Good media plans are essential to any advertising campaign. Understanding each component and how they interact in the media plan creates a solid foundation for success. This article will help you get familiar with the elements of a media plan.

Before we jump into the media plan, here are two general tips:

  1. Stay organized – It’s easy for media plans to grow rapidly. Before you know it, finding an advertising placement in an extensive plan can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Figure out an organization strategy that works for you and stick to it.
  2. Stay consistent – Keeping the same naming conventions and formats both within and across media plans makes it easier to track, report and analyze advertisements.

Jump to a Section

1. Line Number, Packaging and Flighting
2. Placement Name
3. Line ID
4. Advertising Program and Vendor
5. Advertising Product and Targeting
6. Advertising Channel, Ad Unit and Ad Specifications
7. Advertising Flight Dates, Weekparting and Dayparting
8. Rate
9. Quantity
10. Gross and Net Media Cost
11. Agency Compensation
13. Ad Serving Estimate
14. Total Cost
15. Market and Demographics
16. Rating
17. Average Persons
18. Gross Ratings Points (GRPs) and Cost per Point (CPP)
19. Impressions and Cost per Thousand (CPM)
20. Reach and Frequency
21. Advertising Goals
22. Categories and Tags

1. Line Number, Packaging and Flighting

Line number, packaging, flighting diagram

Line number indicates where in the media plan the advertising placement currently lives. The order of placements is at the preference of the media planner or based on agency or client standards. Line number may change over time as new lines are added and the plan is reorganized.

In massive media plans, with hundred or even thousands of lines, it can be easy to get lost. Line number is one tool to help you quickly find and reference placements – especially when multiple media planners are working on the same campaign.

Packaging indicates if the given line item is part of a package. Many advertising vendors will work with you to create packages that provide a better value or are personalized to fit your goals. A package will include multiple products, sometimes across multiple channels, such as packaging a print ad in a magazine with banner ads on the publication’s website.

It’s important to keep the elements of the package grouped together in your media plan. This helps avoid confusion regarding package contents or mistaking a packaged placement for a standalone advertisement. This also allows you to expand or collapse your packages to make your media plan easier to read.

Flighting indicates whether the given line item is flighted, which is the practice of varying the advertising delivery schedule between the start date and the end date. Sometimes you want to introduce gaps in delivery – a hiatus or blackout period. Other times you want to crank up the intensity. Flighting allows you to better manage the budget and inventory to make the most impact.

For example, an election campaign might run a lot of advertisements right when they announce the candidacy, ramp down for a while to conserve budget, then ramp back up a month or two before voting starts.

Due to the variance in the date range, spend and quantity between flights you will need to create an individual line for each flight and seed them under a header line to group it all together. Learn more about flighting >>

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2. Placement Name

media plan placement name diagram

Placement Name identifies the advertising placement. It’s important that your placement name follows the naming conventions established by your organization or your client. Ideally, your placement name is generated based on the values within the line item. Most often, it’s a combination of several key fields of the placement.

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3. Line ID

media plan line id number diagram

Line ID uniquely identifies your placement. Since media plans can be reorganized, you can’t solely rely on line number to identify each unique placement.  A given placement may be line 9 in one version and line 23 in the next version. To avoid confusion, assign each of your placements and packages a unique identifier that won’t rely on how your media plan is organized.

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4. Advertising Program and Vendor

media plan program vendor diagram

This column contains the identifying information of the organization from which you are purchasing the advertising inventory.

Program identifies the station/publication/outlet/show/website/etc. in which you are advertising.

Vendor identifies the company selling the advertising on the program.

Having both qualifiers is useful when a single advertising vendor owns multiple outlets or when a single program appears with multiple vendors.

For example, in line 3 of the above media plan, we are advertising on 100.7 FM WBIZ, a local radio station in Wisconsin. The ads on this radio station are sold by iHeartMedia, Inc. (the vendor) who owns this station.

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5. Advertising Product and Targeting

media plan product targeting diagram

Product is one of the most important fields in a media plan. Product is the advertising space you are buying (NOT the product being promoted through the advertising). A single vendor can have numerous product options on each program. The product field identifies which of those options you are including in your media plan.

In the first two lines of the above media plan, we are buying two different products from Cox Automotive (the vendor) on Autotrader’s website (the program) – the 728×90 Leaderboard and the 300×250 medium rectangle.

Targeting indicates the targeting instructions for this placement. This enables you to further specify who receives your advertising. Using precise targeting ensures those who see your ads are in your desired audience. Targeting options are limited to the capabilities of the product.

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6. Advertising Channel, Ad Unit and Ad Specifications

media plan channel ad unit ad specs diagram

These three fields provide further details of the product.

Channel is the medium in which the advertising will be delivered e.g. radio, television, online display, native, social, search, newspaper, or billboard.

Ad Unit specifies the dimensions for print and online advertisements or the duration for video and radio advertisements. This is essential to designing creative that fit the space.

