The lifeblood of your communications plan

Olivia Dotzek's essay earned a Distinction as a part of the IPA Advanced Certificate in Communications Planning.

We are spotlighting some of the best essays from our MIPA qualifying courses and qualifications. Here, Havas Media Group's Olivia Dotzek explores the importance of managing channels to communications planning.

Channels are the lifeblood of a communications plan. They are the means through which any strategy is activated and becomes reality, and the details around their deployment directly influence the overall effectiveness of a communications plan. It therefore follows that in the developmental process, each decision made pertains to channels. Decisions made during this stage can broadly be grouped into three categories: effective budgeting of channels, integration of channels to create a cohesive eco-system and specialist channel planning. By exploring each of these in turn, it will become clear that the management of channels is not a single aspect of communications planning, the importance of which can be weighed against others, rather it is an overarching imperative which pervades every step of the process.

Effective budgeting

In the developmental stage of planning, the initial activity to undergo is to effectively split the overall budget, first between the communications tasks outlined by the strategy, and then ultimately by channel, with the overall effectiveness of the communications plan as the aim. Analysis of the IPA databank empirically demonstrates the optimum balance of media budgets between brand- and activation-based communications tasks to drive long-term business effects as 60:40 (Binet and Field, 2013). In addition to this rule of thumb, appropriate offsets should be made according to brand context e.g. brand size, category, type of purchases etc. (Binet and Field, 2018). By using evidence-based studies such as these, as well as any historical data, models and tools available, it is possible to make an informed decision on how to split the budget across the different communications tasks that comprise the overall strategy. This is a necessary starting point to bridge the strategic and implementational stages of communications planning and will inform the channel mix of any campaign.

The next step is to select, and assign budget to, the channels most effective at delivering each communications task. Again, using empirical studies and consulting tools and models, will help guide decisions at this stage. For example, Binet and Field note that for a brand-building task channels should be prioritised based on their reach and emotional involvement (2013). For greater specificity, scenario planning tools will recommend optimal channel mixes given certain scenarios and tasks. Brand tracking studies may also indicate the ability of different touchpoints to shift specific metrics. Econometric studies are often regarded as superior, as they can isolate the impacts of specific channels. A McDonald’s econometric study, for example, was able to calculate the ROI of specific brand media by isolating their impact on shifting key brand metric of “trust”, and the consequent uplift in store visits (Dias et al., 2014). However, econometrics are limited by their historic context, in that they cannot be used to predict the outcome of any innovative ideas. It is also necessary to consider how effectively certain channels can bring to life a specific creative and/or strategic platform. For example, the O2 “Oops” campaign invested significantly in OOH due to the media’s suitability to the playful and shock-evoking creative and strategic platform (Caldecott and Vita, 2018). Accordingly, a blend of subjective and objective analysis is necessary throughout the selection process. This overall task of managing the correct selection of channels and attribution of budgets is essential to the communications plans ability to deliver on the strategy of the campaign and the corresponding business objectives.

Creating a holistic media experience

Next it is necessary to consider how channels work together to create an overall campaign ecosystem, building a media experience that is greater than the sum of its parts. Building a media experience requires the management of multiple channels to be present in the right moments of a consumer’s decision journey, and optimising integration to impact consumer attitude or behaviour in line with the given strategy. An ecosystem can also enhance effectiveness by taking into account earned and owned channels, not just paid. This integration is important to consider for the effectiveness of any campaign, as campaigns including owned media are 13% more likely to report very large business effects, and earned media is proven to be driven by the presence of both paid and owned channels (Binet and Field, 2017). As the media landscape becomes increasingly complex and fragmented, understanding how to manage and demonstrate the integration of all channels to produce maximum effectiveness is fundamental to modern communications planning.

Specialist channel planning

Finally, managing the phasing, frequency and specific executions within each channel is crucial to delivering the overall experience and necessary to create the final schematic for a client. When considering the correct phasing for the campaign, it is necessary to consider launch impacts, seasonality and how to stack channels for efficient reach. Determining the frequency of each channel requires defining the optimal impacts, either by channel or cumulatively, necessary to drive the desired effect outlined by the strategy and communications task – this is also dependent on category investment, product appeal and strength of creative. The recency period should also be considered at this stage. Finally, quality measures for each channel must be applied. Channel context should be scrutinised for example, as neuro-scientific studies have proven that ads in a premium editorial environment are more effective by creating stronger engagement, higher emotional intensity and greater long-term memory encoding (Anon, 2018). Managing all of these elements at a channel-specific level and organising them into a schematic is fundamental to ensuring the most efficient and effective deployment of media at its most granular.

Based on this examination of the development and implementation stages of communications planning, it is clear that the management of channels cannot be regarded as a single task to be done. Channels are front and centre of each decision: from deciding budgets per channel, to planning and mapping channel integration, to finetuning the details of each channel’s specific deployment. Each stage plays its own integral role in ensuring the overall effectiveness of a communications plan. Accordingly, the management of channels does not relate to an isolated aspect of communications planning, but instead feels more appropriate as a term pertaining to the total developmental process and its constituent parts.

Olivia Dotzek is a Strategy Manager at Havas Media Group. This essay earned her a Distinction for the IPA Advanced Certificate in Communications Planning. Bookings for the 2021 intake close on 8 February.

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Last updated 18 January 2021