Strategies For Successful Media Planning

A list of successful media planning strategies by Orientation Marketing co-founder Gareth Pickering.

Media planning (and buying) is possibly the most important task for any marketer in the pharmaceutical and life sciences industries. Getting it right is crucial. But how do we ensure that we are doing it right, and more importantly, how do we know if we are doing it wrong?

This article will give you some ideas on how to start with the media planning process and give some practical advice on how best to achieve your goals.


The biggest trap people fall into is reproducing exactly last year's plan. A media plan may have worked last year but it's not necessarily the case that the same plan will work for another year. It's worth starting afresh each year, looking at every opportunity again. Never be afraid to revisit publishers that you may have discounted in previous years.


Sounds simple and obvious. However, it's crucial that you take time out to really understand who you are trying to target. Can you ask your most recent clients what magazines they read? Run a survey with your customer to see what they read, what websites have they got bookmarked? Understanding this will help you know what they read. However, the best way to know your ideal customer is by developing buyer personas.


Once you have really honed in on your audience, you will then need to pull together a definitive list of publications. This can be the hard part. You know most of them, you think, but are you missing any? Are there titles out there that you may not be familiar with that would work for you? Do you really know the titles that your target audiences read?

Would it surprise you to learn there are over 123 publications and platforms serving the pharmaceutical space alone? Were you aware that there are over 31 publications in cosmetics, over 130 in food and nutra? (Over 420 in total!) Unfortunately, there is no definitive list of all the magazines available online. A friendly agency may have a definitive list so it’s always worth asking them - we have a comprehensive list should you want to consider your options - speak to us to discover your media options. If not, your desktop research begins.


Google Search is the starting point. Try different variables on the 'pharmaceutical publications' search term. Then, search all the major industry events. Each event will have media sponsors, which will give you lots of titles to begin looking at for suitability. LinkedIn profiles of the magazine representatives is also a good place to research; many reps may have come from competing titles or other publications in that space.


Perhaps a charitable adverting representative may recommend other publications (aside from their own), but this is unlikely. It’s taken Orientation Marketing many years to build up these lists and databases and we still update on databases on a daily basis. Once you have the complete list of target publications, you need to get the correct info out of the reps or the media kits and sometimes that's easier said than done.


If the publication is audited, always use figures on the audit statement rather than the figures on the media kit. Not every publication has an audit, but if they do, use this. If you need some help on reading audit statements, see a previous blog post on what to look for in a publisher's media kit.

From that media kit, you are generally looking for answers to the following questions:

  • Total print circulation

  • Geographical distribution (EU, US, APAC, ROW)

  • Readership job descriptions

  • Relevant features and additional distribution

  • Page rate

  • CPM

  • CTR (if digital)

  • Expected clicks (if digital)

  • Average opens

  • Expected leads.

Once you have these answers in a simple excel sheet you can work out some other metrics that will illuminate your decision making, for instance, the cost per acquisition (CPA).


Once you have this data in an Excel sheet, simple sorting and filtering (and maybe pivot tables) will help you sort the publication's performance statistics. The temptation is to sort by price, top to bottom. Yes, we all have budgets, but try and resist this. Rather, sort by the CPM metric and look at the best value. Don’t rule out the highest CPM publications, but it’s always worth enquiring as to why the cost-per-mille is so high.


In the quieter months (mainly summer in the science sectors), many publishers offer advertisers a free advertising report. This consists of a market research company rings a representative sample of the readers and asks them to rate the adverts that have featured in that issue.

This is quite a significant insight into how readers perceive adverts against other adverts, rated by metrics as: ‘attention-getting’, ‘believability’, ‘information value’ and ‘authority’. Seeing this can give you great insight into how your advert has been perceived by the readers (or not). If you're planning on advertising in print in these months, ensure you get the ad study report.


If a publication you have not used before looks interesting, has a good audience solid editorial and a good CPM number, don’t be afraid to experiment and advertise as a test. If you are using a publication/advertiser for the first time, you can usually negotiate a good value ad or favourable rates. But don't be afraid to try it's the only way you will learn what works for you.


Once the selection has been made, you are booking the space, always ask for a 'value-added' opportunity (the free stuff) especially if you have not used the magazine before. Ask for some free digital exposure on the website or an e-blast, or ask what other value ad options they offer. Most publishers will offer this.


Once the selection has been made and all adverts have been booked, the most important thing you can do is measure. Get the results of the digital campaigns (always ask for the unique scores). Also, ask the publishers for average numbers so you can benchmark your results against other advertisers. An option, although it can be costly, is to employ a market research company to survey the market to asses how well known you are in the market against your competition? Repeat this every two years. You should see the results come through.

Of course, you could always ask a friendly agency with decades of experience, with the deepest databases and acres of metrics to work with you on your media planning.

And the best bit - it won’t cost you a penny...