Sunday, September 11, 2011

Media Buying:101

Media Buying: 101
A beginner’s guide to getting more bang for your media buck

 Having been in the advertising business for many years, I have often been asked, “Which media works?” My answer is always the same, “It all works, but it’s important to have goals and realistic expectations.” At a recent conference, a media friend told me that many of his clients really don’t understand how to compare and buy media. Knowing that I have a long history in the media business, he suggested I write this article. While media buying is a complex science, I agreed that an introduction to media buying could be very helpful.

Have a realistic goal
So often, a novice advertiser will run an ad and then sit back and wait for the phone to ring. Then, when it doesn’t, they proclaim that the magazine failed. Really? First of all, it may have been unrealistic to expect calls if the selected publication was wrong or if the ad was poorly produced. Unless an ad has a very compelling offer coupled with an urgent call to action, it may not generate an immediate response. Ads often do a better job of brand building, growing awareness that may pay off at some time in the future.

With any media, it is most important to be sure the media’s audience matches your target. For example, an economic developer might ask what percentage of a magazine’s recipients are site selection consultants and real estate professionals versus other economic developers.

Print Advertising
Like all media, the print advertising industry is loaded with confusing terminology. A good starting point would be to request a media kit, including a publisher’s statement and audit report. These common documents provide valuable details about circulation and readership. Circulation is the number of printed copies that are actually distributed. Ideally, the publication has paid or requested circulation as opposed to free, unrequested circulation. Readership takes into account the number of people who read each copy. For example, if 10,000 copies are mail and the publication claims to have 2.5 readers per copy, they will claim 25,000 readers. If the publication is unable to document its readership, then the only basis for comparison is the circulation.

Another important piece of the media kit is the editorial calendar. Each year, credible publications will issue a calendar showing each edition’s editorial focus. By matching your target industry to matching articles, you are more likely to plant your ad in fertile ground where the audience will be receptive to your message. For example, if your engineering firm is interested in reaching higher education professionals, an article about higher ed building trends would be a great fit.

To compare ad rates, use the cost-per-thousand or CPM method. Divide the total cost for the ad space by the “thousands” of circulation. An ad costing $5,000 which circulates to 30,000 people has a CPM of $166.66. Using this formula to compare each publication being considered provides an apples-to-apples comparison.

Broadcast Media
Broadcast advertising is a great way to reach large audiences and build strong brand awareness. As confusing as print can be, broadcast can be even more mysterious. First, you need to have a pretty good sense that your ad will be seen or heard by your target audience. Airing ads on a station just because you like it is a big mistake. You are not the audience. If your target audience is affluent professional men and women between the ages of 35 and 54, it would be wise to consider stations with programming that appeals to them. News reports, business segments and talk radio would be better than a station carrying music for teenagers. It’s also important to see the station’s coverage map. If your target area is a ten-county metropolitan area, a station with a weak signal that barely reaches the city limits would be a bad investment.

Working with a station representative, I’d suggest giving him or her an outline of your target audience and asking for a list of the top ten ranked stations that reach that audience. Keep in mind that you may not be able to afford the top ranked station. Then, ask for a proposal that will give a strong reach (% or your target audience exposed to your ad) and frequency (number of times your target audience is exposed to your ad). Good media reps will help you make comparisons between stations. A fare comparison is the cost-per-point (the cost to reach the same number of people within your target). You can’t just compare the rate card cost of an ad, though. An $8 ad on one station may not be much of a bargain if another station will reach five times the target audience for $25 per ad. Since broadcast advertising needs time to build an audience, you should always buy several ads per week over a period of several weeks.

Media Combinations
At Brand Acceleration, we strongly prefer using strategic combinations of media and other tactics. Print + Radio + E-mail marketing, for example, is very powerful. Together, they can grow awareness and effectively drive audiences to visit your web site. Cha-ching! Our media planning team knows how to strategically use such combinations that are impactful and efficient.

Quality Ads are Crucial
Great ads do much more that tell, tell, tell. Expert writers and designers know just how to craft ads that are not just beautiful but command attention and encourage the audience to respond.

I hope this information has helped you to have a better understanding of the media planning and buying process. If we can ever be of assistance to your company of community, I please give me a call. We’ll take the complex and develop a powerful and understandable plan that will help you reach you business goals.

Jim Walton

Brand Acceleration is a full-service advertising, brand management and public relations firm operating from Indianapolis, Indiana and Charlotte, North Carolina. The agency’s focus is on economic development, architecture, engineering and construction.


  1. What about online advertising? Should this be incorporated into a social media strategy or is it its own animal? I am referring to online opportunities with print publications that also have digital/online presence. These publications often quote impressions and click-through rates/stats, but they are as confusing as regular readership stats in some ways. Any thoughts or suggestions for online ads?

  2. You're right. They are a different animal. I do like the fact that pay-per-click or click-through rates give you a great way to measure results. If you use Google Analytics or another such tracking system, you can see where the clicks come from, adding accountability to the source. You can't, however, entirely blame the media for poor results. Just as a strong ad is more likely to generate great results, a poor ad will result in poor activity.

  3. you are right. Choosing the right media and a well strongly presented ad can bring business rather than a poor ad in wrong media.

  4. MediaFiche is a free online media buying platform created to bring efficiency and ease to the media research, planning, and buying process for agencies, businesses and individual marketers.

  5. Its very crucial to choose right audience for advertise. If you have a product related to children, then choosing children related media is quite fruit worthy.

  6. Thank you,
    The information you shared is very informative
    Online Media Buying is the best way to increase your business