Online media planners and buyers lost at sea

It’s tough to be an online media planner or buyer right now. Nearly every planner or buyer that I talk to is swimming in an ever-deepening pool of data and demands. Over the past few years, the number of publishers and ad networks vying for their attention has increased dramatically. Engaging audiences through advertising has become more difficult as consumers increasingly ignore traditional display ads. Reaching those audiences at scale is more challenging because consumer attention is fragmenting across a growing number of online properties. Finally, advertisers have become more demanding about efficient allocation of their ad budgets given the assumed measurability of online media and all of the various forms that online advertising can take (display, search, contextual, behavioral, CPM, CPC, CPA and on and on). All of this is happening while agencies come to the realization that it’s impractical to separate planning and buying from creative development for online advertising.

Despite all of this rapid change, the tools that agencies use to determine how and where to spend money are still largely the same as the ones that they used early this decade. comScore, AdRelevance and @Plan (the latter two from Nielsen//NetRatings) remain the standard tools that most agencies rely on for online planning purposes. Buying is still largely a manual, time-consuming process, despite efforts to streamline the process with products such as MediaVisor. And forget about trying to optimize creative or spend on the basis of actual business results or ROI. Without the emergence of more useful tools and services to aid agencies in planning, buying, measuring and optimizing, the share of ad budgets allocated to online media (7.5% today according to Yankee Group) will continue to lag consumption of online media as a percentage of total media consumption (20% today). Innovative products and services are critical to the many businesses that are counting on ad revenue to survive. New ad-supported businesses will have a hard time seeing ad dollars flow their way without help for agencies that are dealing with a flood of opportunities and data. Today, agencies use the approach of clinging to the sites and formats that they already know. The entire industry needs to help agencies (and advertisers) navigate increasingly turbulent waters so that they in turn can find and justify throwing lifelines (in the form of ad dollars) to fledgling online properties.

Fortunately for agencies and advertisers, entrepreneurs who have lived and breathed online advertising during its early years are now recognizing the opportunity to help address these problems.  VisualIQ, Quantcast, Balihoo and Covario are examples of companies that are attempting to provide more data to agencies and to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their processes. I’m eager to see additional tools and services and the widespread adoption of them by agencies and brands. Only then will agencies, advertisers and ad-supported businesses be able to collectively withstand the waves of change that they are facing. Please let me know if you have come across any interesting products or services that help agencies or advertisers plan, purchase and optimize online media. All of us in the online media industry will sink or swim together!