Today's digital landscape is a competitive one. For any business to find success today, it must create and share media content (such as images, videos, written content, and podcasts) with its audience.
Publishing new media is how you boost brand awareness, engagements, conversions, and revenue for your business. Not to mention, media content helps you stand out from competitors.
Over time, though, it can become confusing to keep track of, plan, organize, distribute, and analyze all that media content.
The best way to combat these issues is through media planning.
Media planning has many moving parts, and the process can be difficult to get right.
What is a media plan?
A media plan details what kind of media you will create and where and how you'll publish it to best engage and convert your audience. Some media plans align with larger company initiatives and campaigns, following along with pre-approved messaging and content.
Other media plans are standalone strategies that detail how organizations plan to leverage media (written, video, audio, etc.) to connect with followers and customers.
There are a number of benefits to media planning.
Benefits of Media Planning
Media planning aids with parts of content creation and distribution, including:
- Getting to know your target audience on a deeper level so you can effectively reach them through your media content
- Deciding which media channels and platforms on which you’ll share your content
- Determining the timing and frequency of the media and content you publish and share
- Keeping up with the latest media trends and technology
- Sticking to your budget as you work to create, publish, and share high-quality and engaging media content
- Conducting analyses to measure the success of your media planning process
In addition to the benefits of media planning, it’s important to note how it differs from media buying. Although the processes are related, they have different purposes and are often confused with one another.
Media Planning and Buying
Media planning and media buying are closely related and work in tandem with one another. Depending on the size of your business and your budget, your team members who plan your media may also handle the media buying process.
So, what makes these processes unique?
Well, media planning focuses on the strategy behind the media content that’s created, published, and shared among your customers and target audience. The media referred to here is all-encompassing, meaning it doesn’t always include paid ads and paid content.
This is where media planning and media buying differ.
What is media buying?
Media buying is related to paid media — whether that means your business is buying campaign or ad space on various channels, paying to share targeted campaigns and ads, or negotiating with media vendors.
In a world where your business can create and share media and successfully reach your audience for free, media planning can happen without media buying.
However, media buying requires media planning. (It's like that “a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square” lesson that baffled us all in elementary school.)
Media planning sets the tone and direction for the buying that needs to occur. Once ad space is purchased or content distribution plans have been negotiated, there needs to be a strategy (or media plan) for getting that media to your audience and customers.
Next, let’s review the steps in the media planning process so you can begin developing your business’s strategy.
As you work through the following media planning steps, keep in mind that how your business applies the results and conclusions derived from each step will be unique based on your audience and needs.
1. Conduct market research.
The first thing you’ll want to do when developing your media planning process is conduct market research. Market research will allow you to tailor the content you create and the media plan you implement to your target audience and customers.
Start by creating (if you haven’t already) and studying your buyer personas as well as developing an understanding of who your target audience and current customers are.
With this information, you can determine what media will reach, resonate with, and convert your audience. Additionally, it’ll help you decide what platforms and channels through which to share your content.
2. State your media planning objective.
When developing your media plan, keep a goal (or a few) in mind to help you effectively navigate the process. Moreover, goals can help you know what content types and platforms you can say “no” to.
Here are some examples of media planning objectives you might have:
- Strengthen cross-team collaboration (e.g. content, graphic design, animation, video, blog, social media) while creating and sharing media.
- Enhance and streamline the publication and distribution processes for all media.
- Improve media distribution timeline to ensure our content is shared efficiently so it’s relevant to our target audience.
- Amplify the success of our media content by allowing for ample time to analyze its impact and reach our audience.
For instance, say you're looking to create a media plan for your Facebook and Instagram social content. Your objective may be to streamline the content creation process in a timely fashion and then schedule posts on both platforms in advance.
This way, you ensure your posts are relevant to your audience so you can boost engagement and stay top of mind.
3. Determine which media planning templates you’ll use.
There are a number of easy-to-use templates available to help with your media planning strategy, such as editorial calendar templates and social media strategy templates. We’ll cover these options, and several others, in detail below.
Media planning templates ensure you stay efficient and effective while working on all aspects of your media content. They keep your media content organized while publishing and sharing it among your audience members.
Due to the variety of templates available for different types and parts of the media planning process, the templates you incorporate will be unique to your business. Don’t be afraid to experiment with or combine different templates.
For example, if your business is looking to create a media plan for your Facebook and Instagram social media, you might choose to implement a social media calendar template.