Ad Specifications provide further instructions on requirements or details of the advertising space. This includes file size limits, looping, animation time, bleed, lip, paper stock, accepted formats, etc. The vendor can provide you with the specs, but it’s up to you to make sure the designer or creative team gets them.

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7. Advertising Flight Dates, Weekparting and Dayparting

media plan flight dates day parts diagram

This section of the media plan addresses when your advertisements will run by setting the advertising schedule.

Flight dates indicate the start and end date of the advertisement’s run. When creating multiple flights, you’ll need to create separate records for each flight to indicate the differing schedules. Learn more about flighting >>

Weekparts indicate the days of the week on which your advertisements will run. For example, Weekends or Mondays and Wednesdays. Learn more about dayparting and weekparting>>

Daypart indicates the times of the day during which you want your advertisements to run. Without a specified daypart, the vendor could run the advertisement at any time during the program.  There are often fixed dayparts from which to choose, such as Morning Drive in radio or Prime Time in TV. When contacting the vendor be sure to specify your desired daypart since pricing and inventory availability may change. Learn more about dayparting and weekparting>>

There is a lot of customization that can occur in the advertising schedule. For example, say you are building a media plan to promote a Taco Tuesday special during the month of May 2017. You want to advertise on Monday and Tuesday (your weekpart) on a single radio station and only need one product, a :30 spot. To help get good awareness out of the gate, you decide to frontload the ads on the first week of May. You also want to focus on the time when many customers are leaving work and are trying to figure out what they’re doing for dinner (the Afternoon Drive daypart). Here’s how you would set this up in the media plan.

  1. Set your flight header row. Include all the information of the placement with a date range of 05/01/2017 – 05/31/2017, the weekpart of Monday and Tuesday (MT) and an Afternoon Drive daypart. This header row will also sum all the individual flights below it.
  2. Create your first flight. Copy all the information from the header row onto a new line and adjust the flight dates to the first week of May (05/01/2017 – 05/06/2017). Now specify the quantity of spots that you want to run this week. You will need to run advertisements more frequently during this period to achieve the goal of good awareness right out of the gate. Do this by allocating a larger quantity during this flight.
  3. Set your second flight for the rest of the month by copying all the information from the first flight into a third line. Adjust the flight date to the rest of the month (05/07/2017 – 05/31/2017) and allocate the remaining quantity of advertisements during this period.
    • If you want to really control the quantity of advertisements run per week, you can break this second flight into four flights – one for every remaining week. Now you can individually set the quantity of advertisements for each week. Maybe, you want to run progressively less and less as the month goes on or maybe you want to run evenly every week.

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8. Rate

media plan rate diagram

This section provides details on the amount you will be charged per cost method. For example, the cost to run an advertisement one time if the vendor charges per spot. Alternatively, the cost to serve an advertisement a thousand times if the cost method is CPM.

Currency indicates the legal tender in which the advertising is being purchased. e.g. US dollar, British pound, Japanese yen, etc.

Rate indicates the price of buying the advertising based on the product’s cost method. The advertising vendor will provide you with this.

Cost Method is the unit of measure for the product being purchased. There are dozens of ways to purchase media with varying measurement methods and cost calculations. Popular cost methods include cost per spot, cost per thousand (CPM), cost per click (CPC), and cost per day.

Gross/Net indicates whether the rate is expressed in net or gross costs. This is one of the more confusing aspects of costing out media.  It is important to specify because it makes a significant difference in cost calculations. Learn more about Net vs Gross costs >>

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9. Quantity

media plan quantity diagram

Quantity is the amount of advertising inventory you plan to buy.  The type of unit being purchased is specified in the cost method field explained above. If the cost method is per spot, quantity is the number of spots you want to purchase. If the cost method is per day, quantity is the number of days you want the advertising to run.

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10. Gross and Net Media Cost

media plan gross vs net media cost diagram

These two columns display the amount you will spend on the advertising inventory. The calculation of these fields depends on the rate options, quantity, and the base currency of your media plan. These calculations can get complicated when you are using a variety of cost methods and currencies with exchange rates. See the chart in this article to see how to calculate CPP and CPM >>

Net vs Gross: The net media cost is the amount you pay the media vendor for the advertising space. Gross media cost is … complicated. Learn more about Net vs Gross costs >>

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11. Agency Compensation

media plan agency compensation diagram

Agency Compensation is fees owed to the advertising agency for their services. There are a variety of compensation methods including commissions, fixed fees, hourly rates, performance-based, and others. Advertising Age has more information on this >>

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12. Total Media Cost

media plan total media cost diagram

Total Media Cost indicates the cost to purchase the advertising inventory.

Total Media Cost = Net Media Cost + Agency Compensation + Additional Costs

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13. Ad Serving Estimate

media plan ad serving estimate diagram

Ad Serving estimates the amount it will cost to serve your ad through the server. This only applies when fee-based third-party ad servers are involved with the delivery of your advertising.

