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Editor’s Note: In the quest to gain maximum reach and effective frequency for clients, media departments have a bigger role than ever. Media consumption patterns continue to evolve, right along with available technology, according to media directors at major ag age-cies. Revealing how they keep up with changes in the industry, including available research, consolidation across the ag industry and new media, are:

* Bob Brunker, vice president/media director, McCormick Co., Kansas City, Mo.

* Chris Czeskleba, vice president/director of media services, Charleston|Orwig Inc., Hartland, Wis.

* Irene Hindman, vice president of media services, Bader Rutter & Associates Inc., Brookfield, Wis.

* Kathy Kavanaugh, associate communications director, Saatchi & Saatchi Rowland, Rochester, N.Y.

* Joyce Koranda, vice president/director of market analysis and media services, CMF&Z, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Q What is the media department’s role? What kinds of things do your ag clients expect of your staff?

Brunker: Our clients expect us to understand their business and their marketing goals. And they expect us to be the experts on how to best utilize their advertising dollars to help meet these goals.

Czeskleba: Our role is to be team members within the agency - all striving to implement the most intrusive and captivating ways of reaching our target audiences without offending them. Our ag clients expect us to be knowledgeable about agricultural media and to seek opportunities to make them rise above the competition. Intrinsic to this is providing more value for less money.

Hindman: The media department is part of the agency’s marketing team. As a group, account service, media, creative and direct marketing collaborate to come up with strategies to meet marketing objectives for clients. Then the media department’s job is to translate these objectives into media strategies. By being involved in the initial stages, we can find the right media, right vehicles, right location and be good stewards of our clients’ money. That’s what our clients expect of us. We’re not about just negotiating media on behalf of our clients. You can have the right price but in the wrong geography or wrong time.

Kavanaugh: Gone are the days when the media department was in the back room, cranking out costs and plans while others in the agency were busy planning the strategies and creative. Today, we are an integral part of the strategic planning process from the beginning. The creative, PR and account teams come to us for strategic thinking and fresh, new ideas.

Our ag client, DuPont Crop Protection, expects that the media team is staying on top of the latest research regarding farmer media habits - especially now, in light of the new media options with the Internet. They also look to us to develop strong industry relations and to integrate our plans with work from the other departments in the agency.

Koranda: The role of the media department is to be familiar with our clients’ products, markets and customers in order to make the best recommendations for reaching these customers in the most cost-efficient way. We need to be good stewards of clients’ money and invest it as if it were coming out of our pocket. Our clients expect us to know the markets and help them do the best job possible.

Q How do you stay current on all of the research available on what media reach farmers the best?

Brunker: This is an area we try to divide and conquer. Research is time consuming and can be overwhelming. Although we are each a media generalist for our own individual clients, we also each are charged with an area of media specialization, i.e., print, radio, Internet. Then, as a media specialist, each of us is called upon as an expert resource for all of our clients on an as-needed basis.

Czeskleba: Easy! When it’s your job, you take the time to educate yourself. Close contact with media representatives and daily access to media news are great ways to keep up with, if not stay ahead of, the game.

Hindman: You can never have too much research, as long as it is independent. For data on farmers’ media consumer habits, Starch FARMS is the one major piece of research we utilize. We also meet frequently with media reps to find out about new things their publications are doing or learn the latest on research they’ve conducted themselves.

For independent television research, we use Nielsen. For radio, we utilize research from the National Association of Farm Broadcasters (NAFB). We also consider research conducted by the stations or networks themselves.

Kavanaugh: Our team is constantly searching for the most current and reliable research regarding the media habits of the general consumer as well as the farmer consumer. We read industry trade journals, meet with ag sales reps to review their latest research and utilize various studies such as Starch FARMS and NAFB reports to stay current with trends. I am also actively involved in our local NAMA chapter and attend new media seminars held by the Agribusiness Internet Advertising Council.

Koranda: This is an interesting question, in that there is no one answer that is the best media to reach the farmer. It depends on the target audience, the timing, the marketing and communications goal, the creative, etc. At any given time, the answer could be different.

We stay current by reading and listening. Our media representatives are great resources of information. We may not always agree with their conclusions, but by listening and not being afraid to ask a question or admit we don’t know everything, we usually get new information early and creative ideas to help move our clients’ business forward.

Q What role are new media vehicles having on ag advertising, and how are they impacting your recommendations for clients?

Brunker: New media are just another piece of the puzzle. Use of the Internet continues to increase in the ag sector, and the advertising research and media weight put toward these new media continue to increase. However, just as TV didn’t replace radio, the Internet and other new media won’t replace traditional media anytime soon. They’ll just serve as additional vehicles by which to reach our audience. The most important thing to remember with new media is that the old media models don’t necessarily work with them. They require executions that capitalize on the uniqueness of the new medium to make them work effectively.

