You might think marketers know exactly how to manage their media buying, but many make basic mistakes that a little inside knowledge could prevent. So here’s a practical guide for advertisers seeking to get the best out of what is usually their biggest investment. The things an advertiser needs to do fall into three stages.
1. The setup
First, you need to decide what you want. Obvious? Well, it might surprise you to know that many advertisers aren’t quite sure. In seeking to cover multiple bases, they end up doing several jobs badly, rather than the one they should be doing well.
So you’ll have to put a proper brief together, against whose clear and prioritised KPIs you and your chosen partners can be held to account.
You’ll need to decide if you want to do media, or any part of it, yourself. Many have brought search advertising in-house (often successfully) and some are now bringing programmatic in too (though the jury is still out on this).
Reflect very carefully on how to become your agency’s favoured client. Clue: skinning them on margin does not work.
A handful negotiate media pricing themselves and use agencies to implement, and this number may grow with the advent of new artificial intelligence-driven models. For now, it’s standard practice to use a media agency that has specialist expertise, resource and enjoys credit terms and commissions from the media owners.
You might have used one you’ve really liked in a previous guise. More likely you’ll need a formalised process, calling a pitch. This requires matchmaking and evaluation expertise. The UK advertiser body, ISBA, and several independent consultancies offer the former, whereas the latter is the domain of media consultants and auditors.
You need to have a clear view on the relative importance to your company of strategy, planning, innovation, optimisation, pricing, and short-term flexibility, as some pull in different directions.
A strong word here on demarcation: you need to be very clear on how you expect your agencies to collaborate. I heard a football team analogy the other day that worked for me – a team of individual stars working to a higher, common goal. You’re the manager.
Once you’ve seen pitches, navigated your and colleagues’ differences and picked a favourite, it’s time to negotiate, agree terms and formalise these into a contract. Again, ISBA offers its member advertisers a model contract template, though it’s not particularly popular with agencies as it’s strict.
Media pricing cannot be overlooked, but it’s much more important to focus on business outcomes. (Ask anyone who has worked agency-side – they can always deliver better media pricing in response to procurement pressure by changing media and channel mix.)
One thing you should reflect on very carefully is how to become your agency’s favoured, go-to-first, client. Clue: skinning them on margin does not work. History has shown it fosters opacity and dishonesty.
Agree a remuneration floor based on the fixed costs they incur on your behalf and then create a tiered scale of rewards if they – and you – succeed. Don’t nickel and dime them; offer a real opportunity to participate in your success.
Now you’re set up and ready to go, you can move onto the second phase.
2. Managing media relationships
You’ve selected your agencies from a parade of experts to do things you can’t, so why not listen to and accept their recommendations, at least until such time (hopefully never) as you can prove they’re off-beam?
The stakes easily justify your taking time to develop direct relationships with key media owners.
Develop a close, honest and open relationship. Demand their best advice, sometimes even as a critical friend. Agency people are invariably bright and capable. You’re at the head of the value chain so it’s for you to take the lead. Read them carefully – they should embrace it. If not, you may have early sight of a problem.
Demand that all recommendations are based on good data: robust insights from your own and their proprietary and syndicated studies, industry-agreed audience currencies (BARB, UKOM et al), and online best practice standards (JICWEBS) for viewability, brand safety, freedom from endemic fraud and even engagement.
The stakes easily justify your also taking time to develop direct relationships with key media owners on a straight money-at-risk basis – certainly your top five suppliers, preferably more.
Yes, it’s extra work for you and the agency might push back, believing it dilutes their influence, but it’s your company’s money. The media owners will welcome you, so enjoy that – just be firm that you’re not opening a back door through which they can sell to you at a higher price.
As activity runs, it’s time for phase three.
3. Ongoing husbandry
Frequent reviews against plans, targets and KPIs go without saying. Check media buying is competitive through performance auditing, if not continuously, then often. Periodically, check agency adherence to the contract through compliance auditing. It makes obvious sense to engage the media consultant that helped you at pitch as they already have skin in the game.
Since you have set up an open and honest relationship, are paying your agency enough, and are incentivising them to drive your business, there should be no alternative but to work through issues as they arise in pursuit of continuous improvement.
If this looks daunting, it’s only because there’s a lot at stake and you’re in the driving seat. The adage is as true as ever: advertisers get the agencies – and the media – they deserve.
Bob Wootton was director of media and advertising at ISBA and is now principal of Deconstruction Consulting.