Early & Often: How to Get Maximum Strategic Value from Your Media Team

 Executive Summary

We at CMI have observed a positive trend over the past few years: more pharma brand teams are including media experts in the early stages of marketing planning. Their goals in adopting this approach include more impactful positioning, clearer messaging, and more efficient promotional strategies. This POV explains how brand teams are gaining strategic value from media expertise at five key points in the planning process to strengthen their methodologies and grow their return on investment (ROI).


If it seems like old news to you that brand teams are engaging media experts early in their planning efforts, excellent! You’re probably one of the early adopters of this practice. But if you’re wondering why Media would even be in the room at the beginning of the planning phase—long before anyone is talking about tactics, budgets, or ROI—then there are several important opportunities that you may be missing.

For example, media strategists with deep expertise are helping pharmaceutical brands in several areas:

A cautionary tale

True story. A brand was gearing up to launch. Tremendous effort went into defining the consumer and HCP audiences, crafting messaging, and designing the look and feel of the packaging and advertising. Tactical plans, budgets, and ROI goals came together as well.  Yet it all happened with only minimal input from the brand’s Media team.

The results, as you might expect, were not awesome. Incomplete audience insights led to ineffective targeting and channel allocations. Incomplete knowledge of publisher guidelines yielded creative that some publishers refused to run without major revisions. Each of these factors led to poor engagement, resulting in a campaign that failed to deliver on unrealistic ROI expectations.

A different approach

So, how might a brand engage Media experts in planning to avoid a similar outcome, and instead improve the odds of highly successful campaigns? The answer, of course, is “early and often,” but let’s look at specific contributions that your Media team should provide during five of the key planning steps.

  1. Defining your audience. When budgets and schedules are tight, it’s often tempting to generalize about target audiences. Statements like, “Our brand treats pediatric condition X, so we’ll just target pediatricians and moms with young kids,” are all too common. In actuality, it may only be a subset of a particular specialty who may ultimately prescribe or recommend your product; therefore, it’s critical to identify those individuals and their media consumption habits.

Your Media partner can help to bring much greater specificity to your audience insights. A few of their resources are likely to include:

These inputs can do far more than contribute to an effective media plan—they inform a more complete picture of the attitudes and behaviors that distinguish your most valuable audience segments. The resulting insights will help to guide the rest of your planning effort with greater accuracy.

  1. Developing your messaging and positioning. To be clear, the point here is not that Media should own or lead the messaging and positioning process. But, as media teams work across therapeutic categories, brand portfolios, and audience segments, they frequently gain a granular understanding of what makes different geographies, culture groups, and professions tick—what gets them to take notice and respond.

This experience is an invaluable asset to brand planners and their creative teams. By including Media in the messaging/positioning discussion, they are likely to uncover nuances that they would otherwise potentially miss, and craft more successful messaging and positioning platforms as a result.

  1. Designing your creative. In addition to supplying audience insights as noted above, Media can alert brand and creative teams to potential risks and opportunities.

For example, a dermatology skincare brand might reasonably choose campaign imagery that evokes beauty and attractiveness. Knowing that the brand is considering a DTC campaign that will likely include Facebook, the Media team can alert others to the platform’s strict imagery guidelines. Plans could then move forward to develop “modest” and “bold” creative iterations to ensure the campaign has full access to its optimal media outlets.

  1. Setting your goals, KPIs, and metrics. This is an area where media teams truly shine, thanks to their intense focus on quantitative and qualitative data. With access to historical ROI data and other performance measures at the campaign, segment, and tactic level, media teams help brands accurately identify whether their marketing goals are achievable. They can also recommend relevant performance indicators and metrics for measuring and assessing performance against goals.

Moreover, by engaging early in the planning process, media teams can help brands to ensure that each metric relates back to one or more specific KPIs, and that each KPI relates to one or more brand goals. The result is that each of your brand’s activities, and the results it generates, ladder up logically to a strategic goal. Also, your media team will be more fully tuned into the goals you’re working to achieve, potentially enabling faster and more accurate tactical planning.

  1. Creating your tactical plan. If you’re thinking, “I wouldn’t dream of developing tactical plans without my media team,” you get a gold star! But the fact is that many brand teams still plan all their tactics, then bring in their internal or external media partners to execute the work. The result is nearly always confusion, frustration, and missed opportunities to lower costs and grow ROI by:
    • Achieving efficiencies within and across tactics
    • Reaching audiences where/when/how there’s the greatest chance to be successful
    • Testing the potential of emerging media

Key take-aways

For brand marketers and their creative agency partners, it’s important to engage Media early and often. Tap into their expertise to help define goals, create on-point messaging and positioning for well-defined audiences, develop impactful and adaptable creative, and ensure that tactical plans are specific about where and why to invest budget.

The point is not to have media teams driving each step of the planning and ideation that occurs before a campaign launches, but rather to supplement your team’s knowledge and experience with the specific skills and insights that come with media expertise.

To be a truly strategic partner, your media team should be able to demonstrate indispensable value throughout your planning process. In short, once they’ve earned a seat at the strategy table, look to them to keep that seat warm by sharing data, insights, and ideas to strengthen every part of planning.