Confessions of a Young Digital Media Planner

You can set your watch to when some well-heeled media or advertising executive on the conference circuit wrings his hands about the problem of the “25-year-old media planners.” The problem, as laid out, is the ad-buying industry’s business model is based on employing armies of young worker bees who are often inundated with mundane tasks and overburdened with cobbling together media plans without much in the way of space to learn or even breathe.

Rarely, however, are these young workers, who form the backbone of the industry, heard from publicly. Digiday wants to change that. If you have a story to tell, with your anonymity guaranteed, get in touch using the contact details listed below. In the first of a series of first-person accounts from the digital media trenches, we tracked down a young media planner. We’ve promised this person anonymity since the PR hawks at agencies are unlikely to approve honest input from those not media trained. Here’s what our Media Planner X had to say:

There are so many different media vendors and sales teams out there vying for your attention. How do you deal with them all?
When I first started out in the industry, I would try to meet with everybody who pitched me. But after a while, it just gets overwhelming, so a lot of the time I just ignore them now. I rarely answer my phone. If a vendor has an existing relationship with someone else in the company, then it’s more likely I’ll meet with them. I don’t usually do lunches with vendors until after I’ve worked with them, though. So many of these vendors do the same thing so we’ll often look at campaigns they’ve run with other accounts across the agency to see how they’ve performed.

How much influence do personal relationships with salespeople have on the planning/buying process?
A lot of it is about the relationships, and it’s often about the person not the company. We have vendors that we’ll keep going back to because we know them, and we’ll all go out together to celebrate after a buy. After doing this job for a few years, you build relationships with the people rather than the vendors. It’s all the same reps; they just move around. If I know a rep at a network and they go somewhere else, I still trust that person to look after me. It’s not just a personal thing, though; it’s about how the rep takes care of the account, too. Some just don’t pay attention.

What about the perks: the sports tickets, gift cards and “tangible meetings”?
We have limits on the value of what we’re allowed to accept as gifts. We’re often sent gift cards for retailers like Starbucks, but then there’s the “tangible meetings.” Usually, somebody will offer to take you to do something, like make sneakers. I’ve even heard of arrangements where an agency spending a certain amount will receive a specific percentage of that buy back in entertainment budget. Then there are the parties, too. When would you usually get to go to an open bar at an exclusive hotel rooftop? For junior-level staff, that stuff is even more important. In the beginning, you’re not getting paid much and you’re in the office all the time, but you get given tickets for box seats at Yankee Stadium.

What about trips?
We’re not allowed to accept trips, but people do. There are ski trips in Utah, invitations to summerhouses out on Long Island, and even to music festivals. People higher up in the company take the trips, so I don’t think anyone’s in a position to tell you you’re fired if you do, too.

How can the internal trading desks compete with vendors with such large entertainment budgets?
It’s different working with people internally; we’ve never been out with the trading desk guys. It’s more a feeling of them being a part of the team, rather than a vendor-type relationship. Usually, we would work with the trading desk for direct-response and performance campaigns, though, so there’s really not much of a decision to be made from us in terms of media. Either they perform, or they don’t.

Do clients know exactly what goes on behind agency doors?
I don’t know if clients know exactly what goes on. Sometimes they’ll have come from the agency side, so they have a better idea. It’s all part of our job though. Instead of the client having to go through vendors and maintain all those relationships, they pass them on for us to manage instead. Often clients will ask us to hook them up with tickets from the vendors, too.