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questionmarkMedia Buying: DIY (Or Not?) (Read time: 6-7 minutes) With budgets tight, companies are looking for every way possible to shave pennies. Is “Do-It-Yourself” a viable option? This isn’t actually a new conversation. Two plus decades ago when I was working in the automotive segment with an ingredient brand company, we discussed this multiple times. I’m Marcom in the high-tech sector now and my senior director just tossed the topic on the table this week.

Media VP, David Rowe, and I sat down over a virtual cup o’ Joe to discuss the ins/outs of a question that faces many marketing managers today. I also reached out to several Client-side friends, all to pull together a framework for additional thinking as it seems many are debating the question. Answers will always vary but we’ll offer up here at least one example of considerations to work your way thru.

Hoping others will add comments/thoughts.

* Complexity and Scale: Think more about the complexity of the media buy than the $$ size of the buy. $ million placed in a single I/O with a handful or less publishers/sites is a far different management challenge than a $300K buy spread across 3 geos, 10 pubs w/rotating creative. Evaluate complexity, even if the client core competencies exist at face value. Media agencies with an international presence have more in-depth knowledge of local language media vehicles. Those buying from the US tend to gravitate to publications/sites with US sales representation. Smaller, niche trade titles/sites without US representation can be overlooked.

* Tools: Beyond the negotiation and analytics are the day-to-day administration and management of a media buy. Do you/does your company have the right tools to manage the creative placements, rotation schedule, I/Os and logistics. This checkbox is very related to complexity/scale… if it’s a narrow, simple buy, it may be possible to admin/manage the buy manually. Be very wary, your time (or someones) as the complexity and scope change. Most online schedules are now trafficked and monitored through third party tools like Atlas DMT or Doubleclick DART. If a site serves the banners itself, you are relying on their reporting and have no independent source to use for verification. In terms of print, make sure the publications you consider have audited circulation through a service like ABC or BPA. Some titles are now dropping their audits to save money.

* Client Competencies: Could have listed this first. Very risky to run your own media campaign if you’ve never done it and been successful at the scale/scope of the current plan being considered. Can you do the analytics… the negotiation…With the explosion of new social media, diminished traditional publisher circulations, diverse online options… are you current/comfortable… a realistic evaluation of proven skill set, emphasis on “proven”. Even if you have the core skills, how current is your knowledge set?

* Media Buyer/Agency Competencies: Gotta have equal time here. Good media buyers can bring process to the task… the best also bring category knowledge. If you elect to hire a pro, include in your search criteria some level of category knowledge. This will save time, ultimately save money. Having a pro with experience buying in your target category is invaluable. Yes, a media pro can learn – but if you have the choice, go looking for existing knowledge about your space and audience communities.

* Cost/Value v. Client Time/Value: Even if you have the skill and knowledge, ss DIY really worth it v. other use of client scarce resources? Media IS something that you can buy. May be a far better use of client time to engage w/a professional service, negotiate to a fair rate and then move on to tasks equally important but less able to be purchased outside. Media buyers can also pay for themselves through aggressive rate negotiations and the addition of added value elements to a media plan (eg merchandising options, etc.).

* Analytics: Need ‘em, or have ‘em in-house? With much of media being bought as on-line, many companies have tracking tools already deployed that can provide at least some level of metrics. Will take use of unique coding behind each creative unit/each placement – but easily can be done in-house if your web/IT guys will support. Think hard about how you will measure success and then make sure you have metrics behind the advertising campaign to show whether it worked or didn’t. Remarkable how often this step is skipped.

One Compromise To Consider


If you don’t want to go full-boat the Agency route, consider a freelance media buyer. They are plentiful and (these days) often are the resource Agencies turn to if media buying isn’t a core deliverable. Nothing wrong w/the freelance route at all. Clients can easily shift the negotiation, I/O and placement logistics to a freelancer while retaining significant hands-on control and learning opportunities. Again, go looking for a pro with experience in-category as best solution. A key decision here is the scope and duration of the engagement with the freelancer. Do you only need help in the creation of the media plan or also in the implementation, monitoring, and optimization of the plan? Creating a plan can be accomplished in 2-3 weeks. The implementation, monitoring, and optimization can extend for several months.

* On Price: Tough topic to address, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t try. Back in the day, Agencies routinely took 15% off the media gross as media placement/management fee. Those days are mostly gone, depending on Agency contract and medium. Commission fees are negotiable. I’ve seen deals struck for flat fees, for commissions, for time at an hourly rate, bargained down to get the creative assignment… all sorts of variations. Strive for something fair. Be a good buyer, but a partner… don’t squeeze for the last nickel. Large media buys can be had for just a few points because the dollars are large; small buys will cost you a higher % because a media buyer’s time/trouble isn’t tied fully to the size of the media buy. The specific percentages often differ by media. Network TV typically carries the lowest commission (under 2% of the media budget) while online, due to the time-intensive nature of the medium, can run as high as 15%. As with most things, you get what you pay for and the client will always want more than anticipated.

* On Social Media: The new frontier. Here’s a case where hiring a “specialist” really may pay off v. your existing media “generalist”/existing Agency. Trouble is, particularly for B2B, where to you find one, how do you evaluate competency. Everyone gives social media lip service but very few Agencies have successful case histories that incorporate the use of social media. Certainly this will change over time. David and I will tackle this topic in more detail in an upcoming post.

Scoop’s Take:  Personally, I don’t like buying media and try to outsource to a pro whenever possible – for a negotiated price, to be sure. My time is better spent focused on the strategy, the creative, the metric side. I learned media buying while a client working with FCB/Chicago (since merged and now Draftfcb). I met David Rowe/Doremus a few years back when my company needed to execute on a Channel advertising campaign. Great experience, great teachers.

When I owned my own Agency, clients put us into the media buying business because they didn’t want to separate ad strategy/creative from the media step. I solved it by working w/freelance media buyer talent. I made money on the strategy/creative and passed thru the media fee as a service. Clients seemed to like the approach at the time.

Your solution depends on your situation. Hopefully, this framework was helpful. Let us know, please comment freely.



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