This type of template will help you coordinate your content across both channels, boost engagement, and improve productivity among your team members — and therefore, achieve the objective you set in step two.
4. Implement your media plan.
Ensure all parties who should be aware of the plan have the necessary details to help you execute accordingly.
Additionally, share the contact details of the media-planning point person at your company in case anyone has questions or comments.
To get a better understanding of what I mean, let's refer back to our example in the above step about your social media plan for Facebook and Instagram.
If you implement a social media calendar template as part of your media plan, ensure everyone who will be working on or creating the content and publication schedule for both platforms has access to it.
5. Evaluate your success.
Whether your media plan revolves around individual posts on Instagram or a month-long, company-wide campaign, be sure to measure the success of your plan.
Ask yourself and your team questions like, “Did this media plan help us achieve our specific goals?” and “Did the media planning templates and tools we used add value to our media creation and publication processes?”
The way you evaluate your media plan’s success should be directly tied to your business’s specific goals regarding your media and content, the teams who create the media, and the value you hope to derive from the media (e.g. boost conversions, engagements, revenue, etc.).
Let’s look back at our example from above one last time. Think about whether or not your social media content plan and the calendar template you implemented have helped you reach your target audience and achieve the objective you set.
Ask yourself whether or not your media plan helped you boost engagement on the social platforms you focused on as well as collaborate and coordinate more effectively to increase team-wide productivity.
What to Consider for Your Media Planning Strategy
After following the media planning steps above, there are a few additional things to consider.
First, what's your media planning budget? If you're aiming for free media, you can disregard this question. But if part of your media planning involves media buying (as we discussed above), you'll need to sit down with your marketing leadership to understand what funds you have to work with.
Set this budget before you start researching platforms and creating content. You don't want to start formulating a campaign that you can't afford down the road.
Second, consider your key messaging points you want your media to communicate. You don't have to pre-write all your media content, per se, but you should establish the main themes at the beginning so all media is consistent and on theme.
These messaging points will come from from your audience research and may also influence what content types and platforms you pursue, so be sure to establish these early on.
Now, let’s review some resources available to simplify the media planning process.
Media Planning Templates
There are a plethora of media planning templates available online that you can purchase or download for free. The great part about using media planning templates is that you can customize and tailor them to your business’s specific needs and goals.
Depending on the media software your business uses, such as HubSpot’s (free) CRM, Marketing Hub, or Sprout Social, there may be customizable planning templates included (similar to this menu of options from HubSpot).
You may also elect to create templates on your own with the help of Google Sheets.
Either way, how you choose to implement and use media planning templates will be unique to your business and needs — so don’t be afraid to modify your templates over time as your goals evolve or audience grows.
Types of Media Planning Templates
To help get you started, here’s a list of common types of media creation and planning templates. (Click the links to be directed to an associated template resource.)
You might use one or several media templates based on your needs. Remember, there’s no right or wrong answer to which template you should use — it’s about preference and what works best for your business.
- Use a media planning template to organize your paid media efforts and expenses in one visual location.
- Use a social media strategy template to align your media content with your audience in a way that provides value for your business.
- Use a social media calendar template to customize a timeline for when you’ll share your social media posts in a simple, organized, manageable, and effective format.
- Use an editorial calendar template to plan and optimize all of the marketing content you’ll publish and share including blogs, social media, and campaigns.
- Use a blog post template to simply fill-in-the-blanks and begin writing engaging, relevant, and well-optimized blog content for your audience (all while avoiding writer’s block!).
- Use an ebook design template to take the guesswork out of how to make your ebook professional, eye-catching, and beautiful all while saving yourself valuable time.
- Use an infographic template in Powerpoint or Illustrator to quickly customize the way you present data, share insights, and promote offers in a way that looks and feels professional.
- Use an analytics and reporting template for Excel, PowerPoint, and Google Drive to make the processes of pulling, organizing, and sharing data simple no matter which metrics you track.
- Use a budget template to manage and review your spending and budget with Excel or Google Sheets.
- Use an advertising template to help you plan and manage advertising campaigns in a way that’s sure to convert audience members into leads and customers.
Begin Your Media Planning Process
Media planning is an integral part of your business’s ability to successfully create, publish, and share media content. It’s how you streamline cross-team communication and collaboration around your media as well as ensure it’s shared with your audience in a timely fashion.
So, work through the media planning process steps above and choose which templates you’ll use to begin reaching and converting more audience members.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in February 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.