A complete guide to media planning, with tips and advice

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 3 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Media planning helps companies to make effective decisions about their campaigns and advertising budgets. The process is a crucial stage of campaign planning and involves assessing the objectives of a campaign and its target audience and recommending the most effective media and advertising placements for a successful return on investment. If you're looking to start a career in marketing, or if you're working in the industry and are looking to broaden your knowledge, learning about media strategy can help. In this article, we discuss the discipline and provide tips to create an effective media plan.

What is media planning?

Media planning is the discipline of researching and recommending the most effective strategy for how, where and when to deliver a campaign to its audience. Media planners work with a wider team of advertising professionals to build a campaign plan for clients. The media stage of campaign planning represents an important part of the process because this is where advertisers make recommendations to clients about where you might place their advertisements to ensure the best return on investment.

A media plan has several parts and stages, including an analysis of the campaign objectives, its target audience, approach, frequency, engagement and budget. Considering all these factors, marketing professionals make recommendations to clients about how to execute a campaign and where the campaign can have the biggest impact. This could include placing advertising on television, in print, on billboards, on radio or on digital platforms, including websites and social media. Media planners are experts in the different types of media, their usefulness and suitability for reaching certain audiences and delivering certain messages.

Related: 8 types of advertising media (with definition and benefits)

Why is media planning important?

Media departments are one of the most critical parts of any advertising company or agency. Creating an effective media plan can be the difference between success and failure for a campaign. A media strategy helps clients to decide where to spend their advertising budget. It also shapes the direction and creative approach to the campaign, as different media require different steps to creating an advertisement and differences in its eventual content and tone. The media plan affects all subsequent stages of the campaign.

By designing and delivering an advertising campaign, companies can increase awareness of their brand, drive engagement and ultimately increase sales. Effective planning at the media stage, including a strategic focus on where to place advertisements, and how and when they're most likely to reach the target audience, can help companies to maximise their return on investment. An advertising campaign that lacks a strategic focus on media can miss its target audience and result in a poor return on investment.

What does a media planner do?

A media planner is an expert on different types of advertising media and can recommend to clients what the best media is to deliver their campaign to its intended audience. The day-to-day tasks of a media planner vary and require a broad skill set and a great deal of industry knowledge. Here are some of the main responsibilities of media planners below:

  • using industry data to research target audiences

  • writing media plans to recommend the best media strategy for campaigns

  • presenting proposals and plans to clients, or pitching for new business

  • collaborating with creatives and account managers

  • working closely with a media buyer to execute a media plan

  • keeping updated with media trends and innovations in advertising media

  • working with media outlets to deliver a media plan for clients

  • analysing and evaluating campaigns and media strategies

Related: 11 fulfilling top jobs for a communication graduate

Advice for creating an effective media plan

Here are some tips and advice for creating an effective and successful media plan:

  • Build flexibility into your media plan budget: As the campaign progresses, data might suggest certain elements of the campaign aren't working or may present a new opportunity to reach the target audience. Make sure you have some budget available for ongoing changes and adjustments to the campaign.

  • Concentrate on measurement and evaluation: Make sure you have a well-defined plan for measuring campaign success. Effective evaluation not only makes the case to a client that your media plan was a success, it also helps you to develop your knowledge for future campaigns.

  • Be creative and original: As you gain experience in planning, use your knowledge to innovate and help brands to stand out from their competitors. With so many advertisers vying for the attention of an audience, creative and innovative approaches are the most successful.

  • Understand your audience: Taking the time to understand consumer behaviour gives you a distinct advantage in media strategy. Make sure you define the target audience as thoroughly as possible and understand how they interact with different media.

Related: What does a media strategist do? (And how to become one)

What to include in your media plan

When working on a media plan, planners typically include the following elements:

Objectives

When you're creating a media plan, the first task is to carefully consider the objectives and goals of the campaign. The main objective of the campaign may be to increase brand awareness or directly increase sales, but there may be other goals or objectives that you can identify that can help shape the strategy and deliver a successful campaign. Other aims could be to reinforce brand loyalty, engage with new audiences or forge a new brand identity. Each of these could help you make better-informed recommendations for the campaign's media strategy.

Market and audience analysis

Defining the target audience of the campaign is one of the most critical stages of the planning process. The target audience shapes almost every element of the campaign, from advertising placement to the campaign creative and copy. It's important to consider the target audience, as this can help to ensure a campaign is as engaging as possible, and media buyers place advertising in the most suitable places to reach the desired audience. A media planner considers various elements of the target audience, including:

  • Type of campaign: Determine the type of campaign you're creating, such as business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C).

  • Audience demographics: Determine the age, gender, ethnicity, income, occupation and geography of the audience.

  • Interests and buying habits: Identify the interests and typical consumer behaviours of the target audience.

  • Media habits: Understand the type of media your target audience typically consumes and where they prefer to engage with advertising messages.

Related: What is return on ad spend (ROAS) and how is it calculated?

Frequency and reach

Frequency and reach are two critical factors for media planners to consider when designing a media strategy. The term 'frequency' refers to the number of times a consumer sees, hears or experiences an advertisement during the lifetime of a campaign. 'Reach' is similar to frequency, but refers to the overall number of individuals who see, hear or read the advertisement at least once throughout the campaign. Planners use their knowledge of the media landscape, and conduct research into campaigns for similar products and services, to determine the most effective frequency and reach.

Budget

Budget is a defining factor in the creation of a media plan. The campaign budget determines the amount available to spend on media and might shape the recommendations that media planners make to clients on the most effective return on investment. Television and print advertising can reach large audiences, but is generally costly, while radio advertising could provide a cost-effective approach depending on the audience. Paid social media advertising can be an affordable approach, providing an opportunity to reach a closely defined audience and monitor engagement levels.

Media planners might use a calculation called 'cost-per-thousand' (CPM) in analysing and allocating the campaign budget. The CPM is the cost of advertising in a particular outlet, divided by the thousands of customers of that outlet. This figure helps planners to understand how much the campaign may spend to reach 1,000 prospective customers on any given platform, and can affect the plans and recommendations planners provide to clients.

Type of media

There's a wide variety of media available to marketers, and it's the media planner's responsibility to recommend the most suitable media, or mix of media, to reach a target audience and maximise return on investment. Media planners may choose offline or online media, or a mix of both, to ensure the campaign achieves its objectives. Some examples of offline media are:

  • magazines

  • newspapers

  • television

  • radio

  • billboards

  • telephone

Some examples of online media are:

  • social media

  • email

  • website banner advertising

  • video streaming platforms

  • digital publications

  • search engine optimisation (SEO)

  • pay-per-click (PPC)

  • affiliate marketing

Related: 8 different types of advertising (digital and traditional)

Measurement and evaluation

Success measurement and evaluation are critical for establishing whether the campaign is a success or failure and learning for future campaigns. The measurement of your campaign usually relates to the objectives and recommended media, with metrics typically designed based on reach, engagement levels, click-through rates, audience figures, sign-ups or sales enquiries. Only by analysing this data can marketers and planners learn what works best, and design more effective campaigns in the future.

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