Media Bootcamp #1: Paid Media, The “Real” Hunger Games

Recently, Pace’s media department presented insights into our media process, and I couldn’t help but draw some comparisons between our approach and the Hunger Games trilogy. Like the series, we have a beginning, middle and end to our paid activation undertaking. Step one is research and media planning. Step two is media buying, and step three is media stewardship.

Before we enter the arena, let’s step back and define the three elements of media – earned, owned and paid:

  • Owned media consists of the content you create and publish on a channel you own, such as a website, blog, e-book, white paper, etc.
  • Earned media consists of all the content and conversation around your brand or product that has been created by somebody else and published somewhere other than your owned channels, such as press coverage; social media mentions, shares and retweets; product or company reviews; etc.
  • Paid media, the simplest of the three elements to understand, consists of any marketing that you pay for – TV ads, radio spots, print ads, billboards, digital advertising (PPC, banner, native), etc.


Like the Hunger Games’ heroine, Katniss Everdeen, we can’t enter the arena without a strategy.

Our process begins with the Media Development Worksheet (MDW) that identifies the foundation of our media plan. The MDW includes input on the following:

  • Prioritized marketing objective(s) such as brand awareness, consideration (engagement), conversions/leads, etc.
  • Prioritized key performance indicators (KPIs) – hard metrics such as clicks to site, engagement, conversions/leads, historical benchmarking data, etc. that we will use to measure success
  • Media budget
  • Flight dates (please disclose any seasonality)
  • List of competitors
  • Target demographics and psychographics (if available)
  • Target geography
  • Client directives such as what media channels they have tried in the past and why they have failed or succeeded, whether or not any other paid media will be running consecutively to our plan, what tagging or tracking they currently have in place, what are the top SEO and/or SEM keywords delivering traffic to their site, what publications and/or people have an influence their industry, etc.

Like all successful tributes in the Hunger Games, resourcefulness is key.

That’s why we turn to research tools such as GfK MRI’s Survey of the American Consumer®, comScore, Kantar Media, SpyFu, eMarketer, etc. to conduct industry and audience research to better understand our clients’ product(s), market(s) and consumers before going to market.

Before providing the final detailed media recommendation for the client’s feedback and/or approval, we also do a vendor environmental assessment (because you are only as good as the company you keep); a cost-efficiency and effectiveness analysis to review buying models as well as optimal reach/frequency/impressions garnered; and a study of added-value opportunities that are designed to meet our clients’ goals and objectives, not the vendor’s.

We also consider potential media innovations that could differentiate and have a positive impact on our clients’ business goals and personalize targeting down to the individual asset level in order to reach the target most likely to take action. Every buy is customized to our clients’ objectives and KPIs.


After the media plan is signed off it’s time to “catch fire” with the media buying process. At this point…

  • Secure media by deploying Digital Orders that specify all terms and conditions in advance of launch.
  • Confirm creative specs with each vendor to ensure that all ads meet file size and formatting requirements.
  • We request access to all social media accounts on the media plan in order to execute the buys.
  • We also call for access to analytics for the site(s) that the campaign is driving to at this time.
  • Media provides account services with all necessary tags (insight, retargeting, conversion, etc.) along with instructions on how and where to place them, and, subsequently, test them to ensure they are firing correctly prior to the campaign launch.
  • Media provides UTM structures to be used for each asset in order to track results on the back end to ensure we are delivering quality traffic with our buys (low bounce rate, high time on site, conversions, etc.).

In order to “stay alive” and thriving in the evolving and competitive media marketplace, we begin monitoring and optimizing the buy upon its launch to ensure cost-delivery execution, audience delivery, pacing, A/B testing of creative, etc. Comparative reporting and screenshots are also required from each vendor throughout the course of the campaign as additional proof of performance. We do not “set and forget.” We optimize manually and on a daily basis to ensure brand safety, viewability and — most importantly — results. That’s not to say that we don’t use smart tools (e.g., Kenshoo for paid search), but we don’t just auto-optimize as part of the buying process.


The last part of the trilogy is media stewardship, where our actions help us stand out as not just a piece in a game – as a victor!

We deliver reporting based on a client-approved cadence, which outlines vendor/placement/creative performance, optimizations taken in the past reporting period, KPIs, spend to date and pacing, as well as actionable insights gleaned from results so that we can continually improve upon our clients’ programs.

Upon completion of the buy, we deliver unsurpassed stewardship that includes the following:

  • A detailed post-buy analysis is conducted to guarantee that our clients get what they pay for and more and that all terms and conditions outlined in the original order are met.
  • At this time, we also negotiate makegoods or cash credits for any underdeliveries or for ads that did not run as ordered.
  • Our last move is to provide a final wrap-up report that compares the vendor’s delivery data to ours as a final checkpoint as our client‘s target moves from awareness to engagement to endorsement to interest to action.

This chart will help you visualize the entire process:

In our experience, if you follow these steps, the “odds will be ever in your favor.”

Happy Hunger Games, folks!

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