Aurora Magazine

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The best laid plans – How relevant are Pakistan's media planners?

Published in Jul-Aug 2015

Media planners and advertisers have to keep up with changing media consumer habits in order to remain relevant.

The way people consume media is changing significantly. As Amin Rammal writes in How digital is affecting ad spend, “We are almost channel-agnostic in the way we consume media” reading news online, watching video on mobile phones, etc. Along with changes in consumption or perhaps as a result of them, media is undergoing a transformation as producers and editors focus on quality content to get their share of eyeballs, while media marketing teams try to come up with innovations to attract advertising. And yet, each medium comes with its own set of issues in Pakistan.

Television, which enjoys the lion’s share of advertiser budgets and is the best researched in terms of effectiveness, is saturated and cluttered. Digital and mobile are the most talked about mediums, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty about reach and effectiveness. OOH and brand activation are growing at a rapid pace but there is no way to measure efficiency. Radio and print suffer due to lack of research. Lastly, cinema is finally being revived with a significant influx of good local and international content but the marketing ROI derived from this medium remains a question mark.

Of the many conclusions that can be drawn from the above scenario, two are most obvious. Firstly, that in a new and changing media environment, clients are concerned about how to get the most out of limited budgets while reaching the maximum number of consumers; secondly, this process is complicated because with the exception of TV (and to some extent, digital), no other media has the statistics to support efficiency of media spend. As a result, as Umair Saeed, GM and Head of Strategy and Integration, Blitz, puts it, in 2015 Pakistan’s media planning and buying industry is a “perception based one.”

While perception and intuition are important ingredients in media planning and perhaps the only alternatives in the absence of hard core research, soaring media costs and increasing clutter means that “the major clients are very KPI driven and it is becoming tough to deliver as everyone wants premium positioning” (Raza Syed, Business Director, Corporate Business, GroupM);

"Clients no longer want a traditional media buying house to simply air a spot; they want agencies that can give innovative ideas but backed with lots of data and analytics.”

— Sohayb Anwar, Head of Planning, ZenithOptimedia.

According to one industry insider “client spending patterns are changing so that it is impossible to predict what will happen next year.”

As a result, as advertisers and their media agencies come under pressure to stretch limited budgets on increasingly expensive media, extract more efficiency from every advertising rupee and provide greater transparency in how effectively their money is being spent, there is a need to rethink media planning roles and processes. There is some evidence to suggest this is already happening.

The media is evolving

The media environment that planners operate in has changed a great deal and it is important to examine developments here before looking at the media planning process. TV remains the medium of choice for many advertisers but everything from channels to content to ratings has evolved. However, the large influx of advertisers (both established advertisers as well as local companies which are beginning to see the value of advertising) has created demand and supply gaps, resulting in exorbitant spot rates and high CPRP (cost per rating point).

Not only has advertising on TV become more expensive, there are only about 10 to 15 channels that have the audience numbers to support the reach that advertisers are trying to achieve. Therefore, these top ‘delivery channels’ in addition to being expensive are also cluttered with advertising. Change, however, is in the air; the improvements in the people meters system as a result of Medialogic’s partnership with Kantar are shaking up the market so that as Syed says, “A lot of channels that didn’t perform in 2014 are now giving numbers [ratings] and the monopoly of the top 10 to 12 channels is being broken.”

Digital has also evolved and Saeed adds, “We have seen client demands go from ‘we want likes and fans’ to ‘we want engagement’ and we have gone from CPC or CPM to CPDA (cost per desired action) which can be anything from viewing a video to commenting on a post.”

Furthermore, as thinking about digital evolves and more agencies and advertisers begin to see it as a medium where people share experiences from the physical world, they have started to create brand activation experiences with the express purpose of being shared on social media. Thus brand activation and digital now have strong links with one another and advertisers are in a sense using activation to create content for digital mediums.

Anwar strongly believes that one of the reasons why digital is growing is because it gives advertisers “the power to control content.”

