Until I’d worked at a media buying firm, I had no idea the process was so nuanced and immersive. In fact, I didn’t know much about media buying at all! I learned – and there was definitely a learning curve –  that there is an enormous industry built around paid media, complete with its own processes, culture, vocabulary and even software.

I also learned that media buying, if it’s done right, isn’t as simple as creating a TV or radio ad and calling up your local station to have it aired. Paid media strategy is akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle – you need to start with a clear picture of your end goal or you’re going to get lost along the way, and you need to coordinate a bevy of small pieces that fit and work together. Here are a few things I learned along the way:

  1. Do your research
    What’s the target demographic for your message? Are you sure? What media are they consuming, and when? Again, are you sure? One of the most important pieces of advice we can give to clients is not to use themselves as a focus group; there’s a ton of qualitative research and data out there that can support or change your strategy.
  2. Negotiate
    Once you have a handle on who your target demographic is and what media they’re consuming, it’s time to get rates. Unless you’re buying political advertising, which is a whole different animal, rates aren’t set in stone. Ratings and rankers will tell you how large an audience a program or station draws compared with others – don’t let a station charge premium rates for a spot during a program that only draws a 10 percent larger audience than a similar program! Also, make sure you leverage your buys to get bonus spots, event space or other sponsorships you hadn’t considered.
  3. Know Your Metrics
    The three things that guide most buys are reach (the number of people you’re reaching with your message, often represented as a percentage), frequency (how many times those people hear your message during the campaign) and budget. The goal is to balance the three of these for the most effective and efficient campaign possible.

    Let’s say your target audience includes avid football-watchers – should you spend your entire media budget on one spot, knowing they’ll likely see it? Probably not, because a message generally doesn’t sink in until it’s been heard 3-5 times. You may reach a lot of people, but they’re unlikely to retain your message, and you’ve blown your entire budget in the process.

    Conversely, even if the spots are cheap, think carefully about buying on an 11pm niche radio show. Sure, you could buy hundreds of spots and generate a heavy frequency – but a smaller audience cannibalizes reach.

    Find a media mix that works together to create that balance between reach and frequency in a way that fits your budget.

  4. Get Creative
    Do you have an idea for a sponsorship or promotion that doesn’t currently exist, or are you frustrated by the packages that are offered? Ask! Representatives love to get creative on behalf of their clients to earn the business, and in the process, you might discover something new that delivers outstanding results in a creative way.

Paid media is an interesting blend of creative and analytical. We use data and research to back up everything we do, but there’s plenty of room for new tactics or strategies, or to try something that’s never been done before. Paid media also works hand-in-hand with earned media to generate trust and confidence in a brand or message. Done correctly, paid media can boost earned media campaigns, even making it easier for them to gain traction.

Happy buying!