Media 101: Biggest Marketing Spend Demystified

So we are back after almost 4 years. Kaushik & I have been thinking of reviving this platform for a while now but then life & work and the founder’s ambition of doing his 2nd MBA from the big 5 got in the way of it. But now we are back and hopefully will be more regular with this. Well done Kaushik for chasing & living your dreams and here’s to many more milestones you shall achieve.

At the onset let me tell you, this piece will make sense to someone who has been in the marketing function for at least 4-6 months. Otherwise, it will just be one of those marketing book things one reads in college or post work which has little application. My aim in this discourse is to simplify Media for first time marketers. There is of course a lot more to media than what I will cover. For Harry Potter fans, media planning is much like brewing a potion. You can put in the right ingredients and follow all instructions but there is a little magic in media which comes only to the inspired. This piece of course only enlists the ingredients and the instructions.

So let’s begin. Thing topic will cover the following key points:
  • Reach & Frequency: the only 2 things you need to understand about media
  • What’s in a brief
  • How to evaluate a media plan

Also, what I will not cover here will be the basic media terms. So those who don’t know what things like GRPs, SOVs, CPRPs etc. mean please either google those alongside or better still read Media Planning by Arpita Menon.

Reach & Frequency: the only 2 things you need to understand about media
There are only 2 things to know & understand about media: Reach & Frequency. Once you understand both of these in depth you can always make media decisions. So reach is simply how many people get to see your advertising (creative agnostic) out of your total TG universe. Sounds simple enough right – but often enough it isn’t because there are some absolute amateur mistakes all of us as marketers make:
  •         Confuse TV reach with Universe reach and evaluate plans basis TV reach
  •         Start with the assumption that the TV ad is the only creative available to them

Both of these often lead to inefficiencies in media. Let’s take the first case. Often the brief will be to maximize reach at a certain frequency level for all markets. This will make media team continuously work towards adding long tail of TV channels to your media plan to ensure all markets deliver to a certain reach level. Reality is markets like UP, Bihar etc. even with a 60% TV reach plan will only deliver to around 35% of the Universe and then when the media team boosted UP TV reach from ordinary 45% levels to 60% they added costly channels and hence made the media plan inefficient. Instead if one was to step back and put a benchmark of cost per reach point (CPRP) the options of other mediums immediately opens up. This is where you start evaluating what other mediums will help you reach more people because much like distribution; media is all about a game of availability – in this case visibility of the brand.

On the second one, I personally think we marketers are obsessed with believing that only a video format can communicate what we want to tell the consumers. Well, an audio video format is usually the most effective & hence most efficient. However, it is also the time & era to step back and push yourself and your agencies to deliver evocative static & radio creatives.

Essentially, as with most things in marketing it is about the cost benefit analysis of any investment one makes aka ROI. Let’s illustrate it with the following example:

Your current media plan is reaching 60% of TV universe and as a result only 35% reach on Universe. Now suppose your trial rate is 1% currently so you will have at best only 1% of the 35% trying your brand. Now suppose you augment the TV reach with Print or Radio and the reach on Universe goes to 50% and say the trial rate falls because the creative is not as good as the TV ad so your trail rate halves. Even in this situation you will have 1% of 35% trying you + 0.5% of the incremental 15% trying you. Essentially incremental reach is directly proportional to the probability of trials for the brand.

Now coming to frequency; it is the number of times someone sees your communication. There are lots of schools of thought on this. There is a group of marketers who believe only reach is important and if your communication is powerful enough then reach@1+ does the job and then there is a group that thinks frequency is determined by multiple variables like TG, clutter, category size et al. I am in the second camp. I think frequency is determined by what life stage your brand & category is in along with the category clutter. For e.g. with the advent of Ecommerce it would be impossible for 1 company’s brand name to stick in the consumer’s mind unless they hear it over and again. However, I do believe that frequency should never we bought at the cost of reach. One must first decide what reach they want for their brand and then decide what is the frequency they can afford or deliver for the same.

