The problem with trying to learn enough about media buying to pick a good one, is that you basically have to learn enough that you’d make a half-way decent media buyer yourself.
In other words, unless you have months to invest in just the learning — and then have time to “ride shotgun” with an expert media buyer — you ain’t going to learn enough to sort out the good from the great from the BS artists.
And frankly, if you knew a great media buyer well enough to have him let you “ride shotgun” on negotiating calls, why aren’t you just letting that guy buy your media?
So what do you do?
I Recommend You Look at Attitude and Values
The Kind of Attitude You Oughta Be Looking For
When I first started buying media it was all about winning the battle.
If you have read enough Wizard of Ads stuff you probably know that in our business model we don’t get paid by media commission or hourly fees. It’s a set monthly retainer that is reviewed once and year and only grows as much as our client grows.
Because our clients are generally the mom and pop or owner/operator variety our starter kit budgets are usually pretty small.
So we have to make those budgets and ads work 10X as hard as a big corporate budget..
And on the media buying end, that often results in a negotiating tactic of “who’s gonna blink first.”
At least it did for me when I started out. It was all a contest between me and the media sellers.
If you’d dropped in on me in those early days, you’d likely have heard me talking about kicking the daylights out of one media group or another and bragging over a major win, or another.
A Good Starting Place for an Apprentice Won’t Cut it for a Pro
Now, I’m not saying how I was back then was “wrong,” exactly. it was about right for a newbie, IMO.
A media buyer HAS to have a competitive nature (along with more than a minor talent for bullshit).
You WANT your media buyer to be driving for a win at every turn — especially when the size of your budget makes it necessary to make a one dollar bill look and work like a hundred.
But at some point, things need to go from competitive to personal.
And I don’t mean personal as in, ego-driven. I mean the opposite of that.
Here’s how it worked for me.
The Day I Went from Newbie to Journeyman Media Buyer
A little bitty client came on board Williams Marketing.
And I mean itty-bitty. Frankly, I have no idea how they afforded it at all. Half of me wonders if they didn’t sacrifice rent money some months.
I didn’t realize just how much they were sacrificing to work with us, or how much of a bet they were making on our success until I went to their house.
Though modest, their home was a good bit nicer, in a better location than I would have guessed.
Turns out they had worked out a deal with the owner to lease the home for two years. I think there was some work traded. They told me how much it was costing them, and it was surprisingly low — and even that was tough to come by for them because of what they were investing in their advertising.
In other words, these were not people who’d walk away from flat-lined growth. This was not “expendable” money they were investing.
That’s what brought home to me the reality and gravity of what I was doing.
I was NOT winning another showdown, and more bragging rights.
I was spending the money they earned to drive more phone calls to their little service business, while they had to watch what they bought at the grocery store and rent in order to fuel their growth. I knew their little children! This was their family’s future.
That’s when making sure every penny I spent mattered went from being a matter of “winning” the negotiation to doing right by my client!
My ego was out of it. Everything became much more personal after that.
The Difference The Right Attitude Made
While I negotiated as hard as I ever did (maybe even harder), the motivation and attitude were entirely different.
And you’d be surprised how much more super creative I was about where there money went.
When you’re just going for the “win,” you think conventionally.
When you’re making sure every penny of a tiny budget brings in life-giving leads, you get VERY creative.
How tiny are we talking about?
We couldn’t afford even radio for two years.
We also wanted a prime and very visible location but that was tough too.
So we did yard signs and we got the school district to let us advertise on their buses. I knew those buses would pass in front of very wealthy neighborhood homes toting their kids two times every day and that this would be a much better use of their budge than the newspaper ads the client wanted to run.
Over the first two years we did find an amazing location and were able to get on a political news talk radio program. In all we spent 12k that second year.
Today that company has expanded into a new trade and has added TV commercials, the expensive kind, to their advertising budget.
Evaluating Your Media Buyer on Attitude
Now, don’t get me wrong. I still have a healthy ego over my skills. I’d say I’m one of the very best mass media buyers in North America, bar none.
But my attitude towards clients is different, and it’s very easy for a client to spot that.
See, it’s easy to put together a budget and tell somebody how much they have to spend to grow to a given number. It is very difficult to become the guardian of the business.
And plenty of media buyers will not only let a business spend that, but pressure and “consult” them into doing so.
Those less-seasoned buyers never stop and say:
“No, you can’t afford to go that high right now. Because I know that within a few months there will be some serious issues. We may not be ready for the growth yet. Or even worse spending too much we can put your company into a tailspin that is impossible to recover from, if we have spent too much too fast with a company that couldn’t afford it or wasn’t operationally poised yet.”
Most media buyers won’t bother to do that. They just want as big a budget as possible to negotiate with, so they can come back with a “win”
They won’t think to remind a client that advertising will expose company flaws rapidly. And in those cases will end up doing more harm than good.
So when your media buyer seems as concerned for your BUSINESS as your BUDGET, and isn’t merely driving towards a number or bragging about wins, that’s a good sign.
And if you’ve got a bigger business, with bigger budgets, your media buyer has to be just as vigilant as with smaller companies.
Because with bigger budgets, there’s a point of diminishing returns. Where your money no longer has the same buying power. Where as before you may have been reaching a ton a people for a tiny amount, there comes a point where in that same media, every person you reach costs you more and more.
Spending an additional 10 cents per person per week multiplied out over a few hundred thousand people for 52 weeks can come to a very significant number.
A client might give me 500k to spend on radio. And I can spend it super efficiently. But at some point I have to be able to see that 10,000 more people just cost us an extra 50k. What do we do? If there’s nothing else I can buy efficiently that will make an impact, I tell them not to spend it.
Now, if a media buyer is just going for the “win,” they’ll take the money, negotiate the (superficial) win, and cut another notch on their belt.
But would that be what they’d do if the money was theirs? If they cared about their client and knew what it took to grow the business to the point that it could spend that kind of budget?
No way, no how.
And this is a lot more common than you’d think, even among “good” media buyers.
Somebody will get to a certain point and not concern themselves with it. “Ahh, I’m looking at the big picture, I can’t stress over pennies and rounding errors.”
Guess what not stressing did? It cost the client $50k.
And if they’re small? That’s $5k in school clothes!
I will never put my clients in a position of eating Ramen to pay for media.
And if I’m doing my job and protecting my client, that situation will never arise.
So, in my not-so-humble opinion, looking for that same attitude in your media buyer will let you very quickly sort out the OK from the great without having to get into the weeds of media-buying minutia.