5 Secrets to Making a Winning Media Plan

I don’t know about you, but as a kid, I didn’t dream of becoming a media planner. I wanted to be a singer or a TV personality. Unfortunately, you must be able to sing to be a singer, and you need a TV face to become a TV personality. Without either of these assets, it soon became clear that I needed to synchronize my dreams with reality.

Sasha Savic Photo: Sasha Maslov

My first real job came in the form of a media planning/buying assistant gig in an ad agency in Eastern Europe almost 25 years ago. I still remember my first media challenge: launch Nescafé in the Czech Republic.

Picture this. I am assigned five minutes at the end of a very long and boring creative presentation to “unleash the GRPs.” I am supposed to talk about how we’re going to flight some formulaic product launch TV spots. When I finally stood up to present, I showed two charts: one in Word and the other in Excel (target, budget, media choice, GRPs/pages, timing, etc.). I had also, however, slipped a small promotional element into the plan: buy 3 jars of Nescafé and get a free red Nescafé mug.

I came up with this based on a simple observation: Employees at the agency strutted around the office with their red Nescafé mugs every day. These mugs helped their owners feel like card-carrying (or mug-carrying) citizens of the new world of consumerism, and made sure the rest of us knew it. Those mugs made those employees happy and confident.

Anyway, back to the meeting. The account team was furious—and the client was delighted. We executed the promotion, and Czechs got really—really—excited. We ended up distributing tens of thousands of red mugs, and Nescafé sold out during the launch period.

A big success! I got promoted to senior media assistant! Suddenly, I began to wonder if the promotional idea had been a fluke, or if I could actually be good at this media planning thing.

Flash forward 25 years, and I am still in the media game. What’s particularly interesting about that is I am still using the same formula I used for Nescafé: give consumers a reason to love a brand by connecting their needs and desires to the brand’s purpose and benefits, then create a media ecosystem that can initiate and sustain the connection long-term.

I’ve learned a few other tricks along the way, of course. Here are my five characteristics of any great media plan:

• Get as many qualified people as possible to see and understand what the brand is really about (Reach)
• Build a plan based on an idea that is centered around the unique brand (Differentiation)
• Make sure that every brand impression is triggered by the last one—and fuel for the next one (Connected System)
• Motivate people to talk about the brand (Engagement)
• Implement exceptionally well every time—a great strategy alone is nothing (Execution)

I am not pretending that the planning process isn’t exponentially more complex today than it was when I was a media assistant. Seemingly endless media choices competing for less and less consumer attention, hyper-fragmented audiences, oceans of data and measurement without meaning are just a few of our modern challenges. I would maintain, however, that the role of media is timeless: design and deliver a value exchange between brands and consumers.

Value that explains brand purpose. Value that promotes emotional and functional benefits.  Value that doesn’t stop with the (paid) repetition of a brand message, but instead lives in a connected system of brand/consumer conversations and interactions.

In today’s marketing environment, media ROI can’t be defined by efficiencies related to scale and knowledge alone. Exceptional media ROI can only be delivered by ensuring that a plan begins and maintains positive brand connections that deliver profitable brand growth.

A couple years ago, I had the opportunity to judge the Media Lions in Cannes. I was ready to see some of the world’s best work. After four days of (grueling) judging sessions in the Palais, I flew back to New York with a head full of case studies that made me jealous. Since then, I’ve pushed myself and those around me to deliver Cannes-level brilliance and inspiration every day. Not every plan wins awards, but the best ones follow the five rules I began developing that day in the Czech Republic long ago.

In an industry now dominated by talk of efficiency, agency reviews and transparency, I headed off to Cannes once again, excited as ever. Once again, I got jealous but celebrated the work that makes people open their lives and hearts to brands, if only for a few steamy days on the Riviera.

You never know how things are going to work out. In the end, I guess I was lucky that my face wasn’t suited for television.

Sasha Savic is CEO of MediaCom USA. Along with being this year’s Adweek Media Plan of the Year jury chairman, Sasha is a passionate catch-and-release salmon fisherman who was gifted his first fishing license when he was just three hours old.