Golden Rule for point 1: First plan for reach and then anything else

What’s in a brief

I am sure by now you have heard lots of people using the quote “your ad is only as good as the brief you write” for advertising. It is actually equally true for media. Your media plan will only be as effective & efficient as the annual media brief you pen down for the agency. Let’s get a few things right:
  • The media planners will never know your consumer better than you. What they will however, be able to add value with is their understanding of this consumer outside your category and hence the media consumption habits of your TG.
  • Media agency doesn’t know the brand as well as you do. They may however be able to give you examples of other brands similar to yours and hence solutions which can be replicated.
  • No one knows your business as well as you do and they never will be able to.

Equipped with this knowledge & assumptions (if you don’t think it may be true all the time); it is your job as a marketer to pen down a brief that captures every little nuance of your brand, category, business, trends, consumer et al. The more detailed the information in the brief; the more efficient the media plan. However, don’t mistake detailed information with multiple needs from a brief. The key task that media needs to fulfill should be captured in as quantifiable and precise a manner as possible. For e.g. increasing Market share is not a good enough brand objective to put in the brief. Increase Market Share by 100 bps is a good objective because then your Media Reach leading to trial leading to market share calculations have a solid number working. Another example would be increasing salience for the brand is not a good objective. Increasing TOM awareness for the brand is because historical data analysis can clearly show at what media weights the brand saw an increase in TOM and hence give you a direction for future media weights.

Key information areas that the brief must capture (this is not an exhaustive list just broad areas):
  • Clear Objective for the Media plan
  • Detailed Brand Analysis from all possible data sources thereby coming up with key learnings and implications for next year
  • Detailed Category & Competition Analysis
  • TG definition – both demographical as well as psychographic:
    • Any new trends you are seeing in the TG
    • Different segments of the TG you want special emphasis on etc.
  • Priority Markets. Well these can be sliced & diced from any angle but this is entirely up to you and also basis your objectives for the year. The following 2 market priorities while from 2 entirely different perspectives are equally valid:
    • If you want to grow the market the prioritization could be basis category penetration in xyz markets
    • If your objective is to only grow Market Share then the prioritization could be basis your MS strength and opportunity to gain share
  • Key Big Bets or new initiatives for the year
  • Media Budgets (even if they are approximate.
    • This should also clearly state the budget you want to put aside for innovations and experiments to learn and scale up

Make your media brief an inspiration & spring board for the media planners to want to deliver the best Annual strategy. Your monthly media plans should just be the cut down plans from the Annual media strat & brief with the exact budgets and creatives you must have

How to Evaluate a Media Plan
If you have done the first 2 things right then evaluating a media plan or an annual media strategy is fairly easy:
  • Check if it delivers to the brief on all aspects:
    1. Are the medium choices right for the TG
    2. Are your priority markets getting incremental funding
    3. Are your big bests or innovations getting more than fair share of money.
    4. Are you doing enough new things to ensure you have learnings for next year
  • Ensure your key markets have enough reach as defined by you in the brief.
    1. Always check for market wise deliveries
    2. Also check for Metros vs non metros. Eg Karnataka & Blore reach or Maharashtra vs Bbay reach may vary substantially
    3. Check for reach in your buying TG vs just the media planning TG. Eg. While you may plan on SEC ABC but your TG may just be SEC A and hence you need to see the reach within that
Make a checklist and tick them off – a physical check list to evaluate a media plan and then you will never make a mistake. Also, ask questions when you start doing this process. For e.g. what is the channel mix which is leading to this media delivery. Is there any new channel one should buy? How can we have 1 tent pole property every quarter for the brand etc. etc.

With this we come to an end on Media 101. I hope this was not too basic or too advanced and it helps you understand and fall in love with media. Media is my 2nd favourite thing in marketing and I hope I have passed on some of the love to all of you. 


  1. So good to see this platform revived. Please continue posting stuff regularly. These articles are extremely helpful for starters like me in Sales and Marketing !

    1. Hi Apoorv, thanx for the encouragement. We do intend to be more regular moving forward


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