“It no longer makes economic sense to send an advertising message to the many in hope of persuading the few.”

M. Lawrence Light


“Accountability, the ability to make media evaluations and selections based on how effectively the media act to generate marketplace sales, has long stood as the sought after 'holy grail' in advertising and media.”

Leslie Wood and James Spaeth, Media Trust


“Programmatic advertising currently represents nearly two-thirds of the digital display advertising marketplace and will grow to 82% by 2018.”


Decoding Modern Marketing

5. Media Planning & Buying

Since Brand Advertising is Paid media of one sort or another this is an appropriate time to talk about media planning and buying. While you don’t need to understand every nut and bolt yourself, you need to have a general familiarity with the basics so you can direct the work. It’s also wise to have access to someone you trust with deep knowledge, since this is one of those areas where it is easy to get overwhelmed and confused. Yes, there are hundreds of technologies, platforms, methods, vehicles and metrics in the media planning and buying world, but it’s the fundamentals that you really need to understand. This is definitely a case where you need to see the forest.

You don’t need to understand every nut and bolt yourself.

If you are not familiar with the practice of media planning and buying the basics are pretty straightforward. The planner decides what media vehicles you should use based on your budget and your goals, as well as when and how much you will use them. The buyer then negotiates the best deal with the media outlet. Both work together to monitor the performance of the media buy and hold the media outlet accountable for any performance guarantees they have made.

In the early days of advertising it was the defacto standard that ad agencies were paid 15% of the entire media budget to perform these services and to pay for creating the ads. In general fees for media planning and buying are still usually a percentage of the media budget and run around 12%, getting lower as the budget gets larger. The fee does not, however, pay for creative or any other services, which are charged separately by agencies. This is because the amount and complexity of creative assets required has increased so much that even 15% often doesn’t cover all the work required. One danger with the percentage model to be aware of is that it can act as a disincentive for agencies to save their clients money. To forestall that you can use a fixed fee or hourly rate model.

It’s important to have the same team that is creating the strategy be part of media planning.

Some years ago media was separated from creative in many large agency companies and media only agencies were formed. The idea was that the two cultures were very different and it would allow both to focus more on their specialties. That trend, however, didn’t anticipate the complexity of planning and buying digital media, and how creative the media function itself would need to become in our more complex marketplace. As a result, there has been a reverse trend where media agencies are adding creative, and creative agencies are incorporating media again. Today, for most brands, I believe it’s important to have the same organization or agency that is creating the strategy and developing the creative, be part of the media planning process, although not necessarily the buying. This ensures that the right hand knows what the left is doing and that the originality that is possible in designing a media plan syncs closely with the creativity and strategy of an overall campaign. In agencies where strategy is a focus this works very well because there is a natural fit between strategy work and media planning.

Buying is a process of negotiation. Depending on what and how much media you are buying, it may make sense to have a media buying company do the work. In some instances, buyers have more leverage based on the volume of business they bring to bear from multiple clients.

However, with the advent of programmatic buying, which is sort of like Google Adwords for media, the clout of an individual buyer or firm is becoming less.

Few really understand what it is.

Jimmy Kimmel called programmatic buying the “gluten” of advertising because everybody is talking about, but few really understand what it is. It basically means all the technologies that have been introduced to automate the process of buying and selling media. It covers most digital display and search paid media, and now includes video ads online and even on cable. It’s like pricing and buying airline tickets on a website. Fast, simple and no travel agent required. That’s why many larger brands have been bringing it in-house. Some of it is Real-time bidding (RTB) and some it is Direct or Guaranteed, which buys media for a future time period often directly from the publisher vs. over a network. All of it is subject to the “crisis” in fraud, as the IAB chair called it, that has plagued digital advertising in recent years. This is a situation in digital media where display ads record impressions against viewers who are not actually there. It turns out that instead of people viewing the ads, viewers to as much as 50% of ads, according to the Wall Street Journal, have actually been robotic programs or bots. Needless to say the digital advertising community has been wringing their hands as they have tried to get this credibility threat under control.


  • There are a million media choices and they all have good stories, but what you should care about are the numbers. Not their numbers, but independently verified numbers.
  • Don’t fall in love with the magazine, website or program, focus on the audience.
  • Make sure the media audience you buy closely aligns with your target audience. Adults 18-49 is more of a family reunion than a target audience.
  • Care about context and timing. Think about what your target audience is doing when you reach them.
  • All ad slots in a TV show or on a webpage are not created equal. Make sure you have the right metrics. Impressions are mostly a useless measure.
  • Monitor performance like a hawk.
  • Always have minimum performance and placement guarantees, plus some form of structure to compensate you for under delivery. The price is always negotiable, even if it’s sold out.