Why Sorrell might be wrong - AI can make media planners more indispensable than ever, not redundant

6 July 2023
Arum Nixon.

Foundation Head of Product Arum Nixon digests the 20-minute brain dump from Sir Martin Sorrell at this year’s MAD/Fest. Following another AI-led keynote, the media heavyweight denounced the future of planners, a theory Nixon firmly disputes, welcoming the benefits AI will bring to the craft.

Martin Sorrell certainly knows how to generate a headline. In just 20 minutes at MAD/Fest, he managed to inform most of the world’s planners that they would soon be out of a job thanks to AI.

Maybe I’m being naive here, but I don’t see AI as removing the need for media planners at all. On the contrary, I think most smart media planners will be embracing the benefits of AI with open arms. And here’s why.

We currently have more data than we can possibly process when making planning decisions, with new capability coming live all the time. We have a suite of tools at our fingertips that can unpack people’s needs, attitudes, shopping habits, media preferences and cultural milieu.

When it comes to media consumption, we need to juggle an ever-evolving range of metrics, often kept siloed to the particular channel or platform and with little thought for the planners who have to reconcile this into a coherent picture.

We have to consider any number of metrics showing how previous campaigns did or didn’t perform, in both the short and long term. Plus, the nuances of why that’s the case, based on all the other factors in play – many of which aren’t easily summarised in a data point.

When planning a campaign, we’re not just optimising to reach and frequency, or revenue if a client has econometric data. We now have to consider attentive reach, and the type and duration of attention relevant to the task at hand.

Finally, throw into the mix the environmental impact of a campaign. I appreciate Sir Martin’s point about this taking a back seat in the face of more pressing short term economic pressures; but now we have evidence to show the impact of our media planning decisions, the carbon footprint of a media campaign can no longer be completely ignored. At very least, it becomes yet another factor to balance.

At this point, I wholeheartedly agree – bring on the robots! AI’s benefit is being able to translate multiple data points into something useful, and there are plenty of clear short-term benefits within each of the complexities previously mentioned – even before we get to the utopian end goal of AI-led planning.

But media planning is equal parts art and science. The skill of a planner is more than just optimising metrics – it involves understanding nuance, finding insights and leveraging them. It involves creativity, lateral thinking and big ideas.

Perhaps most of all, media planners are collaborators. They don’t just bring together data; they are the focal point for ideas and expertise, internally and externally, across many different stakeholders. A planner’s skill is to bring the best of this together into something coherent and purposeful.

All of which needs a human mind. AI can provide that mind with better data to make informed decisions, but it can’t replace it.

Rather than making media planners redundant, I would argue that AI can make the current cohort of media planners even stronger and more valuable members of the media and broader marketing landscape.

comments powered by Disqus