Every October a familiar scene unfolds in marketing departments and ad agencies throughout the country. “Gosh darn it! This year we’re going to have ad budgets approved and media plans wrapped up by Thanksgiving…for sure!”  There’s always a determined shake of the fist or a slap on the desk to show resolve.

But Turkey Day comes and goes, then the holiday season. All of a sudden it’s mid-January with no budget approval, no plan. Someone declares, “We really do need to have that advertising strategy meeting!”  Yeah, you do. Except that your main competitor already launched a new print campaign. And a couple of the smaller guys are suddenly all over the online space. And, oh yeah, the magazine reps are calling about their March issues. The first quarter is gone.

Exaggerated scenario? Maybe, but the fact is that many of us spend the first quarter cobbling together plans, seeking budget approvals and scrambling to meet deadlines. The process could really be a lot smoother and there are immense advantages to staying ahead of the calendar.

First of all, the media landscape continues to change rapidly, not every few years but every few months. Our options include web sites, online advertising, SEO/SEM, custom publishing, mobile applications, direct marketing, social media, video and – let’s not forget – the traditional media advertising that remains the workhorse of many branding campaigns. Will all of these elements be part of your plan? Probably not. Do they all merit exploration? You bet!

Your target audience is holed up in a multitude of media niches and you need a strategic media road map to reach them. You can mess with the tactics as needed but a firm media mix strategy supported by an approved budget eliminates a lot of panic in January. You can – and should – build in some flexibility, but the road map gives you your bearings and a course of action.

A commitment to 4Q planning gives you a huge competitive advantage as well. With a media strategy in place, you are more sure-footed and nimble. When media opportunities come along – and they always do – you can act very quickly on the ones that make sense and toss those that don’t. You’re able to zig when your competitors zag.

There’s one final point in support of advance planning and it’s a big one. Some of the best media pricing becomes available during the 4th quarter. Publishers, broadcasters and cable owners know where their sales stand for the current year. They also realize that the first quarter of any year is typically slow. In an effort to increase ad pages and move broadcast, cable or online inventory, the media folks develop some very attractive pricing packages for Q1. If your media strategy is in place, you can take advantage of this situation. You’ll spend your budget more efficiently and set the stage for a better ROI as well.

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