Podcast

Media reporting: How to reduce waste

While we agree that media reporting is important, and essential to understanding how media is impacting sales and business KPIs, we also know that the time and effort it takes to generate these reports is becoming an increasing problem, to the point that it’s time wasted. Jan-Eric Anderson, president at Callahan, and Zack Pike, head of data, discuss how to use media reporting time more efficiently and increase the value in the information presented.

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Welcome to Callahan’s Uncovering Aha! podcast. We talk about a range of topics for marketing decision-makers, with a special focus on how to uncover insights in data to drive brand strategy and inspire creativity. Featuring Zack Pike and Jan-Eric Anderson.

 

Jan-Eric:
Hi, I’m Jan-Eric Anderson, President at Callahan.

Zack:
And I’m Zack Pike, VP of Data at Callahan.

Jan-Eric:
All right. Zack, today’s podcast is going to be one that’s really relevant for anybody who can recognize the importance of media reporting, but also can admit that it’s a little bit of a bane in their existence. And that it’s a big time suck and it’s a behemoth of a task that seemingly never goes away. So I want to explore this topic with you. And I think that we’re starting from a common place of recognizing that media reporting is critically important. It’s really, really important to understand what’s going on with media campaigns and certainly to understand how that media is impacting sales and business KPIs.

Jan-Eric:
The issue though that we see is that the amount of time and effort that’s going into it and the resources having to go into generating media reporting has become an increasing problem and something needs to be done about it. So with that, tell me a little bit about what you see in terms of what’s the current state of media reporting? And is it a time suck and is it a problem? What’s going on?

Zack:
Yeah. I mean, we obviously do a fair amount of media reporting here at Callahan as does every agency that’s in the marketing space and doing anything with media. But you kind of touched on my biggest issue with it, is the amount of time that is spent and I would go as far as to say wasted in evaluating a media campaign through typical media reporting. And the reason I say wasted is because if you think about a media campaign that’s got multiple channels inside of it, it’s being executed across lots of different markets, there’s different creative inside the media campaign. There’s different messaging and even different budget levels within different areas of the campaign. That’s a lot of variables to try and manage.

Zack:
And if I’m a media person responsible for making that campaign as efficient as possible, what I see typically in my experience has been that that media person is sifting and digging and raking through all of the possible ways of looking at that campaign because they’re trying to find those points of inefficiency, right? So I want my campaign to impact the business as much as it can, but one way we get there is by having an efficient campaign where I’m not… I’ve reduced my waste factor as much as I can. So unfortunately, that puts people in a position where they’re now spending days, weeks of time looking, “Okay, well, what’s my CPM in this market and what’s my cost per click in this market? And is it different between my different channels? And which creative is performing the best?”

Jan-Eric:
Yeah. And if you think about it, if you just stop for a second and look at kind of a little bit longer view of the history of media reporting and the way of the world and the shifts in the media landscape, you understand kind of how we get to this point. I mean, if you look back at, let’s go back 20 years, the majority of media dollars were being spent in traditional media, not in digital media. Over the course of the last 20 years, obviously, this isn’t a headline, but this is not going to be news to anybody. I mean, there’s been this migration of budgets into digital channels. Fine. But digital media allows consumer behavior to be turned into data, which means there’s this explosion of data that’s available to analyze. And because you’ve got more and more data becoming available to analyze, and you’ve had a shift in budget, it puts more attention from marketers into wanting to understand, what am I getting from digital?

Jan-Eric:
It’s easy to kind of not really care about the digital reporting when it’s 5% of your overall marketing budget. But when now it’s 90% of my marketing budget, I can’t ignore it. And so I really have to understand it. And with this explosion of data that’s available to look at, it leaves your media planner or your analyst at the mercy of trying to collect all this data and then just corral it in from separate sources and then try to make sense of it and report back of what’s going on. So I can really… I understand how we got here. Right? There’s so much information available and there is a need to understand what it is. The issue is that with this explosion of data, it’s now become this massive time suck to be able to put it together or collect all the information, make sense of it, and then turn it into something that’s nice and easy to look at, aka a dashboard, that a client can even understand, what are we looking at and what does it mean?

