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Which Comes First?

I recently attended a Warc webinar entitled, “What can we learn from the world’s smartest campaigns?” The presenter said something that particularly caught my attention, something along the lines of, “Channel thinking must be ‘baked in’ to creative strategy.” This is a belief I’ve held for a long time and have always been confused by the fact that clients often split their media buying and creative services between agencies. I never understood how a smart media plan could come together without having an understanding of the creative message, nor how great creative could be developed without the insights of a savvy media planner.

It was a turning point in the history of advertising when the art director and copywriter became a team and started to conceptualize ideas together. Another turning point in the not-so-distant future of advertising could be the addition of a media planner to this “concepting” team. This practice is likely already happening at some agencies, but I doubt that it’s widespread. It should be practiced at all agencies and can only make for smarter, harder-working and more effective advertising campaigns.

The tremendous breadth and depth of available media channels and marketing tactics means that brands must carefully choose the vehicles that will not only best reach their target audiences, but also clearly communicate their brand messages. A skilled media planner can examine vehicle options based on reach and frequency, while an experienced creative team will scrutinize these options based on how well their idea can be effectively articulated. Having this checks-and-balances system in place will produce a more solid channel plan and better creative.

As I see it, channel planning and creative development should happen simultaneously and be driven by the same strategic “brief.” (Note that a good strategic brief should include a clear objective, niche target, distinct positioning, and budget, but that’s an entirely different article to write.) As the media planner researches and evaluates the best choices for WHERE, WHEN, and HOW to reach the target, the creative team should be developing the best choices for WHAT to communicate to the target.

As each party (media and creative) is exploring their options, they should be bouncing ideas off of one another. They should be collaborating and debating. They should be pushing each other and pulling each other. And as long as the final outcome of the media recommendation and the creative platform is in line with the strategic direction and brand objectives, the end result will be better than it would have been had these parties worked independently of one another.

At Esparza Advertising (my firm), we have unofficially been working this way for a while now, but I’m pushing for this process to become more formal and standard. By collaborating in a more meaningful way, our work will only get better and our clients will only be happier with the results of our efforts.