Sean Cotton, Vice President of Digital and Social Media for True Media, shares his experiences struggling to keep up with triple-digit growth at his media agency, searching for a media planning and buying solution, and eventually finding Bionic Media Planner. This 26-minute interview was conducted on February 13, 2015 via web conference by Hollis Thomases, Digital Ad-Marketing Consultant, ROI Diva, LLC.

Here are the highlights from the interview:

Struggling with agency growing pains

(located at 4:49) “Our agency is 10 years old and has been very successful from day one. Each year has been triple digit growth that we’ve been in business. A couple years in and I could see that we were going to have to become better and more efficient at planning and buying to accommodate all this growth. I started talking to various companies that were just starting out in the space of programmatic planning and buying with some success, but it seems like there really wasn’t a full service solution. It would only take you partway and then you would end up reverting back to the old way of doing things, or it would limit your options in terms of the type of media that you could buy.”

Discovering Bionic Advertising Systems

(located at 06:00). “I came across Bionic and I think I sent out a note to them and they contacted me right away. We started discussing what their roadmap was and what their vision was for programmatic planning and it intrigued me. That began our journey of working together a couple years ago.”

Resolving to automate his media planning workflow

(located at 6:53) “In looking ahead at our growth, we knew that more and more media dollars were going to go towards digital, just because all the research that we have available to us, we could see media habits, we could see that shifting, those media habits shifting, and we could see that digital media would make up an increasingly larger piece of the pie than what we were providing for our clients. Then also from a talent perspective, that provides some challenges as well of onboarding people and teaching them how to plan and buy digital media, and then holding onto them, so that presented some unique challenges there. Yeah, I took it upon myself basically with our president’s blessing to find a solution to help us be more proactive.”

The “old way” of creating media plans

(located at 8:18) “It looked like the way everyone else was doing it, the way that I learned to do it. With regards to planning digital media, you get on the phone, type an email and have 40 RFPs to go through and evaluate those and then load them all into a, they always came back in Excel, so you could copy and paste them into a master Excel sheet, evaluate which ones we wanted to use, then send back through email, then negotiate what we wanted to negotiate then finally pare that Excel spreadsheet down to our final media plan and then issue IOs. I just did it the way I was taught and the way everyone else did it.”

Envisioning a better way to create media plans

(located at 10:11) “One key thing to me became finding the independent solution. There are various planning solutions out there that will integrate with your ad server and with various functions of the ordering process, but they’re not necessarily independent. They’re tied to legacy systems or to some other media provider, so it fits in with their system. I wanted to find an independent solution provider for this programmatic planning and buying. The other thing, you mentioned end to end, looking for someone that could take that programmatic approach of planning and buying media from the very beginning of that RFP stage all the way through to executing the IO, trafficking the media plan to the ad server, and then even reporting back on pacing. Because if we couldn’t find a solution that would go end to end, there would not be any real demand to adopt it within the agency because it’s just one more platform, one more log in that they have to use in the course of the day. I estimated at the time as I was going through this that a lot of my staff were already managing up to 20 different logins at any given day , so I wanted to simplify that process, not complicate it.”

On tentatively first trying Bionic Media Planner

(located at 15:06) “I was cautious in the sense that I actually personally decided that first of all I was going to use the tool, and so I chose a couple of our key clients. After I got that personal satisfaction that this is something that will be attractive to my team, that will make them feel like it’s a tool and not a complication to what they’re already doing, I chose one of those account teams specifically and I said, ‘I would like for you to be the test case for this tool and that what this could mean is that this could really improve the workflow across our entire agency if you make this work, so please, if you run into challenges, you run into obstacles, don’t give up. Let’s see if we can work through them.’”

Working with Bionic as a development partner

(located at 16:59) “One of the things that also Bionic has worked on based on our feedback a lot is being able to roll up our traditional media into their platform with our digital media, so we see the overall holistic view of our media plans and budgets”

Introducing young people to the world of advertising and media

(located at 18:13) “I noticed in the past that when one would start and we’d say, ‘Well, go enter in this information over there, go fill out this Excel spreadsheet,’ and they would say, ‘This is what advertising is all about?’ From that end, from the entry level, they really get enthused about the technology at their fingertips that are going to enable them to be smart and to be smart quickly and to put together some really innovative plans and really well thought out plans early in their career.”

Achieving work / life balance and reducing work stress

(located at 20:00) “To know that now they have a tool at their fingertips so that they can actually meet those deadlines and care for their other responsibilities has made them feel a lot better about their work life balance, even though we’ve always really tried to maintain a really good work life balance, it’s lowered the stress levels a little bit when those project comes along.”

The biggest benefits gained from media workflow automation

(located at 20:41) “We probably save 30% of the time that we had without it, so that’s huge. I think it improves client satisfaction because of just little features that have been included in the tool that allow each one of our media plans and our flow charts and IO schedules that come out of the system is in exactly the same format, and so there’s consistency. Every time they see a media plan from us, it’s in the exact same format in the exact same order. Every time they see an IO schedule, it looks exactly the same and it doesn’t make any difference which one of the three planners on that account prepared it.”

Media planners’ favorite automation features

(located at 21:48) “it’s funny what things really get people excited, but the team really was excited when the features were rolled out for automatic flowcharting and for automatic PowerPoint generation. They just thought that that was the greatest invention ever. I think things like that that have been integrated into the platform, all those extra touches that really make it sticky.”

Sean’s favorite features

(located at 22:39) “For me personally to see my team spending less time on frustrating manual tasks and more time on strategy and on developing the plan and the strategic approach and which tactics they want to use and less time on managing their email folder and getting numbers right in Excel.”

Training new hires

(located at 23:09) “We also feel we have a responsibility to educate our teams as a whole with regards to being strategic and with regards to understanding how to meet our clients’ needs. We have a program within our agency called True Media University that’s designed just for that, to talk about developing strategies and tactics, and it includes tools such as Bionic, so that’s part of our course schedule. It is this is how you would use this tool to create media planners or to manage budgets for the client. We have that for all of the major platforms that we use in our agency.”

Advice to other Media Directors

(located at 24:28) “They have to understand what their needs are for their agency two years down the road, three years down the road, and not get caught up in putting out fires today, even though you have to do that, but to look down the road and to see what tools you can bring into your workflow that will address the challenges that you’re facing today. It requires having a little bit of vision, and then also some persistence, because again, anytime you change workflow, anytime you change a process, especially something like media planning that has been the same, it’s been done the same way for decades, there’s going to be challenges and there’s going to be obstacles and there’s going to be sometimes people that just don’t want to change, and so being persistent and seeing that process through.”

For more information about Bionic Planner, visit