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Straghten Up And Buy (Media) Right

Furniture World Magazine


Test this process during the course of one store promotion and feel how this model can transform your organization.

You expect your vendors to be accountable. And you take the proper steps to insure that they are. Every year, you spend months choosing new lines of furniture to sell. You spend hours looking at catalogs and visiting showrooms. You put a high degree of energy into buying merchandise that is exactly right for your stores. So when your new shipments arrive, do you simply sign for delivery and pay the bill? No. You inspect the merchandise to make sure they are the style, color and quality that you ordered before accepting them and finalizing payment.

Unfortunately, the same attention to detail and emphasis on supplier accountability put into product inventory are not always applied to a company’s advertising plan—especially in the arena of media placement— and sometimes at great cost. For instance, if you spend $30,000 on a campaign to reach a certain number of people, but reach only eighty percent of those people, you will have missed out on $6,000 worth of the value of your plan. And suppose that shortfall occurs repeatedly over five campaigns in a year. You’ve now lost $30,000—the cost of a whole new campaign. Add to that the possibility that the wrong consumers are being targeted for your message in the first place, and there is no telling how much money can be squandered.

But proper research, planning and posting will add accountability to your media spending. As the great football coach Tom Landry once said, “Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan." Of course, having a good plan means you should be familiar with the two forms of research most useful to media planning and buying—consumer research and media ratings—because combining them is the smartest way to create a media plan that works.

Consumer Research
Consumer research data, used to create a profile of the right target consumers for your advertising message, can come from a wide variety of sources. This includes the research from your own store. There is also a wide variety of syndicated research that can prove useful to you. Companies such as Scarborough Research, Simmons Market Research Bureau, and Mediamark Research, Inc., offer information your in-store data doesn’t provide. Reports from these companies indicate, among many other things, where consumers live, what they buy, and where they shop.

You can effectively mix and match information gleaned from in-store surveys and credit applications with syndicated research for a myriad of uses: financial characteristics can be used to guide financing offers, potential for co-op dollars can be uncovered and maximized, differences between your customers and your competitors’ customers can be discerned. But most importantly, you’ll get a fairly accurate profile of the people who shop at your stores.

Ratings Data
Put simply, ratings place value on advertising space by determining how many people spend time watching or listening to a media outlet, and how much time they spend there. Ratings companies exist to provide that information to media buyers and sellers, so they may have a common unbiased language with which to negotiate actual dollar figures.

Every media industry has its respective ratings standard. For radio, it is Arbitron, for television, Nielsen Media Research. Both of these companies are working on their own ratings systems for Outdoor advertising, which currently uses the Traffic Audit Bureau as its measurement standard. The print industry has the Audit Bureau of Circulation. Without these companies, media buying would be reduced to a mere guessing game.

Retailers that do not have access to ratings data are at a complete disadvantage when negotiating. Even when ratings reports are provided by stations, you cannot ensure they have not been adjusted to make the stations seem more attractive than they really are.

Do You Speak Arbitroid?
If you think that “cume” is a spice, that “HUTS, PUTS and WUTS” is something a quarterback says before the ball is hiked and that “frequency” is something you argue about with your spouse, then we need to talk. One of the things that the different media ratings companies have in common is that they all have their own distinct languages. Accountability includes being able to communicate effectively with media-types. Be sure that you know what all of these terms mean.

I’m Number One And So Is He
So how does this affect me? Well, you are likely to have been approached by reps from different stations, each claiming to be “number one”. The technical definition of “number one” is the station with the biggest audience for its respective total market. There are lots of legitimate ways to be number one. Using radio as an example, the top-rated station in a market has the most listeners over the age of twelve. But, another station with fewer overall listeners may reach more of your target consumers. They are the number one station for the people you want to reach. In other words, your best option may not be the one with the most “HUTS, PUTS and WUTS, but instead the one with the right “HUTS, PUTS and WUTS.”

Accountability on the front end of a media buy is a key to ensuring you’ve gotten what you paid for. When you set concrete goals for a buy, you can refer to them after all of your spots have run so you’ll know if you received the full value of your advertising dollar. This final fact checking is called post-buy analysis, or posting.

Why Post?
Posting should be imperative for any media buy. Post-buy analysis is the safety net used to protect media investments by holding our media reps and ourselves accountable for sound media planning. There are a great many things that can happen to your media buy between the time that your orders are placed and the time that you receive your invoices. Acts of God can take place. High winds may knock down transmission towers. Floods happen. Tornadoes, locusts, termites, you name it. And human error is absolutely a possibility. After all, people ultimately take and enter orders, not machines. The error might even be your own for not being specific enough about what you intended to buy. Your order could be scheduled according to what someone “thought you wanted.” That’s why no buy is complete without a post-buy analysis.

Know Thy Media
It follows logically that different media are bought differently. Radio, Newspaper and Outdoor are bought on a trend (past performance). Television and Cable are bought on projections (future performance). And because they are bought differently, they are posted differently. We’ll use Television as an example of how posting works.

