After two years in the making, I’m very happy to unveil our latest creation: the Digital Media Planner – a system specifically designed to help digital media planners to get their job done more easily.

The 42-step process to create and execute the digital media plan costs agencies an average of $40,000 per campaign in labor costs. This cost does not include creative, technology, or other costs to deliver  the campaign. Just the media department labor cost. It’s a very expensive process.

The digital media planning process is ripe for automation because of the combination of high costs and repetitive, manual labor. However, prior solutions have failed to gain widespread adoption in the marketplace.  Despite the availability of various workflow systems, the digital media planning process is still typically done manually using Excel, email, shared drives, and generic tools. In our research, we discovered the reasons for system adoption failure were a combination of the following factors: (1) too cumbersome (2) too expensive (3) too limited in functionality or (4) not integrated.

With that in mind, we took a fresh approach to solving this problem this problem.

Solving “too cumbersome” and “too limited in functionality” concurrently was a significant challenge. Instead of taking a web 1.0 forms-based approach requiring dozens of screens to create your media plan, we took an “excel on steroids” approach enabling you to build your plan on one screen.  Our guiding design principle was the Japanese concept of “shibumi” which loosely translates as “effortless effectiveness.”  This approach embraces (versus ignores) the complexity of the media planning process, but strives for a clean interface. Instead of building an interface that reeked of complexity, we delivered an elegant interface that hides the complexity without sacrificing power. The end result is an easy-to-use and intuitive interface that handles the complexity of the business.

This was not easy. That’s why it took two years to create. Besides the challenges of building the software interface, we had to build a database of advertising information to drive the interface. We had to gather and standardize advertising program data from hundreds of publishers.  There is nothing “sexy” about this effort – lots of phone calls, meetings, data entry, and curation. In the process, the IAB discovered our efforts and adopted NextMark’s database as the “industry standard” which drives the IAB Digital Advertising Directory. As of today, more than 6,000 advertising programs are indexed in our database.

Solving “too expensive” was also a challenge. We’ve sunk a significant investment in R&D and plan to continue investing significantly for many years to come. Given the business realities of properly funding the product development and delivering a reasonable return, I challenged the business development team with the question “How can we make this system free to media planners?” Although we’ve not yet finalized it, it became clear in our research that revenue from integration partners will provide a solid business model. This allows us to give you the Digital Media Planner for free.

Solving “not integrated” was and will continue to be a challenge. Media planners need a system that makes it easy for them to transition from research (e.g. comScore, Nielsen) to ad serving (e.g. DFA, Atlas, MediaPlex) to billing (e.g. MediaOcean, Advantage). For starters, we built a much needed “bridge between comScore and DFA.” You can instantly initialize your media plan by uploading the output from comScore. Upson completion of your media plan, you can instantly traffic your DFA placements using an export file from the Digital Media Planner. We’ve got big plans for integrating with commercial and proprietary systems (see “too expensive” above), but even in this first release the time savings are very significant.

We’re still got tons of work to do before we fully realize our vision of automating the entire digital media planning process. But this initial release is already winning high praise by industry veterans. In sneak previews over the last few weeks, we’ve heard feedback like “this is amazing” and “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and what you’ve built is a couple steps beyond what I imagined.” I’m extremely proud of the team for delivering such a strong product right out of the gate!

You can get the Digital Media Planner as of today. Learn more and get your free account here.