Czeskleba: New media are a serious part of our consideration. The role the Internet plays, for example, depends on the client’s objectives and the sophistication of their own Web sites. Not unlike the general consumer, clients fall into distinct stages of product adoption. Some clients embrace technology early on, while others step up to the plate when they realize they’ll be left behind if they don’t. There are leaders and there are reactors. The effect it has is of blurring the lines, and the budgets, between traditional advertising venues and other communications services, such as publicity, direct marketing and event marketing. Much of the truly new media technology, such as sponsored wireless communications or broadband television, is still in its infancy stage and will likely not be a factor short term.

Hindman: When the Internet started taking off, many publishers packaged it as a value-added. For example, if you spend X amount in print, we’ll give you a bonus banner ad. Now Web sites have their own profit centers. It’s difficult to get a freebie. As an industry, we’re making the shift to considering the Internet a budgeted media that has its own dollars. The Agribusiness Internet Advertising Council, of which I am president, has devised standardized terminology for Internet advertising in agribusiness and has endorsed third-party auditing of ag Web sites selling advertising. This will make Web sites easier to evaluate as part of a media mix.

Kavanaugh: We are using new media in conjunction with traditional media as a way of increasing the synergy of our advertising campaigns. At the same time, we are all concerned with accountability, so until the new media can offer acceptable audience analysis and tracking standards, budget dollars for these options will be limited.

Koranda: New media is part of the mix. We use and recommend it when it fits. What makes e-marketing so impactful is its potential to drastically change traditional distribution channels.

Q How is consolidation in the ag industry changing a media planner’s job?

Brunker: Two areas of consolidation are taking place - one among our client companies and one within the media. Company consolidation has made for increased competition for clients among agencies as well as increased competition among the media for the combined, and usually reduced, budgets. It’s become more of a buyer’s market than ever before.

On the media side, companies like Clear Channel, with huge numbers of radio stations and their own national rep firm, take the medium yet one more step away from the "local" aspect that has been one of its strengths. Yet the ease in ordering this has been a positive for buyers.

Czeskleba: When there are fewer advertisers, there will be fewer media vehicles. Those that remain will likely evolve into different products than they are today, probably more global in nature. In media analysis as it relates to agriculture, I see more of a business-to-business approach, such as consideration given to purchasing groups. The ad products themselves may be much more information-based than singly promotional in nature. I think the quantitative aspect of media planning will remain and, with that, many more choices evolving out of technological advances. Television may become a one-on-one medium. Radio may be accessed from anywhere across the country.

Hindman: While companies are continuing to consolidate, they’re also consolidating their business into fewer agencies. This results in an agency having better control over how the brand strategy is executed. The brand ends up being handled the same way - whether it is in an ad, press release or collateral material.

Kavanaugh: Consolidation within the media - print, radio, TV, Internet - has allowed us to look at our campaigns in a different light. Rather than reviewing each of the media separately, we are challenging the media companies that have merged to present us with multimedia options.

Koranda: It is difficult to keep track of competitive information. Many media are consolidating, too, like one company owning many of the radio stations and networks. It affects how it is priced and bought.

Consolidated budgets often shrink because companies seek cost efficiencies and reduced budgets. This trend puts pressure on the media representatives who are trying to maintain and increase spending in their properties. This rarely happens.

QHow do you anticipate your job will be different three to five years from now, and what new tools are making your job easier?

Brunker: The number of mass audience publications will likely decline and the role of the "new" media will obviously be greater. Messages will be more targeted than ever, and we will have better ways to communicate directly with customers one-to-one.

Czeskleba: As the industry consolidates further, and as farm operations grow larger, media planners, and agencies in general, will view performance as a more significant byproduct of advertising. There will be value in creating awareness, but equally important will be (if it isn’t already) return on investment. Planners will need to incorporate such data into their evaluations.

I’m not aware of any new tools that will make our jobs easier. Hopefully, there will be software available that can successfully integrate clients’ sales data with media data.

Hindman: The short answer is the Internet. It is becoming more important in the lives of farmers and more important to our clients. So it’s going to be an important medium. Plus it makes available to us a lot of information. More and more data by county is becoming available, and we can quickly analyze it. It’s timelier than the Ag Census, as infrequent as it has been.

More than ever before, the media department is an integral part of the service an agency provides clients. We’re not just negotiators anymore. We’ve changed a lot in terms of our contributions to the marketing effort. And that will only continue as more data becomes available and agencies continue to demand strategic thinking from the media department.

Kavanaugh: Mergers, new media, clutter at an all time high, tighter deadlines, tighter budgets - you bet we anticipate changes. Will these factors change media planning? Maybe only as much as TV changed radio. Media planning processes won’t change; we will just have a broader palette to work from. A broader palette allows for more creative opportunities and more ways to develop solutions for our clients’ needs. We will have faster and better tools for analysis, new and improved software for finding information, and quicker communication with e-mail. The future will be challenging, but we’ll be ready for it.

Koranda: New tools don’t always make our job easier, but I believe we will have a better way to track Internet advertising. I also think that we will have different ways to get quotes and make buys.

The individual farmer or rancher also will be more in control of the messages they receive. We will have to continue to develop ways to communicate on a personal, one-to-one level. AM

Debbie Coakley is a freelance writer based in Warrenville, Ill.

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