium. Nixon had been ill and was running a fever prior to the telecast. He did not have an expert makeup man and Kennedy did. The medium of TV was the message not the content of the debate to some degree.

A short time later, I saw Marshall McLuhan on with Dick Cavett. When asked to explain how “the medium is the message” he used the Kennedy-Nixon debate as an example. He challenged the audience to objectively listen to a tape of the show and decide who won. I recently did it and he was right. (Full disclosure—I didn’t like Dick Nixon. He took too long to unwind the Vietnam War; he tried to cover up Watergate and thus almost destroyed our two party system. On August 15, 1971,he instituted wage & price controls and severed all ties to the dollar and gold which will haunt us eventually. Also, he did the shameful and un-American thing of having a White House “enemies list” while in office. But if you LISTEN to the debate, Nixon won it!)

McLuhan said that we focus on the obvious way too much. The obvious is the content but what about the subtle changes that occur due to the medium being used?

So George V told the future George VI to overcome his stammer and embrace the radio. In the 1930-1950’s that medium was the message in many cases. As we moved in to the TV age, it overshadowed content. How much have the media contributed this week to the overthrow of an Egyptian dictator? Perhaps more than the real content which is the valid complaints of an oppressed people. Now, we have a whole new array of digital entrants. The internet, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and the next generation that may only be 24-36 months away. (Does anyone remember MySpace?)

In July of this year, had he been long lived, McLuhan would have turned 100. Well,the medium is STILL the message.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sports Talk Radio--An Appraisal

Whenever I mention sports talk as a radio format to people, I almost always get one of two reactions:

1) “I love it personally, it is a great way to reach guys, and it works” or
2) A soft chuckle followed by “you mean, long time listener, first time caller.”

The format, simply put, is devoted entirely to the discussion and sometimes broadcasting of sporting events. It is known for often boisterous on air talk by both the hosts and listeners who call in to the program. You may be surprised to know that this form of American Pop Culture is spreading globally. Besides the U.S., Sports Talk has popped up in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and most recently, Nigeria!

Despite the dismissive nature some media planners have toward it, the medium has grown smartly in its roughly 20 year history. An old friend, who is a veritable walking encyclopedia on all aspects of radio, put it this way “Sports radio is one of the very few new formats that have caught on during the last 15 years. As a matter of fact, the only other new format I can think of that’s made it is Hip-Hop on FM. Sports radio saved, at least temporarily, a number of AM stations. And as AM’s share further erodes, the format has been moving to FM, including ……some very large markets.”

Another interesting thing about Sports Radio is how vibrant it is locally. Sports giant ESPN has their entries in both English and Spanish and have growing appeal. Fox Sports, Sporting News, and some syndicated and satellite programming is also active. But to many, the local stations with hometown announcers discussing the trials and tribulations of the local franchise are the place to be in many markets. A long time cable and radio sales rep put it nicely—“I think Sports Radio strength is a city by city thing. In a Boston, Philly, or Chicago Sports Radio is a good reach and frequency media vehicle. These are what I call passion towns (I would add Pittsburgh to the list). Local strength of Sports Talk allows for things like effective in-game advertising even inside a stadium and great merchandising with clients (tickets, food sampling).”

He admitted that he listened to ESPN rather the local guys most of the time. The reason? He is a transplant. Markets like Dallas and Atlanta are famous for this. As he put it “more fans show up for their home team than the Atlanta (or Dallas) teams. It is sad. Some towns are not passion towns.” I enjoyed going to hockey games several times a year in both Dallas and Atlanta during my years in both cities. By coincidence, I often saw Canadian teams visiting. Invariably, as they sang the two national anthems before the game, thousands of uber-polite Canadian transplants would rise and sing “Oh, Canada” with great gusto before, let us say, the Stars and Maple Leafs faced off.

In small markets, the stations have issues that they do not have in the major metros. One broadcaster told me that his initial audience was so small that he always had his wife and brother ready to call if the phones were quiet. “They would lob me a pre-arranged question that was open-ended and I could do a fifteen minute rant until someone else called in. Most of the time, it worked.” Another problem they had was that a few gadflies would call each show throughout the day. Some were a nuisance, some were fans, some were practically auditioning but it showed advertisers how truly small our audience was. In recent years with the advent of fantasy leagues getting a lot of play, some serious and well informed statistics freaks would call in. A broadcaster told me that he met a few of them and now has them on as special guests. In their Podunk towns, they have become minor celebrities.

The national and syndicated services are big players in the smaller and mid-sized markets. My radio guru friend put it succinctly as follows: “As far as ESPN, sports stations in major markets are pretty much live and local on weekends and ESPN (or Fox Sports Radio or Sporting News Radio) in evenings and weekends. Small market stations and very small AM’s in big markets tend to rely on the networks close to full-time, and that I think that will continue.”

When do you listen locally vs. nationally if you have a choice? A seasoned and smart TV broadcaster, who paid his dues in radio, explained it this way: “When my home team made the NFL playoffs, I wanted local coverage. After they were knocked out, I wanted national coverage up to the Super Bowl. So for stations in markets with strong pro/college teams, I think locally based stations will have their place in the market. It is a lot tougher for a local station in a market like West Palm Beach that has no pro/college teams and few people grew up there. Older markets with long sports histories are better for local.” This ties back to the “passion towns” discussed above.

