Overcoming Obstacles in the Name of Client Satisfaction

With a new year comes new endeavors, and for me that includes taking the reins of the Media Buying column on ClickZ. In this space, I will address the various strategies involved in Internet media planning and buying, covering everything from choosing the most appropriate type of placement for your online campaign to striking that delicate balance between buddy and business partner with your media sellers.

As we all know, there are few hard-and-fast rules in the constantly evolving Internet industry, but by taking lessons from past experience and finding ways to circumvent even the most challenging of obstacles, we media strategists get the job done. As I take on these and related issues, I hope this column will prove useful.

Doubtless, we all have different outlooks on the business of online advertising. For many, including myself, both our interest in this industry and the challenges that we face stem from an effort to achieve that mysterious balance between science and chance that is inherent in Internet marketing. We plan our campaigns as rationally as possible by analyzing site statistics, compiling case studies, and conducting extensive market research. But just when we think we have it all figured out, an unexpected dip in site traffic or banner performance never fails to take us by surprise. Campaigns employing sites that we have always put our faith in are vulnerable to failure, just as new sites that we try out on a whim with the lowest of expectations can deliver astounding results. And as we grope toward success, we’re confronted with perhaps the most difficult challenge of all: maintaining our clients’ faith in our ability to spend their ad budgets wisely. The last thing a media buyer wants is for a client to be left wondering whether anyone is really in control of his campaign.

Fortunately, the evolution of online media selling over the past several years has made it much easier for media buyers to achieve this goal. Many ad placements and pricing models are designed with the express purpose of getting measurable results. With forecasts for media spending changing monthly and further online ad spending cutbacks on the horizon, media sellers are all the more anxious to adopt these techniques.

But as flexible as media sellers may have become, they do have their limits, and it’s these limits that media buyers must invariably find ways to overcome. Consider, for example, cost-per-click (CPC) advertising. As an increasing number of advertisers, who could once be appeased by guarantees on the delivery of their set number of purchased impressions, have come to value the click-through rate above all else; CPC advertising has become a sought-after pricing model. It also provides media buyers with that guarantee we’re always after — the promise of a predetermined number of visitors delivered directly to a client’s site.

Regardless of its popularity, however, many sites simply cannot offer this coveted placement. They may be eager to comply, but the possibility of a low click-through rate — which can drive up ad-serving costs and drag a 30-day campaign out over several long months — is a risk far too great to take.

In a situation such as this, a media buyer’s initial reaction might be to ditch the site and seek out an equally appropriate placement that can be obtained on a CPC basis. But what if appropriate sites are limited? How can a media buyer satisfy a client’s needs when she’s forced to respect a site’s no-CPC policy?

The answer is simple: Circumvent the CPC by finding an alternative route to guaranteed clicks. I was recently involved in planning a business-to-business (B2B) banner ad campaign for a client who, after observing several past campaigns succeed largely on the merits of a CPC component, was determined to duplicate his good fortune by the same means this time around. His target B2B market being particularly limited, we were left with very few site alternatives. With a list of placement options finally narrowed down to just two sites, both the client and myself were dismayed to discover that neither was in a position to offer the CPC pricing that we needed. The sites were so ideal, however, that in spite of his trepidation about straying from a CPC pricing model, the client was willing to agree to a cost-per-impression buy if he could be certain that he would still get reasonable results. Hungry for the sale, the sites were willing to negotiate. Leaving the cost-per-impression model intact, we looked to the terms of our contract to give us some sort of guarantee. We were able to secure a minimum click-through rate on the cost-per-thousand (CPM) buy, thus assuring the client a guaranteed number of visitors regardless of how well his ads actually performed.

This type of agreement between a media buyer and a site can provide a client with a strong sense of security. It may be a small certainty, this minimal number of guaranteed clicks, but it can help build a client’s faith in online advertising, which can be a big bargaining chip for Internet marketers. This faith can help us convince our clients to allocate more of their ad budgets to online advertising and try out new and promising sites, allowing us, in turn, to flex our creative muscles and implement the best media placement strategies possible.

We may not know exactly what to expect when we sign that next insertion order, but as we take our chances and await the results, at least we know that our clients’ minds are always at ease. As long as they can keep the faith, we’re still in business.

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