Recession Media Buying

The media industry’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tendencies could be called cyclical. We work in an industry that either suffers from a labor shortage or throws people out into the streets. Seldom do we have a happy medium.

But through either stage, we have a job to do, and that job needs to adapt to the times. Today’s decreasing ad budgets, shrinking agencies, and bankrupted media vendors add specific tasks to our responsibilities as we fulfill the role of diligent media buyers.

Revisiting Previously Untouchable Deals

In the course of working with a client over a long period of time, vendors will sometimes develop close relationships directly with the client. This can lead to the agency’s budgets becoming tied up with direct vendor-client deals, siphoning significant portions of the media budget.

Tough economic times, however, often provide the needed excuse to revisit the economics of these deals. Now is a great time to put together a point of view (POV) on the relative media values and efficiencies of these deals relative to what the agency can now provide in a buyer’s market.

Scrutiny on Site Brands

Today we need to put a great deal of scrutiny on the value that a site’s brand adds relative to available competitive cost per thousands (CPMs).

In the past, when online media rate cards were more consistently high, agencies and clients often liked to retain the large, branded sites on their buy lists. Even though they were more expensive, they gave a patina of credibility to the site list.

The reps would speak about their brands and how that would, somehow, burnish the advertiser’s image. That was then. This is now a media market in which buyers can regularly get single-digit CPMs from top-tier sites. Two things change:

  • First, the sites need to be told they have to prove that the strength of their site brands has some sort of positive effect on the advertising brands. To justify a higher CPM, there needs to be some quantitative relationship.
  • Second, agency media buyers need to push back on clients that want to meddle with site lists to have a more attractive list of brands. Unless the brandedness of those sites helps the client, they will hurt the cost of the campaign and the level of exposure the client can afford to buy.


We need to ensure that clients and agencies aren’t exposed to potentially failing media vendors. Few sites should be getting upfront payments now. I agree with complaints I’ve been hearing that agencies are failing to pay sites until months after a campaign runs. That’s just unreasonable. Agencies need to forward payment to sites as soon as two criteria are met: the media runs and the client pays.

Longer-term deals are harder nowadays, as most media companies can’t really guarantee the wherewithal to stay capitalized long enough to deliver media in the far future. The best an agency can do for its clients is to negotiate future guaranteed rates in a pay-as-you-go fashion.

Knocking on New Business Doors

These are the times that try agency relationships with clients. Agencies tend to let themselves get understaffed. Clients receive greater money pressure and performance scrutiny. It’s a bad combination. Now is the perfect time for agencies to begin talking to those companies they’d like to have as future clients.

An agency that evolves and adopts the abovementioned recession strategies to get better value for its clients will be the attractive contestant in a pitch. Keeping in contact with marketing people at those companies will get your agency on the short list.

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