I've been directing online advertising campaigns since the mid 90s for very large companies (AT&T, DLJ/Harrisdirect) as well as small companies and political campaigns (ex - John McCain for President). When I've worked for big companies I had access to media planning tools and I've used them all - Nielsen, @Plan, comScore; in fact, I met with some of the current comScore executive team before they became executives. Usually these services are great for planning, but when you actually made a specific media buy these analyses don't match what actually went into market.
These types of services cost a monthly fee that as a small business owner I find a little tough to swallow and it was a little tough to swallow for the political agency I do work for. So, that's why I'm a huge believer in Google's Ad Planner tool; the new enhancements including actual ad placements make this invaluable to the small advertiser. This is just another reason why working with Google helps small advertisers operate like big advertisers without all of the upfront costs:
- Ad Planner allows you to build media plans and forecasts by demo and geographic targets for FREE
- Ad Planner provides pretty, professional charts for your plans for FREE
- Build your own banner ads gives you the chance to run flash ads for FREE. Sure they are slightly better than average creatives, but did I mention they are FREE?
- Paid search is the great money equalizer because you are rewarded for great relevancy; plus the geo targeting, time of day targeting, creative building, and budget management are all FREE
- Google's Content network allows you to buy on a CPC or CPM basis across big and small sites all using demographic and content targeting
The actual media buys themselves of course costs money but you can have everything run via credit card which gives you maximum freedom to lower or increase spends or shut it off whenever you want. Plus, if you spend a moderate amount per month (~$10K) you can get access to one of Google's account teams.
Yes improvements to the Ad Planner are just another reason why Google is your best friend for advertising, especially if you are a small business or small client. The only complaint I have with the Ad Planner is the lack of ability to geo-target at anything other than Country, State, Metro, or City; plus the City targeting is annoying because they aren't grouped alphabetically by state, but alphabetically by Metro (try looking for specific cities in Virginia). However, I'm happy with the tool I have because it does most of what I want for FREE and I know Google will continue to make improvements.