Zack:
Well, and then on top of that, and we’ve talked about this on the podcast before, but it is very easy to fall into the trap of always having to have something to talk about at the next meeting. So it’s easy to be in a cycle of, “Hey, I’ve got a status meeting. I’m on media campaign every week or two weeks or every month. I’ve got an hour I’ve got to fill.” So I’m going to be digging couple of days before that meeting and I’m spending three days prepping for the meeting and I’m going to find something.

Jan-Eric:
And that pressure comes from… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation. I’ve witnessed this conversation. I’ve been a part of it. The expectation is you’re going to be watching this all the time. Right? You don’t set this plan and forget it. You’re looking at it. You’re looking at it weekly, daily, two times a day. Do you ever stop looking at it? And so that expectation is established right there, which then leads into when you’re having your weekly touch bases to go over media reporting. You carry into that meeting the burden of being able to say, “Look at all these groundbreaking things we’ve seen.” And in many cases, it’s an exercise in creative writing of trying to come up with something that sounds noteworthy that we’ve discovered when a lot of times it’s not even there.

Zack:
Right. Right. Yeah.

Jan-Eric:
So media reporting, it’s really important, but maybe the task is too big for our britches at this point to be able to get it done with the way we’ve been approaching it. It’s important, it can’t go away. But it’s arguably not sustainable and maybe losing its value in the service that agencies are providing back. So what is the solution? If the problem is it’s a big time suck, how do we make it better? How do you go about compressing the time requirements and increasing the value in teasing out the things that are most important? What do you do?

Zack:
Yeah. Well, yeah. I mean, the media reporting is important. I like to think of that more as the insight that media reporting has the ability to provide is important. I don’t know that with the technology that’s available today, that the reporting side of media is as important as it used to be. So to your question there, it requires some thought on the front end, which we preach front-end analysis all the time. But even specific to just a media campaign, I need to know what my objectives are heading in. Okay? Because what can very easily happen is I get a hundred thousand dollars. I need to go spend that a hundred thousand dollars. I’ve got good experience so I know a good way to spend it and I go spend it.

Zack:
But we need to figure out on the front-end, okay, what does this campaign need to produce? Is it leads? Is it set? All those questions we’ve talked about on this podcast many times. That will help me decide what actually matters as far as optimization of this campaign. Right? Because that’ll define all the metrics that I need to be concerned about and looking at. Once I understand what matters, it’s then pretty easy to figure out what I’m going to do based on that what matters. So if I’m targeting a really high efficiency campaign, I need my CPM to be under a certain amount. That’s really all I care about. I can define what that limit is and I can define an action if I cross over that limit. Okay?

Zack:
So at this point, I’m a lot further ahead than I would have been without that stuff. But those two items are key for the next step, which is where we can rely on technology to move some of this reporting and munching of the data off our plate. Machine learning today is really sleek, and it’s most awesome when I have a very tight parameter to set it around. Okay? So machine learning, if you read about it, you’ll see one end of the spectrum says it will do everything. Like anything you could ever imagine, machine learning will do. And then the other end says, which is actually the more accurate end is if you have specific challenges that you can build a little algorithm around, it works really well and it can drive efficiency. And that’s where what we’re talking about here, it’s a really good application.

Zack:
So in that little example, if I need to run a really efficient campaign, there’s a lot of ways to evaluate efficiency even if I’m just talking about CPM, right? I need to be worried about how efficient I am in different markets, how efficient I am across different channels, creative, messaging, all those things I’ve talked about earlier. Well, if I have those parameters set up, I can set a machine learning algorithm loose to bring me back only the points of the campaign where I need to make a decision. Right?

Zack:
So if my threshold is I don’t ever want to be over a $10 CPM, I can set that algorithm loose. And every day, week, month, whatever my cadence needs to be, it can feed me back in whatever format I need. It could be a one-page list. It could be a stock ticker like thing. It’s really limited by your imagination at that point. My points of decision. So it’s, “Hey, your San Francisco market crossed over your threshold. It’s been over your threshold for three days.” Okay. Now, I need to make a decision, right? Am I going to let it go another three days? Am I going to shut off that portion of the campaign? Am I going to make some adjustment that’s going to get my efficiency better?

