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What is Media Buying? 

Media buying is a process used in paid marketing efforts. The goal is to identify and purchase ad space on channels that are relevant to the target audience at the optimal time, for the least amount of money. Media buying is a process relevant to both traditional marketing channels (television, radio, print) and digital channels (websites, social media, streaming). When done effectively, media buyers achieve maximum exposure among their target market for the least amount of spend. 

The Waste In Advertising - Stats and Solutions of Misattribution

What Do Media Buyers Do?

Media buyers oversee the media buying process, with input from the media planning team. With an understanding of marketing goals and target audience preferences given by the media planning team, media buyers execute the actual purchase of the advertisement space. A huge part of the media buyer position is negotiating with the sites, networks, and other channels they want ads to appear on. They must ensure they are purchasing the correct placements at the correct times, for the correct duration, all within strict budgets. 

Media buyers should also track performance metrics and delivery to ensure the ad is placed in accordance with the agreement and that it is meeting campaign goals. 

What is the Difference Between Media Buying and Media Planning?

While media buyers and media planners certainly work closely together, their roles are very different. Media planning is the first step. Based on the conclusions and strategies determined by this team, media buyers execute on the media plan – placing the agreed upon ads on the appropriate channels. 

Media Planning

The process of media planning is focused on establishing an audience, conducting market research, establishing a budget, and building out goals. Media planners work with their clients to understand who the target audience is for their offering, which channels that audience uses and at what times, and what type of messaging that audience is most likely to engage with. With this information the planning team will select which channel they want to purchase ad space on, and for what price. 

Media Buying

With the media plan established, media buyers connect with their counterparts across the agreed upon media sites. These are often sales / account executives, whose responsibility it is to find relevant advertisers. These two parties negotiate placement, time and cost. Media buyers often use the following tactics to execute on media plans:

  • Manual bidding: Bidding on ad space and managing bids directly through an ad platform such as AdWords. 
  • Programmatic buys: AI and algorithm enabled real-time bidding on ad space that matches consumer profiles (e.g. fashion designers leveraging a platform that will automatically bid on and place ads on fashion-oriented channels).
  • Direct buys: When a media buyer negotiates ad rates and run times with a specific advertiser (e.g. fashion designers working directly with the Vogue team to place ads on their site / magazine). 

Why Media Buying is Important 

Effective media buying goes far beyond the actual transaction of money for ad space. Media buying teams can create impactful relationships with media owners that result in greater reach with less investment. This enables marketing teams to increase conversions and demonstrate high ROI to clients and stakeholders. 

There are a few key benefits that come with using an experienced media buying team and process. 

Get the Best Deal

Media buyers often have a wide network of relationships, which they can leverage to maximize the value of your investment. Media buying professionals are well versed in negotiation techniques and common industry standards, such as the average cost of leads or what brand exposure should cost. Media buyers can also help extend the benefits of an agreement. In advertising the terms “value added” or “added value” refer to ad space or impressions tacked on to an agreement without charge. Experienced media buyers can negotiate prices to increase reach or frequency and can often get value added at media channels they have worked with in the past. 

Get the Best Slots

Media buyers understand where your advertising dollars should be spent, and which placements tend to get the most engagement. Media buyers stay aware of trends and world events (such as the Olympics or political campaigns) that may influence ad availability and negotiate ad placements directly into the contract to ensure ads are delivered as promised. 

Plan Campaigns with Best Practices

Media buyers understand what strategies will best lead to conversions (for example: placing ads at a certain time of day). Media buyers have experience working across publishers and channels. They bring the best practices they learned in previous campaigns and can apply them as they negotiate ad placements for maximum returns. 

Challenges of Media Buying

As with all marketing initiatives, investing in experienced media buying teams and processes means demonstrating value. To do this, media buying teams need analytical capabilities that allow them to attribute conversions and KPIs back to a specific ad. They also need access to real-time metrics in order to make in-campaign updates to ads that are underperforming. The top challenges when it comes to media buying are: 

Marketing Measurement

When it comes to spending media dollars, it is important for media buyers to understand which campaigns are working. They can then better allocate budgets. However, many companies struggle with applying an attribution model that accurately represents their entire media mix. This makes it difficult to know when a certain ad placement has performed as desired, triggering a specific conversion. 

Optimize Campaign In-Flight

Another challenge for media buyers is optimizing ads mid-campaign. Most marketing results aren’t available until after the campaign, making it too late to adjust advertising spend. To rectify this, marketing teams must invest in marketing platforms with the processing power to deliver granular insights on ad performance while the campaign is active. 

Avoiding Ad Fraud

Ad fraud occurs when an organization pays for ad space on a fraudulent site, or when organizations have to pay more for an ad based on clicks/impressions from bots or click farms. This is especially prevalent in programmatic advertising. Programmatic buying can be beneficial for real-time ad placements, but can also result in ad fraud as there is minimal review of the sites where ads are being purchased, resulting in mismanaged dollars.

