Building Relationships for Better Buying

In my column last week, I touched on some of the advantages and disadvantages of making a buy through a third-party media seller as opposed to dealing directly with the site publisher. That anecdote got me thinking about the process of media buying and the importance of building relationships with our suppliers. A media buyer’s success in negotiating ad placements largely hinges on his ability to sustain relationships with his media sellers. But this maxim raises an interesting question: Given the choice between initiating a relationship with the site publisher directly or putting our efforts into sweet-talking the third-party media seller, which route will result in the best media buy?

It’s an issue that invariably triggers a passionate reaction among media buyers, publishers, and ad sales reps alike, and it’s difficult to provide an answer that is anything other than subjective. Some insist that we’re better off negotiating on our own behalf and eliminating the network middleman. Media buyers benefit from this approach because dealing directly with the site publisher gives us the opportunity to evaluate his position and gauge where his boundaries lie. How flexible are his ad rates? How willing is he to accommodate our clients? These are questions that are best answered firsthand, as this knowledge can put a media buyer into a powerful negotiating position.

Not all media buyers support the direct approach, however, and the rationale varies. Many believe that leveraging the relationship that already exists between a network rep and a site is the quickest and easiest path to media-placement perfection. The benefits of initiating contact with an ad network rep who has a mandate to sell off a publisher’s inventory by whatever means necessary (within reason, of course) are obvious. The third-party seller is in a position to offer us lower rates on many of the very same placements that we would pay double or even triple for when dealing directly with the publisher. And on a side note, whereas a strong relationship with a publisher may put us at an advantage for negotiating a placement on his site, a good rapport with a network ad executive can get us discounts on inventory across hundreds, even thousands, of Web sites.

Buying from a network can have its risks, of course, as was painfully illustrated by last week’s account. But if a deal does happen to go sour, one can always opt to make the buy directly from the publisher. If you must resort to making such a move, it’s essential to get your rep’s approval. The last thing a buyer wants to do is alienate a good supplier by making a buy behind her back. Deceit can be a real relationship killer, to say the least.

Clearly, there are pros and cons for each of these buying strategies. So which approach will ensure you the best buys? The best alternative for your needs will always depend on the nature of your campaign. If your priority is to secure a high-profile skyscraper ad or a section sponsorship, then it would certainly make sense to develop a relationship with the site publisher to ensure that you get first dibs on this limited inventory. If you are working with a minimal budget, however, and driving traffic to your client’s site at an especially low cost-per-visitor rate is your main objective, then seek out an ad network sales rep.

The disadvantage to this plan is that we rarely get advance warning about the type of campaign our clients will be requiring. The key, therefore, is to be prepared by having strong relationships in place before we actually need them. Get to know as many publishers and ad network sales reps as possible: You never know when you might need to engage their services.

Meeting this objective isn’t as time-consuming as it may seem. Many contacts can be made simply through responding to the dozens of service pitches that flood our inboxes every business day. An ice-breaking email or phone call is always well received, and it’s an effortless first step to building a relationship that you may profit from when planning future campaigns.

Having these contacts on file can also assist with the media planning process, as they offer a good starting point for campaign research and can make compiling a list of potential placements quick and easy. In a field in which a buyer often needs to employ several media sellers for just one online campaign, this tactic clearly pays dividends.

A good list of contacts is an asset in every business, and Internet media buying is no exception. Getting to know one’s suppliers, and keeping a sizeable number on reserve, can be a media buyer’s secret weapon for success.

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