I’m closing in on 16 years as a “media professional” (my goodness, doesn’t that make me sound old?) and I thought I’d share some of the recent questions I was asked at a high school career fair. For context, I should add that media is very broad and my experience is primarily within the agency side and predominantly in digital media. Anyway, if you’re considering going into media, hopefully, this can shed some light.
(Note: I may use media planning and buying interchangeably at times. Although certain functions are still independent, in many cases the planner and buyer is the same person and for the purposes of this column I will use them interchangeably.)
So what do you do? At its simplest, my team and I make decisions about where an advertisement will be seen. In order to do this we need to understand the media usage of the audience we’re speaking to and make recommendations on timing and budgets, among many other things.
Did you always want to go into media? I thought I’d be a journalist, researcher, or teacher; honestly, I didn’t even realize that there were people who did media buying and planning as a profession until I got out of school. When I went for my first interview at a broadcast buying firm, they had to explain the job to me.
How did college prepare you for working in media? I studied journalism in college, which I think is a great undergraduate degree regardless of what you end up doing. Journalism gave me a good foundation in writing, researching topics I knew little about (in a short period of time), listening to others, and meeting deadlines. Also, the clubs and teams I belonged to in college prepared me for the collaborative nature of advertising. One of the misconceptions that people have is that media is all complicated math. It’s really basic algebra that you learn in high school.
What were you initially surprised by? The low salary. I started out at $19,000, while my friends who went into public sector jobs were making more. Eventually, if you’re committed and a contributor, your salary will quickly increase. Secondly, I was surprised by how many different disciplines there were. Within just the media division there were account, research, planning, broadcast buying, print negotiators, direct response, and then three people working in “emerging media.” I now look back at this time as the calm before the digital storm. Things would get way more complicated in the years to follow.
Did you ever think of doing something else? Absolutely. However, I’m really fortunate that I had an opportunity to get into media when I did. Media planning and buying have changed so much in the past 15 years. In many ways, media unites all the advertising disciplines: strategy, creative, analytics, finance, production, and client services. You get to wear a different hat every day. It’s hard to get bored or complacent.
What is the hardest part of your job? The hardest part is keeping up with it all. There are more media companies than media buyers these days and we’re expected to always be in the know. We’re also the stewards of lots of money and have to constantly be making the right financial investments for our clients.
What would you recommend to someone thinking about getting into media? Media planning is complicated these days and can be very overwhelming and even humbling. The expectations on media planners are much greater than when I started out and my primary job was negotiating rates and ratings. In order to make it a career for life, you’ll need to be passionate about it. You may find yourself at a young age managing millions of dollars and you’ll be accountable for how this money is invested. It’s not all fun and games (although there are a lot of fun and games); you’ll be challenged to deliver solutions to complicated business challenges and then will be accountable for the results of what you recommend.
Do you think some people are better suited for media than others? Maybe. Although, there’s not really a “type” that goes into media, but an interest – ultimately, passion – for it, will keep someone in it for the long run. However, I do think that anyone contemplating media should have strong communication skills, which includes listening. Media professionals will have to communicate with many different people on any given day and managing conversations and relationships takes a lot of patience and skill.
What advice do you have for someone starting out? Don’t worry about the 10, 20, or 30 year plan. Media – and you – will be totally different by then. Focus on learning and contributing and, most of all, enjoying the people you work with and the work you’re doing. You’ll figure the rest out as you go.