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14. Total Cost

media plan total cost diagram

Total specifies the total cost to purchase and deliver the inventory. It does NOT include the cost of designing or producing the creative unless you’ve worked that out with the vendor or have included it in additional costs.

Total = Total Media Cost + Ad Serving

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15. Market and Demographics

media plan market and demographics diagram

This is where you specify who you are trying to reach with your advertising.

Market establishes the geographic region where people could potentially be exposed to your advertisement. There are many ways to define markets through various authorities around the world. For example, the television media market in the US is often described using Designated Market Areas or DMAs, which are defined by Nielsen. Learn more about media market >>

Demographics indicates the gender and age range of your target audience.

Population determines the number of people fitting the demographics in your market.

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16. Rating

media plan rating diagram

Rating is the percentage of your population that will likely be exposed to your advertising. Rating is an estimate provided by ratings services such as Nielsen or comScore. Typically, your advertising vendor can provide you with this for their products.

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17. Average Persons

media plan average persons diagram

Average Persons indicates the number of people that, on average, will be exposed to each spot.

Average Persons = Population × ( Rating ÷ 100 )

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18. Gross Ratings Points (GRPs) and Cost per Point (CPP)

media plan grp and cpp diagram

Gross Rating Point (GRP) measures the size of an advertising campaign’s audience by a specific medium or schedule. It’s important to note that GRPs are not adjusted for multiple exposures.

GRP = Number of Spots × Rating

Learn more about GRPs >>

Cost Per Point (CPP) measures cost efficiency, which enables you to compare the cost of this advertisement to other advertisements. Simply put, CPP is the cost of getting 1 percent of the households of the population.

CPP = Gross Media Cost ÷ Gross Rating Points (GRPs)

Learn more about CPP >>

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19. Impressions and Cost per Thousand (CPM)

media plan impressions cpm diagram

Impressions indicate the total number of exposures of an advertisement. Impressions do count multiple exposures to the same person over time. This means if one person is exposed to an advertisement five times, it counts as five impressions. If two people are each exposed to an advertisement twice, it counts as four impressions.

Impressions = Number of Spots × Average Persons

Cost per Thousand (CPM) measures cost efficiency, which enables you to compare the cost of one ad to other advertisements. Cost per thousand is the average cost of a thousand impressions. The M in CPM refers to the Roman numeral for 1,000.

CPM = Net Media Cost ÷ ( Impressions ÷ 1,000 )

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20. Reach and Frequency

media plan reach and frequency diagram

Reach estimates the number of people in the market that will be exposed to at least one spot. This is different from impressions because no matter how many times a person sees the advertisement they are only counted as one in reach. If one person is exposed to an advertisement five times, it counts as one person reached. If two people are exposed to an advertisement twice each, it counts as two people reached.

Estimating reach is tricky. When you run an ad multiple times the same person may see the ad more than once, but you count them once in reach. There are many different methods to estimate reach. Most media planners rely on software such as Bionic’s Media Planning Software to help. Learn more about reach >>

Reach Percentage indicates the percentage of the population that is exposed to at least one spot. Learn more about reach percentage>>

Frequency indicates the average number of times the advertisement will be presented to the reached population. You can calculate frequency by either dividing the number of impressions by the reach or by dividing GRPs by reach percentage.

Frequency = Impressions ÷ Reach


Frequency = GRPs ÷ Reach Percentage

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21. Advertising Goals

media plan goals diagram

Your advertising goals or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will vary from campaign to campaign and advertiser to advertiser. It’s important to be flexible when defining the goals because there are different ways to measure performance and define success. The example here is just one of countless variations.

Conversions indicate the number of specified actions you seek. A conversion can be anything you define it as – a new lead, an email subscription, a download. The main thing is that you keep it consistent and trackable.

Conversion Value indicates the total value of the conversions you seek. The value of a single conversion should be based on the estimated impact the conversion has on the business.

Pageviews indicate the total number of pages you plan to serve as a result of this advertisement. Like impressions, pageviews count all loads no matter if it’s from the same user. This means if one person views the page five times, it counts as five pageviews. If two people each view a page twice, it counts as four pageviews.

New Visitors indicate the number new website visitors you plan to attract with your advertisement.

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22. Categories and Tags

media plan category tags diagram

Although not required, it’s helpful to categorize the line items of your media plan so you can analyze and balance the plan to meet your objectives. It will also help in reporting and allows you to answer questions like “how much did we spend on ____?” and “how does that compare to ___?”

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Now It’s Your Turn to Create a Media Plan

When you’re ready to start your media plan you can download our free media plan template for basic media planning. For more advanced media planning, you should consider using specialized software like Bionic Media Planning Software.

As with any skill, media planning takes practice before concepts really begin to galvanize. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t master it immediately. Media planning is complicated! Keep at it and you’ll be a pro in no time.

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