He also weighed in on a business reason why national services will not destroy local origination of Sports Talk. “As far as cost goes, there are many people trying to break into the sports business so finding decent producers and broadcasters is neither a challenge nor a budget buster. The new digital media is impacting play by play for radio, but good story tellers will still survive.”

Of course, the big question is does Sports Talk work as a medium? The answer is a qualified yes. One problem that I have seen is that those who love it sometimes put a bit too much of the budget in it for emotional reasons. They listen to it, want to be part of it, attend all local events with announcers, and love the promotional possibilities. In many markets the audience was not all that large although Arbitron’s move from a diary base to PPM measurement has helped many Sports Talk stations substantially. But the reach potential of a single station in a fair sized market is not very large in 2011. Sports Talk should be an integral part of a campaign for many advertisers, but media planners and advertisers should not get too wrapped up in their own hype with it.

The radio guru weighs in on the financial side with these insights: “One great thing about Sports Radio is that it often out bills what is should based on its ratings. The reason is that Sports Radio’s audience is “pure”, meaning sports stations are perfect for categories such as beer, cars and other male oriented products. The ratings don’t matter as much although some sports stations have done well in demos like Men 35-64. The other reason sports stations can make a lot of money is that the format is conducive to sponsorships, such as the hourly scoreboard, and promotions such as spring training. Lots of off-air elements such as signage and on-line can be included.”

Many people echoed this sentiment. A former radio star now in cable said “Although Sports Radio has some challenges, there are people being successful in it by understanding how to tap in to the targeted reach, audience loyalty and work promotional integrations.”

A buying service owner also adds “still another reason for Sports Radio’s is success is that a lot of clients (Men 35-64 who own businesses) listen to Sports Radio themselves and want their business to be on it.” Not the best reason to use a medium but his point is very well made.

Another adds “One of the biggest advantages of sports talk is the endorsement opportunities, contests, and associations for advertisers…….From an efficiency standpoint, these kinds of programs are usually not that great, but they create a lot of emotion for the advertiser and can be sold for a premium. I think that Sports Radio has a brighter future than music based radio.” Emotion and loyalty are still big with us humans. Sports radio can deliver the goods.

What about content? Some of the local independents get a bit raunchy at times and sometimes veer into politics or social commentary on slow news days although ESPN has made slow new sports days increasingly rare over the last 30 years. A Sports Sales maven who is a great friend voiced an intriguing theory that I have never heard before—“Local Sports Radio guys usually tell me that bad things happening with the local team can help ratings more than good things. It seems to be more about therapy than anything else. It is also a way to connect more with the fans emotionally than regular radio.” We could debate that one for a long time but it does make you think.

From a content standpoint, I want to quote another friend who captures the spirit of Sports Radio and the hold it has on many men’s live better than any that I have ever seen or heard. “To me, the best sports radio is local but unfortunately, local sports radio isn’t always the best. Listen-ability varies greatly from not just one station to the next, but even from one local host to the next as our sports interests are now as varied as the options on the FM radio. For those times when I’m forced elsewhere I have an ever increasing array of national offerings (thank you XM) which themselves inevitably wear me down with their own banal bantering, self importance, regional leanings and other proclivities which soon drive me back to my local options as the cycle completes. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. As I grow older, I find my sports radio needs to have an increasing dose of news, pop culture, politics and whatever else is going on. This somehow helps me justify my fixation over the left tackle who whiffed on his pancake block, thereby obliterating my quarterback.”

He continues—“20 years ago we yearned for any discussion of sports, but today we get it how we want it or we tune away. An unintended side affect perhaps from that fateful day in 1979 when ESPN “happened” and our sporting options multiplied exponentially. Sports Radio extends the game and season to where our favorites play all year long. The World Series used to be followed by four months of waiting. Now when the last pitch is thrown we move directly to the Winter Meetings, the start of free agency, off-season trades, Hall of Fame announcements and before you know…pitchers and catchers report anew. Whether these events are as big as sports radio makes them seem doesn’t matter to us so much as the fact that we demand they be all explored in exhaustible detail. Details over which I parse endlessly, yelling at the indefensible comments being uttered and the stupidity of the know-nothing that put them out there. And, I always tune in again tomorrow”.

Being older than almost all of you, here is my vision of where it fits into our lives. Just over 50 years ago, I was growing up in a quaint and lovely seaside village in then rural Rhode Island. Just before Christmas 1960, my older brother Bob and I walked to a village barbershop for haircuts so we would look spiffy for any holiday pictures. The place was packed. The two barbers were great guys but they gave everybody the same too short haircut at 90 cents a head! Everybody was talking. The great Ted Williams had just retired and there was a debate going on about whether he was a better ballplayer than Joe DiMaggio. This was New England, 60 miles south of Boston, so Ted won by a 14 to 1 vote. Then someone mentioned the young rookie who would take Ted’s place in left field at Fenway Park in April, 1961. His name was Carl Yastrzemski and none of the Swamp Yankees in the shop could come close to pronouncing his name. One fellow said he thought Carl might be greater than Ted. An older man leaped out of the barber chair and shouted “Enoch, you are a chowder-head. No one will ever be better than Ted.” The whole place erupted with laughter and the talk continued. After my haircut, Bob got his. But when he was done, I did not want to leave the shop. It was too much fun. People from 10-80 years old were there, everyone commented, and the needling was something to experience.

When I listen to local Radio Sports, I get that same feeling that I had 50 years ago. The barbershop had a sense of community that few of us have in our busy lives in 2011. Well, for a few minutes in the car, Radio Sports gives it back to me.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com