Zack:
So now I’ve taken all of that time I would have spent like sifting through the report to find San Francisco. Right? Think about how many markets there are. I don’t know how many DMAs there are. There’s like 210 DMAs.

Jan-Eric:
210 actually. Yeah.

Zack:
So instead of me sifting through a list of 200 DMAs, it’s just brought me the ones I need to be worried about. Now I can make my decision. I’ve eliminated all that analysis time. And then I can run that on a recurring basis. So that’s like the second big piece. I set my objectives and decision points. I use a little bit of technology that’s actually fairly simple if you have someone who knows what they’re doing to set that up. And then the last piece, which is I think the part that can be really uncomfortable in this situation is I have to be okay with not looking at everything, right? If I’m going to trust my algorithm to bring me the areas I need to make a decision, I’ve got to be okay… And I’m going after spending less time on management of this campaign. I have to be okay not looking at everything, which is what we’re used to doing today. Right? We have these big fancy reports,

Jan-Eric:
You as a human being looking at it.

Zack:
Right.

Jan-Eric:
Not to suggest that it isn’t being looked at.

Zack:
Exactly.

Jan-Eric:
It might be looking at in the shadows and by a machine that is monitoring. But you don’t look at it unless it is brought to your attention that this thing needs your attention.

Zack:
Exactly, which I can imagine… I’m not immediate planner, but I can imagine for someone who’s been in this business for 10 years, used to doing it the traditional way, that’s going to be a little bit of a hurdle for them to be confident in their little partner there that’s behind that motherboard in their database. They’d have to be confident that they trust that algorithm. That’s the way to solve this problem. There are companies that are trying to do variations of this out there, kind of all over the place. Excuse me. I don’t know that anybody has really solved it totally. But yeah.

Jan-Eric:
So just to kind of summarize how to make it better in my terms, if I play it back to you, the first thing is kind of have an idea when you’re going into it before you’ve started even a media campaign. You know what matters and what you’re trying to accomplish. Because that right then sets your, as you say, the decision points and what matters. What would you make a decision based on? What really matters so you know that? The second thing is leverage technology to do a lot of the analysis for you, to collect information and to do analysis. It could be something like an intelligence platform or a data stack. It’s bringing all the information and aggregates it all into one place and then layering on top of that machine learning, which then does the analysis.

Jan-Eric:
It’s one thing, get all the data together. Second thing is do some of the analysis or leverage technology to do the human work in the old model, right? So the machines are doing the work for you on an ongoing basis so that human resource or human time is not spent doing that. And then the third piece is resisting that urge to think that you as the human or as the analyst has to look at every single thing every single time. And that same thing goes for a client. We don’t have to have our eyes and hands on every single metric that’s being looked at every single week. Just because we looked at it last week doesn’t mean that it means that we have to look at it this week.

Jan-Eric:
And by leveraging the machine learning, machine learning can set up triggers to be able to then kind of say, “Hey, this warrants your attention this week because it ties back to things that matter. And there’s something weird and different that’s happening here. We need to look at this.” Whether it’s a good story, it’s a bad story, which then generates… That’s where you spend your time talking and your thinking capacity or your time resources for humans are spent on that.

Zack:
So, I’ve got one more thing.

Jan-Eric:
Yeah, go ahead.

Zack:
In that scenario, you’ve not only saved the time of the media planner having to sift through those reports. And you’ve also saved time from a person who has to build the report, right? So these reports don’t get… They’re not magic, right? Someone has to go in and set them up, get all the visualizations right. Get all the interactivity built in there, which can take a lot of time in some cases. And then if you don’t have a good automated system to do that, you’re refreshing Excel reports every week. In theory, if you can go along with this plan, all of that goes away. So now you’re looking at cost savings, better margin. There’s lots of fringe benefits to this type of approach.

Jan-Eric:
Yeah. Well, I suspect that this is a problem that’s widespread. I know that we observe it as a challenge with a lot of the clients that we work with. So I imagine that this topic is something of relevance for a lot of people who would be listening. Thanks for your perspective on this. I think this has been great. Thanks a lot.

 

You’ve been listening to the Uncovering Aha! podcast. Callahan provides data savvy strategy and inspired creativity for national consumer brands. Visit us at callahan.agency to learn more.