OOH is growing despite having no ratings system (the Pakistan Advertisers Society initiated work on a ratings system for OOH in 2014 but it has yet to be launched) with plenty of innovation such as ambient media, digital signage, moving billboards, etc. However, most planners attribute the growth of OOH to the fact that it has good visibility and is a cheaper alternative to TV. While outdoor tracking companies provide more transparency, there is still no measure of effectiveness for OOH.

Print, struggling to remain relevant with a younger target audience, is also unable to provide advertisers with objective readership figures and many media planners believe that changing reading habits coupled with lack of research will eventually spell its doom. However, Saeed believes that print “still has a better ROI than OOH because at least I know how many people I am reaching.”

Although radio is not tracked and offers no measure of effectiveness, it does reasonably well because tariffs are cheap and radio stations are generally very accommodating of advertisers, whether it involves doing free voiceovers, road shows, etc. Nevertheless, radio needs a major overhaul in terms of content in order to become more relevant to its audience.

After decades of stagnation, cinema is emerging as a vibrant medium with a good mix of local and foreign content, and advertisers are particularly interested in sponsoring local films.

However brands are approaching cinema with care as most cineplexes still cater to the top SECs and there is, once again, no measure of effectiveness for cinema advertising.

The planning process is slowly changing

As media undergoes evolutionary shifts, media planning is also changing, albeit slowly. On a positive note, media clutter is forcing planners to do things differently.

According to Saeed, “The planning process used to be about efficiencies, now this is just one part of it. What will differentiate you is innovation and creativity. For about 10 years, creativity and brand strategy took a back seat while numbers drove the media plan. However, today, it is not only about numbers but about the relevance of the programming you invest in.”

Anwar confirms this view; in his opinion major advertisers do not want to be seen on every medium, rather they are more interested in content and context in their media planning.

This is not to say that numbers are not important. In fact, media planners say that they appreciate the new Kantar ratings system because it gives more solid data and easier access to that data, thereby enabling them to make better decisions for TV. Yet, while reach and GRP are important, what clients are really interested in is creativity and media innovation (whether in the form of branded content or content integration) to stand out and get more mileage. Although this is not necessarily the case across the board; for example, one industry source says, “The first priority is to get the reach and GRPs I need month on month; innovation is a secondary factor when you have achieved your bases.”

Additionally, higher TV advertising rates as well as ad droppages that result from clutter have led to more focused and shorter campaigns (a month-long campaign is more likely to be condensed into two weeks) and the channel mix in media plans has become more efficient, so that even if advertisers have the money to spend on 10 channels, they know they will be better off spending it on four to get better visibility. Eventually, this will help to reduce clutter, but this has yet to happen.

On the downside however, planners say they are running out of ideas in terms of what to do on TV. Syed explains that, “there is only so much you can do and then your reach becomes stagnant and every extra GRP from that point on is more expensive.”

In this scenario, both clients and planners are eager to explore other mediums “but it becomes difficult to convince clients because you have nothing concrete to show for these mediums. All you have is a research study that was done six months ago but there is no on-going measurement or monitoring process,” adds Syed.

This is where solid research would make a world of difference. In its absence however, perception and intuition based planning come into force and the mediums that have top of mind with planners and advertisers (digital, OOH, brand activation and cinema to some extent) tend to get the budgets, while print and radio, which are believed to suffer from low readership and lacklustre content respectively, are left out in the cold; however, as Saeed points out, “there is no research to support these assumptions.”

Research on media other than TV has been a major bone of contention between media owners and planners and their clients for many years with each party convinced that the others should take the initiative. In this respect, it is important to remember that the people meters project only came to fruition when TV channels, media planners and advertisers came together on a common platform and the same is likely to be true for other media research.

The role of the media planner is becoming more complex

According to one industry source, the role of the media planner is becoming simpler and yet more complex. She explains the dichotomy, “In some ways it is simpler because your base level factors, such as TV planning are on auto pilot, but then you also need to innovate in terms of branded content or digital. So it is more of a bigger picture outlook and in some ways a little more challenging because it means stepping into areas where no one has gone before.”

