From the January 2005 issue of Entrepreneur

What's the number-one goal of any well-rounded media program? To help customers remember and act on your messages. It's easy to say but far more difficult to accomplish. Not only are you fighting the clutter in individual media, but you're also struggling for attention from consumers who are actively multitasking.

New research shows 70 percent of all consumers, at one time or another, use media simultaneously. While listening to the radio, for example, nearly 60 percent of consumers also go online, almost 50 percent read a newspaper, and about 18 percent watch TV, according to the "Simultaneous Media Usage Study" conducted by BIGresearch, a consumer market intelligence firm, in fall 2003.

Direct communication with consumers rarely occurs one-to-one, thanks to simultaneous media usage. Suppose you send your customers a direct-mail package. While reading it, nearly three-quarters of them will also watch TV, about 60 percent will listen to the radio, and 35 percent will even go online.

Gaining the attention of multitasking consumers isn't always easy, but it can be successfully accomplished if you follow these three guidelines:

1. Choose relevant content. At least half of the BIGresearch survey respondents admit they pay attention to one type of media more than another when they're using media simultaneously. That's not surprising, since we all know it's virtually impossible to give equal attention to several things-such as a newspaper article and a TV ad-at the same time. This is where the importance of customer "engagement" comes into play.

With the proliferation of specialized media, it's easier than ever to put your message in just the right context. The key is to so thoroughly understand the needs and desires of your best prospects that you can run your ads or place your PR where you know those prospects will find the content most engaging. For example, suppose you were targeting new parents. You'd skip the general consumer media and place ads in online and offline media that contain ads and editorial focusing on early parenting issues-from breast-feeding to educational toys. Chances are, the target audience would be more engaged in what they found there, even while multitasking, and consequently, pay more attention to your message.

2. Avoid cluttered environments. Whenever tests of magazine advertising recall are performed, full-page ads are among the most memorable. That's because, alone on the page, they're less affected by clutter. Right now, clutter seriously detracts from advertising effectiveness in most media. Even newer media, such as many websites, are becoming excessively cluttered. And placing your message in an overly busy environment can cause consumers who are already multitasking to overlook your advertising altogether.

Take a critical look at your present media placements. Are your print ads buried on the page? Do your radio spots run fourth or fifth in line during commercial breaks? For better results, look for sponsorships or other opportunities that help you break away from the pack instead of drowning in a sea of clutter.

3. Use multiple types of media. The ideal way to capture the attention of your best prospects is to use multiple types of media to surround them with your messages. In fact, multiple exposures to your message in different media will help prospects remember it. And while you can't control their experience entirely-by running a combination of TV, newspaper, magazine, direct-mail and online advertising all at once, for example-it is possible for you to selectively choose multiple forms of well-targeted, engaging media to reach your multitasking audience.

Depending on your target audience, you could run radio advertising and an online campaign, or perhaps your prospects would be best reached through a combination of direct-mail and cable TV spots. For optimal results-and a memorable campaign-be sure to build on a unified message or theme that's carried through all media.