Five questions to answer before you finalize your media plan

The COVID-19 crisis had a quick impact on advertisers’ media budgets. Those in sectors such as travel and cinema, where consumer spending plummeted, slashed budgets. Those in other sectors, such as consumer packaged goods (CPG), digital retail, and healthcare, rushed to increase and redirect their budgets, hoping to gain market share as consumers flocked online—though some then pulled back, unable to keep up with consumer demand.

The early assumption was that life would return to normal and media teams could revert to their typical budgeting and planning processes. But there are clear indications that consumer behavior has changed for good, with the pandemic accelerating a trend toward online channels that was already in progress. In the space of five months, consumer online buying in the United States grew from around 15 percent to 45 percent for most categories. 1

Much remains uncertain. It is against this backdrop that advertisers are trying to plan for 2021, figuring out how much to budget, how to use that money as efficiently as possible, and how best to position themselves to adjust to whatever the future might hold. If a silver lining exists, it’s that the shift toward digital channels should be making it easier to track media-spend performance with much greater precision. This budget precision is particularly useful when it comes to budget negotiations between marketing and finance, which tend to be protracted given how hard it is to ascertain the budget’s impact on growth. In times of uncertainty, those negotiations are likely to be harder still, with stakeholders pulling in different directions.

While advertisers have made adjustments to their media spend, media planning often still does not reflect the scale of the change in the market or the precision now possible through analytics. Taking old plans and adding or subtracting a percentage, as has often been done, won’t do. In this light, we suggest that marketing leaders focus on answering the following five questions before locking in their media plans for 2021.

  1. Are you spending the right amount for your business ambitions?
  2. Do you have the analytics available to fine-tune your spend?
  3. Are you spending enough on addressable channels?
  4. Do you have the right mix of agencies to move fast?
  5. Are you experimenting enough with strategic publishers?


About the authors: Cody Butt is a partner in McKinsey’s Denver office, Jeff Jacobs is a partner in the Chicago office, Craig Macdonald is a partner in the Southern California office, and Priya Rammohan is an associate partner in the Brussels office.