This statement, although revelatory of the fact that planners sometimes tend to approach TV with a less than creative mindset, is also important as it shows how the planner’s role now involves looking at media more holistically.

“It used to be about trying to make things look pretty, now planners need to be more strategic in their thinking. I would take a quarterly outlook to judge whether my awareness levels are rising and I am connecting with my consumers.”

— Industry insider.

Saeed sums it up nicely when he says that media planning “used to focus on delivering numbers, now it focuses on impact and that is part delivery, part creativity, part better media buying and part better research.”

Another reason why the media planner’s role is changing is because the appointment of media managers on the client’s side is now an increasingly common occurrence. Because media managers are generally former media planners they understand the science behind planning and are able to educate the brand team which makes the planner’s job simpler. Having a media manager also adds an extra layer of accountability because he or she is responsible for checking whether a spot or an ad ran, while focusing on efficiency and getting a good return on media investments.

A media manager can also be a challenge for the media planner because most media planners in Pakistan have usually worked at either GroupM (a buying led agency) or Starcom (a planning led agency) at some point in their careers and their work styles reflects the orientation of those two companies. As a result, if you have a former Starcom media manager working with GroupM as the media agency, it can make life more difficult for the planner because the work styles clash. However, by and large the appointment of media managers is a positive development.

Media planners (in planning led agencies) are also expected to interact with clients, educate them and disarm them if necessary, making it a highly stressful role. Saeed says this is like asking a concept writer to be an account manager. Therefore some agencies are now employing separate account managers to help ease the planner’s burden.

The more things change...

Despite the changes, many problems remain. TV is the most popular medium not only because it has a ratings system but also because it is the norm and advertisers and planners prefer to follow the tried and tested. Even within TV advertising, the issue of the same ads being repeated multiple times during an ad break or the same programme remains, and planners unabashedly admit to doing this because it gets them results. While they may get the GRPs they want, is it really effective planning when audiences walk away during the ad break? Saeed remembers a member of a team from Google visiting Pakistan a few months ago, commenting that, “if you take even a fraction of your ad spend and use it on digital or any medium, other than TV, it will get you much better ROI.”

Although advertisers are interested in digital and the medium is growing (it grew 89% in 2013-14 according to the Aurora Fact File), the overall investment at Rs 2.02 billion is very small compared to the

Rs 31.53 billion that TV garnered in 2013-14. Despite the absence of regularly updated demographic data on internet usage, initiatives on digital are immensely measurable and this is why, according to media planners, their clients are interested in digital and social media and even mobile. While this is certainly the case, what is also true is that many advertisers invest in digital for the sake of doing so and because everyone else is doing it too, without a clear sense of objectives, resulting in the many haphazard and clumsy attempts at virality we often witness on social media.

Research and ratings for OOH, print and radio are a big issue and what is surprising is that despite pressure from clients to provide non-TV solutions and planning that is backed by data, media buying houses (with the exception of Starcom’s U&A study and GroupM’s 3D research) have failed to invest in studies to ascertain how people consume media, despite the fact that the global brands these media companies are associated with spend millions every year to get to know their audience better. It is not only the lack of research that poses a problem; some media planners say that the proprietary planning tools available to media buying houses through their international affiliations are not used as part of the planning process and are used in client presentations only.

Living in a silo mindset also hampers the media planning process and cross media integration of campaigns is still rare and mainly done by a few of the major advertisers. Otherwise, it is rare for all the stakeholders and agencies to sit at the same table to discuss campaigns or campaign objectives. In-store advertising, for example, is still not part of the media agency’s domain and is handled directly by the client with other agencies and vendors. The same is often the case in terms of brand activation. Therefore there is a need to define media more holistically when it comes to planning.

Finally, while media planning roles and processes are undergoing a shift, there is a need to quicken the pace of that change in order to take advantage of the many media options and technologies available to advertisers to reach out to their audiences. At the risk of repetition, the way people consume media is changing significantly. Planners and advertisers have to change with them in order to remain relevant.

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