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A Day in the Life of a Media Planner

Ever wonder why you don’t see commercials for Depends during Disney’s One Saturday Morning or commercials for tattoo parlors during Touched By an Angel? It all has to do with demographics. You’ve got a lot of little kids watching television on Saturday morning. The commercials they’ll see are filled with cool toys and sugarcoated chocolate cereals. Touched By an Angel has a more conservative audience that really wouldn’t be looking to get into body art or piercing. Businesses want to place their products and services in front of audiences they know are watching, listening, or even driving by on the road. How do they know? They turn to media planners. Media planners work in the media department of most advertising agencies. They are responsible for putting ads in the right place at the right time, reaching the desired audience for the least amount of money. Media planners gather information on the people’s viewing and reading habits. They evaluate editorial content and programming to determine the potential use of media such as newspapers, magazines, radio, television, billboards and electric displays, buses, subways, taxis, airports, bus terminals, or the Internet. Media planners have to know demographics and statistics, using extensive formulas to chart out the best way a business can spend their money in order to get their product in front of the public. Media planners have to know their math. Media planners then turn their information over to media buyers who track the media space and times available for purchase, negotiate and purchase time and space for ads, and make sure ads appear exactly as scheduled. Media planners work in the big cities, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Other top cities include San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Dallas. They work in small advertising firms that employee less than ten people, to the big firms that employee dozens. Other media planners may work in house, meaning they work for a company that produces its own product and advertisements. No matter where they work, media planners can expect to put in a good 50 or more hours per week, as they strive to put together proposals for clients in a very short amount of time. Advertising is a high stress business, but the monetary reward of seeing your work pay off for the client can be well worth it.

Paying Your Dues

Most entry-level professional and managerial positions in the advertising industry require a bachelor’s degree, preferably with broad liberal arts exposure. Assistant media planner or assistant media buyers are also good entry-level positions, but these also require a bachelor’s degree. Beginners in the advertising world usually enter the industry in the account management or media department. Most media planners don’t stay in their positions for their entire careers, so training in other marketing courses, including a little psychology, accounting, and creative design, allow media planners to move to other positions within an agency. Media planners have good people skills, common sense, creativity, communication skills, and problem-solving ability. There is also a need for additional training for those already employed. Knowing the newest technology and using it to your customer’s advantage are fundamental to success. Media planners must also know keep in tune with the culture as it ages and changes values. Success in small projects will lead to bigger ones, and success in these endeavors can lead to supervisory positions.

Present and Future

Media planner positions are expected to grow faster than average over the next decade. With more and more mediums becoming available, the savvy media planner needs to know how to distinguish the best format for their client. The Internet is a medium that seems to be full of advertising opportunities. A media planner will be more marketable if they are skilled in deciphering the demographics of surfers on any given site. With the advent of “smart TVs” – televisions that can jump over commercials – media planners may find it harder to place advertisements in the most popular medium. Media planners may also find a shortage of jobs if government legislation restricts advertising for specific products such as alcoholic beverages or specific media such as billboards.

Quality of Life


Most media planners start out as a junior media planner or media planner assistant, helping to work on large projects or taking on smaller tasks under the supervision of a senior level planner. A lot of hard work and long hours can be expected for the first two years as young media planners find themselves responsible for doing most of the legwork, especially if employed by a smaller firm.


Media planners with five years experience take on bigger projects, and usually oversee one or more assistant planners. To make themselves more marketable, some media planners also take on the added responsibility of becoming media buyers. The ability to plan and buy media time from outlets such as television, radio, and the Internet makes the media planner/buyer more effective.


Senior Media Planners constantly reach for strategic marketing solutions beyond the traditional. With ten years experience a senior media planner may be called upon to take on larger projects with prestigious national clients. Some media planners with this level of experience move to other positions in the advertising agency, while still others may start their own small firms.