How to Develop Your Life Science Ad Plan

How to Develop Your Ad Plan Brandwidth Solutions

Sales and marketing departments are constantly adapting to new methods of prospecting and selling. In order to cut through the clutter of today’s digital landscape we have to find creative ways to generate leads and deliver content.

Previously we discussed the importance of using digital marketing, like social media and digital advertising. We also explored the lead generation products available from life science and trade publications. Today, we’re going to share how to develop an ad plan that delivers leads to your sales team and brand awareness for your company.

Smart advertising is all about making the right choices – placing ads in the right spots at the right times, and strategically spending your ad budget.

But, how do you do that successfully?

  1. Set Your Ad Budget

Unsurprisingly, we always need to start with the budget. Some customers will ask, “How much should we spend?” While other customers say, “We have X amount of budget.” In the end, everyone has limited budget, so you have to be smart about how you spend it.

Your budget determines the kind of advertising you’ll be able to do. You may do print ads, or you may do digital ads (which can include video bites, gated content and podcasts), or you may be able to do a mix of both.

We recommend a mix if you have the budget for it. Why? The reason is this: in some markets your audience is still reading print publications. They don’t fully engage with the digital version of the publication. That said, we typically only recommend print advertising when it makes sense – particularly when there is an editorial focus in a particular issue that matches up with your product offering or company focus. As an added bonus, many print pubs now also offer a digital version of the print issue that gives you additional coverage.

  1. Identify Your Audience and Research How to Reach Them

Once you’ve decided what your budget is, you need to identify your overall objectives. Is one of your goals to generate leads for your sales force? Do you want to create brand awareness or establish thought leadership? Or, maybe you have a mix of goals?

After you identify your goals, you’ve got to decide who your target audience is. Then you need to figure out what publications fit that target audience. And what publications overlap.

Above all, you need to understand your market and know how your customers consume their media. For example, in the pharma and contract pharma space there are still many who prefer print publications. There is one publication with a readership of 60,000 that told us about one third of their readership only consumes print.

When you are researching publications, you need to do your homework on the demographics they reach – and whether the reach is in print or digital. Don’t let the reps sell you! You’ve got to dig deep and figure out what the best product is for you to not only reach your client, but to get them from point A to point B – and meet your objective of generating leads.

Now that you’ve decided what your goals are, what you have for a budget, and who your target is, you can develop your ad mix and identify what assets you’ll need for delivery.

  1. Choose Your Advertising Mix

There is a surprising amount of choice when it comes to life science advertising from publications and from search engine marketing. As you develop your ad plan, you’ll be working with the following ad mix:

  • Google Ads and Google Display Ads. For more information on these two options, see this blog post
  • Print ads
  • Digital ads
  • Text ads
  • Webinars
  • Webinar sponsorships
  • Podcast sponsorships
  • Video bites
  • Publication website advertising
  • Targeted newsletter sponsorship to specific audiences
  • Promotional gated content
  • Ad retargeting
  • Email blasts

What you need to remember, however, is that creating a successful lead gen ad is more than a pretty graphic and punchy copy. You do need that, yes, but you also need the lead capture landing page and a case study or white paper to make it all worth the prospect’s time and effort.

Flexibility in Digital Publication Ads

When you are designing your ad mix you should keep in mind a particularly unique feature of digital ads through publications: flexibility.

Typically, in B2B publications, you pay by the month. That’s not true of search engine ads. But, it is true with digital publication website ads. This means you’ve purchased that ad space and you aren’t limited to just one ad. You can use it for more than one ad.

Digital ads can be updated quickly. If you have more than one service or a product that answers audience needs in the same publication, you can start with one set of creative for a specific product or service. Then, at any time during your three or six months run, you can provide new creative for a different product or service and the publication will digitally swap them out – allowing you to rotate your ad.

Once you’ve identified your publications and negotiated with the ad reps to maximize your spend with them, the next thing you have to do is develop the actual ad plan.

Developing Your Ad Plan

Now that we’ve covered the initial (and crucial) steps, we can get down to the plan itself. The ad plan is what we use to make sure all of the ads get placed throughout the year at the right time for each publication. This plan gives you the ability to know exactly what ads are running, where, and during which month. You can create it in a spreadsheet or manage it using a project management platform (we use

When you’re creating your plan, there are two ways you can lay it out. One, you can lay it out by vertical market, or two, you can create a schedule by month and publication. These layouts allow you to quickly see details, such as:

  • What type of ad it is (e.g., print, digital, promotion, email)
  • Ad size
  • Ad demographics
  • Audience
  • A short description of the copy

TIP: You might consider an internal ad plan as well. Your production people (graphic designers and copywriters) will thank you for it! This internal plan provides your team with exactly what is due and when. It lays out everything required, the landing page requirements, and what the deliverable is. If you’re not using a project management platform, another way to collaborate with your team is by sharing a spreadsheet in Microsoft Teams, Dropbox or Google Docs (whatever platform your company prefers).

When you build your ad plan, keep in mind the need for your audience to experience multiple brand touches. The old rule was that they needed 6-8 brand touches. Today, with the level of “digital noise,” they need 14-18 brand touches before they’ll remember you.

Be sure to mix your ads in a way that’s smart. For example, if you do the right print advertising (if your audience is more print-based), and do enough digital to support that print, your audience is going to recognize you. Just to be clear, even if your audience is print-focused, I can promise you they still access the web for research and for fun – so digital ads do make sense.

You’ve got to balance your ad mix, not only in terms of the product choices you make, but also in terms of the deliverables you offer through the ads. Be sure you sprinkle in some gated white papers because they will give you the leads you need (remember that the audience will always download a case study before they will register for a white paper).

If one of your goals is to be recognized as a thought leader in your market, we recommend sponsoring e-symposiums, podcasts, and webinars where your subject matter expert (SME) can give a presentation. We’ve seen that this tactic works particularly well and also generates leads! You’ll get the list of registrants for the event that you can nurture through an email campaign.

When Should You Buy Ad Space?

Design your ad plan on an annual basis. Let me say that again. Your ad plan MUST be annual.

We have clients that say, “Is it okay if we go month-to-month?”

The answer? No. You won’t ever see an ad.

There’s only so much advertising inventory that’s available. So you’ve got to be smart. As soon as you get your ad budget approval, you need to lock in your ad spend because the digital spots sell out.

Month-by-month doesn’t work because the ad inventory will be already bought out and there won’t be space available. And that is not where you want to be when your sales team is counting on you to deliver leads.

If you do try a month-to-month approach anyway, you’ll find yourself in an extremely stressful situation. You’ll end up spending more time recreating that ad plan each month than you will running ads!

You’ve got to develop a plan for the entire year. This way, you’ll get the ad space and positioning you want – and you’ll be eligible for any free value-adds offered – as well as the best price from the publications or associations because they often discount based on volume.

We know this is a challenge for those companies whose fiscal year starts in April or June. We have some clients whose fiscal years start in April and it is difficult because most of the ad inventory is already bought out in Q1. It’s critically important to create your ad calendar right at the end of Q3 or Q4.

Questions on creating an ad plan? Contacts us!

Brandwidth Solutions serves the healthcare, life sciences, energy, and contract pharma industries. We work with companies that want to make the most of their marketing – who want their marketing empowered to help drive leads – and ultimately sales. If you want to move your product or service forward in a smart way, we want to work with you. Call us at 215.997.8575.

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