Clear Contracts

Contract negotiations can be another challenge in media buying.  Media buyers need to be sure that everything negotiated is stated clearly in the contract to ensure specific expectations are met. For example, if an advertiser only wants to target leads in the US, this should be clearly stated. When this step is overlooked, companies may waste money on a target audience that doesn’t fit.

Negotiating Tips for Media Buyers

The most important role of a media buyer is that of the negotiator - this ensures that clients are getting the most value for the ad space they purchase. This means working with media companies, leveraging best practices on how to get the most return for an ad placement, and developing specific contracts. As media buyers execute on media plans, there are a few negotiating tips they should keep in mind. 

Do Your Research

Research is not just part of media planning. As a media buyer, you should have expertise in the factors that will impact the success of each campaign, such as: 

  • What do leads usually cost in your industry? 
  • What is the cost of standard ad placements on various sites?
  • What types of ads, display sizes, etc. perform the best on specific sites? 

Understand How Much You Are Willing to Spend

Begin each negotiation with a detailed plan for budgeting and where you might be willing to make allowances for premium spots. Before beginning negotiations, be sure you have answers to the following questions: 

    • What is your overall budget? 
    • How can you get the most out of that budget? 
    • Are there certain publications that you are willing to spend more on (based on past results or target audiences)?

Have a Backup Plan

The strongest playing card in any negotiation is a backup plan. There may be a publisher or television network that you would really like to work with, but you discover they are fully booked or out of your price range. Media buyers should always prepare additional options to ensure fast solutions to unforeseen purchasing issues. Furthermore, know when you are willing to back away and work with the other options. This gives you more leverage when negotiating price or placement. 

Establish an Anchor

According to Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahnemann, people base initial estimates off of an anchor.  By this he means that prices are often arbitrary and are generally influenced by a user’s initial encounter with it. For example: Homeowners from different states may have different anchoring points. A homeowner in New York is typically willing to spend more on a home than a homeowner in Florida, even if the New Yorker moves to Florida. Understanding this principal can be helpful when leading a negotiation. If you are aiming to target a campaign at $100 per lead, this should not be your first bid. It should be lower, so that publishers can in turn negotiate.

Lead Generation

Consider all the filters you would like on your leads before beginning the negotiations. Don’t assume that you can adjust these after the negotiations.

Negotiate Value Add-Ons

Ask for value add-ons when negotiating. This could include banner ads for an email campaign or an extra airing of a radio ad. This will get you more exposure for your budget.

Get It In Writing

As with all things, get what you have negotiated directly into the contract. If your account director changes or emails get lost, media buyers need a clearly agreed upon set of expectations they can point to. 

Type of Negotiations

There are two main types of negotiation tactics, though integrative negotiations are what is most often used in media buying.  

    • Zero-Sum Negotiations: In these negotiations, one or both parties are not willing to compromise on the agreement. While often glorified in TV and film, this negotiation style strains or ruins the relationship with the media company.
    • Integrative Negotiations: In integrative negotiations, both parties work together and compromise to ensure each side is getting a good deal that is aligned with their goals. As media buying is based in relationships, this negotiation tactic is typically the most effective. 

Factors to Consider when Negotiating Media Buys

There are many different channels that advertisers can purchase space on, as well as different ways of making those purchases, each of which have different best practices. Consider the following: 

Programmatic/ Direct Buy

      • Programmatic buying relies on technology, such as AI, to automate and optimize the purchase of media.
      • This type of media buying focuses on the persona rather than the media itself, asking “who do I want to reach?” instead of “where do I want to place media?”
      • Because of the AI component of programmatic platforms, a lot of data is involved in training the programmatic buying tool, making programmatic ad buys difficult to do in-house.

Ad Placement for TV

      • Purchasing ad space for TV typically takes place during upfront season, during which networks pitch media buyers on the benefits of purchasing time on their network. This is typically done during in-person meetings.
      • When buying ads for TV, make sure to negotiate that your ad cannot get bumped from the agreed upon optimal time. It is especially important to be aware of events for this reason. For example, if a political campaign is happening, candidates’ ads can bump yours even if you have paid more. Candidates always get the lowest rate for commercial time.

Radio Placement

      • Radio ads are a great way for media buyers to reach local audiences. 
      • When purchasing radio ad time, aim to get space that airs early in the commercial break or at the close of the commercial break. Listeners tend to tune out of radio stations during the bulk of the commercial breaks.

Out-of-Home

      • Out-of-home ads reach people outside through mediums such as billboards. This can be a great way to reach people during their day-to-day lives.
      • Media buyers should work with the creative team to get ideas for out-of-home advertisements. For example, Reebok set up an out-of-home campaign asking if pedestrians were fast enough. Pedestrians who ran past the ad at a pace of higher than 17km per hour could unlock a free pair of shoes.

Media buying is highly nuanced, with a lot of pressure placed on acquiring the optimal ad placement for customer experience and conversion. By staying abreast of top media buying strategies and negotiation tactics, media teams can better optimize spend and strategy. 

Additional Tips and Resources