Don't Discount the Network Buy

This week, I’d like to address buying online ad inventory from networks. For some clients (and even some planners) I’ve talked to lately, there seems to be a stigma attached to striking deals with networks.

Maybe some clients feel that “one-stop shopping” for ad inventory is too simple a solution when they’re paying an agency to find new environments in which to advertise. But simplifying the media-buying process is not something that I think should count against a network in the planning process.

I’ve talked to a few other media planners about buying from networks, and yes, there does seem to be a bit of hesitation to recommend placing a significant percentage of a media budget with the networks. For the most part, it’s due to fears that the client will think doing so is a cop-out or a quick fix. In my opinion, shifting money away from network inventory due simply to this fear is not in the best interests of the client.

On several occasions in this space, we’ve talked about the web as the ultimate narrowcasting medium. That is, the web is a terrific place to address niche audiences and interests. In many ways, networks can help to leverage the best aspects of niche environments while maintaining the reach and critical mass of a more mainstream media environment.

Let’s say you’re planning for a client who has a downloadable application that automatically registers domain names for webmasters and keeps track of registration fees. Obviously, you would want to advertise to webmasters and other web technologists.

You can address the target by dealing with individual sites – maybe by buying the technology channel and some keywords on Lycos. The Lycos buy would consist of a large number of ad views, but they’re probably not as targeted as you might like. Or maybe you could go to a niche site like domainname.com. There, you have the opposite problem – it’s perfectly targeted, but too small a buy.

This is where a network can help. There are several ways to test your client’s ads with a network. For one, you could put together a run-of-channel buy covering all sites in the network’s technology channel for a low CPM. Optimize the buy by site, and you’ll likely end up with a pretty good cost per download.

Or, you could hand-pick sites from the technology channel until you reach critical mass. A network like DoubleClick has sites such as Network Solutions that would hit the target dead on. Package a few targeted sites together, and you might be able to reach critical mass. Dealing with a network allows for single buys to cover a number of targeted sites in one fell swoop.

Another advantage of dealing with a network is the depth of its ad sales force. While a tiny site may have an advertising sales rep, it’s not cost effective for it to also have a sponsorship salesperson, a promotions salesperson, and a direct marketing salesperson. Networks can bring that to the table for smaller sites.

As a result, media planners can work with experienced salespeople to bring customized advertising packages to smaller sites, something that normally only the largest portals and content sites would have available to them.

Networks can also be good for providing a cheap way to test ads against different targets. Purchasing a broad-reach run-of-network buy on a low CPM or CPC basis is often a good idea for more direct marketing-oriented clients. Segmenting the network buy and determining response by individual site can help to show the response potential of various audiences.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to stigmatize networks because of the way in which they make things easier for the buyer. I think that all potential media packages should be evaluated according to their individual merits when an agency is in the planning process. To do otherwise would be a disservice to your client.

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