So What Should I Look For?
Many retailers dealing direct with stations are unaware of the accountability they can place on the stations for their media buys. There are a great many things to look for to ensure accountability. One factor that for-profit media have in common is that if you buy ad space, they will bill you and send you an invoice. This is where all post-buy analysis, or posting, should start.

The first, and easiest, thing to check for is “quantity.” Your television rep will send you “affidavits” of how your spots ran. Do a simple count and make sure you got as many spots as you ordered.

Next, make sure your order was executed in keeping with “the letter of the law”. If you ordered a spot to run on Thursday, and it ran on Sunday, or if your ad ran twice within a space of minutes, you have just discovered airtime that you should not pay for. Also look at the spot codes on the invoice to ensure the correct spot ran.

You should also consider the “spirit of the law” when looking at your invoices. For instance, if you ordered a workweek’s worth of morning news spots, and they aired at 8:45 AM each day, the execution of your order was technically correct. You did not, however, receive fair and equitable rotation and also got cheated out of the “sweet spot” of that day part for your whole buy. Consider not paying for these ads.

It may sound overly harsh to withhold payment for an ad that ran improperly. But consider this: If you spend months with your daughter planning her perfect wedding reception, and the catering company is three hours late and brings grammar school desks instead of proper chairs, would you pay their bill? In our case, your media plan is your daughter and your target consumers are your wedding guests. What’s the point of buying place settings for people who may have already left the party?

And Now… Math!
Television is bought on projected performance. You agree with your reps that the advertising you buy will, in the future, reach a specified number of your target audience based on the ratings that time period or show has received in the past.

Based on that agreement, you need to find out how the airtime you bought performed in order to gauge how accurate your rep’s projections were. Using the ratings, and by doing the right media math, it’s easy to find out if your rep’s “prediction” came true. A good rule of thumb here is if your advertising reached ninety to one hundred and ten percent of your audience goals, the buy was acceptable. If you’ve reached ninety-five to one hundred and five percent of your audience goals, you’ve done an excellent job.

In the unfortunate circumstance that you find yourself with a shortfall of audience points, you should demand “makegoods,” which are additional inventory provided to you at no cost to make up for errors in executing your orders or a shortfall in reaching your audience goals. They should be run during equal or better time slots than you ordered in the first place.

Will This Take A Lot Of Time?
The time it takes to post depends on the magnitude and complexity of your media plan and the care you took in its organization. It also depends on the depth of media experience you have. In any case, the process of executing a media plan from concept to post should be an exacting one. It is a given that in any endeavor, what you put into it is what you get out. And that applies to the very foundations of any media buying. If you don’t speak the arcane language of ratings companies, how can you speak the tongue of rate negotiation with your reps based on things like Cume, HUTS, and GRPs? For that matter, how can you formulate an adequate plan in the first place?

What if I don’t have the time or the experience?

Because of the abundance of media in our society, there are a lot of media experts. You can put them to work for you in a few ways. You can become one, you can hire one or you can rent (outsource) one.

You know you’ll have to make media decisions in one way or another, even if it means simply approving a media plan that someone else has put together. If you want to learn, your local university continuing education program might offer courses. Or you could hire a media professional to teach you. Be warned, just like any other educational pursuit, this will take time and energy. If media is not part of your day-to-day focus, you might do well to have someone plan and buy media for your business.

Your second option is to hire a full-time media maven to oversee the day-to-day media operations of your company. This way you’ll always have someone dedicated to making sure that the money you spend on media is spent right. And they will be at your disposal to educate you on the most important things to know about the process. The downside is that this kind of employee doesn’t always come cheap, and you may not be continuously utilizing their services between ad campaigns.

Your most attractive option may be the third: outsource. Find a company that specializes in planning and buying media. This option has many benefits. They can save you money by negotiating the best rates. They can help you increase sales by offering assistance with media planning in order to better identify and reach your target consumer. Also, because they are buying and planning for multiple clients, they often subscribe to ratings and research data, saving you that particular cost. And they will take-on the headache of posting, saving you time and making sure you got the full value of your dollar. The super thing about these companies is that with the money they saved by buying right, media buying services often pay for themselves. The money a retailer can save by having media specialists execute the planning and buying can be staggering.

Be wise... Advertise

Advertising is the best way to get people into your stores. Make sure the effort you put into buying your inventory is shared with planning your media. The time and money you spend on media accountability will show results in your foot traffic and in your cash register.

About The Author: Margaret Griffin has more than 20 years experience in the media planning, negotiation and placement business. Her company, Charlotte based Griffin Media helps clients in the home furnishings, automotive, home improvement and pharmaceuticals industries to get the most value from their investment in media. Questions relating to this article or any aspect of media management can be directed to Margaret at griffin@furninfo.com.