Most media buyers are aware of networks and the advantages they offer over dealing with dozens of sites separately to make a buy. But there is another alternative out there that offers its own distinct advantages for advertisers interested in a turnkey solution — the site-specific rep firm.
Both the networks and the rep firms grew out of the complexity of buying interactive advertising. Unlike traditional media — where you have a fairly finite list of choices due to the high cost of running a media property — the Net has allowed anyone with a computer the opportunity to become a publisher. The result is an explosion of choices and a ton of work for any buyer looking at more than three sites on his or her media plan. Going to a third party to buy advertising helps to alleviate this problem — you get a one-stop shop for negotiating, buying, and reporting on a wide range of sites.
But smart buyers know that in certain situations, using a site-specific rep firm instead of a network makes more sense for their clients. The key is knowing how each alternative works and what advantages each offers for your client.
What Networks Do
Networks tend to represent hundreds and even thousands of generally smaller sites. They aggregate these sites in groups, or “channels,” and focus primarily on selling standard ad units such as the 468 x 60 pixel banner across the complete network or individual content channels, depending on the buy. DoubleClick and 24/7 Media are probably the most well-known networks in the market.
Using networks allows the media buyer with a direct-response objective to spread the buy broadly and then shift impressions to where they are getting the best response. Because networks represent a huge range of inventory across a whole spectrum of categories — generally at much lower CPMs than when buying a branded site — they’re ideal for this type of optimization. Many also offer centralized ad serving, which makes life easier by allowing you to use their technology for trafficking the buy, then tracking and reporting results.
What Site-Specific Rep Firms Do
Site-specific rep firms differ from networks in that they focus on selling a much smaller portfolio of better-known sites. They focus on fewer sites because the rep firms come to know the sites they sell to in greater depth, allowing them to create customized ad packages for each site. These packages take advantage of what each site knows about its unique audience and how best to get those users to notice and respond. Ad programs created by a site-specific rep firm can use a whole range of tools beyond just the basic banner — from integrated content sponsorships to custom-sized ad units (which stand out simply because they don’t look like the standard banners, which many viewers today simply tune out) to special offers built into emails.
These site-specific firms also tend to focus on larger, more branded sites because the media buyers who favor these integrated deals generally look to associate their clients with strong media brands. The reason print buyers buy Better Homes and Gardens. (BH&G), for example, instead of the hundreds of less-expensive and little-known house and home magazines, is that they believe in the bond that BH&G’s audience members have with their favorite magazine. And they believe in the power of associating their product with a premium media environment and the high-quality audience it attracts. The same is true of interactive media.
It’s All in the Mindset
Generally, buyers who work with a site-specific rep firm care more about issues like the mindset of the user. They would argue that reaching their target with a message about mutual fund investing means specifically choosing a site like BLOOMBERG.COM. rather then using a run of Financial Channel buy, which could also include sites that cover tax returns. They believe this emphasis on careful up-front consideration of sites creates a tighter fit between product and target, which in many cases drives not just higher click-throughs, but better results.
As Brent Hall, Director of Interactive Marketing Services at IXL, recently commented, “When it comes to response, mindset is everything, and when you know the content that you’re reaching people within, it’s easier to drive results. You also get brand association. Whether our clients actually specify that branding is an objective or not, at the end of the day, they’d much rather prefer running on a site that they’re familiar with, that they’re comfortable with, than a network where they have no idea where they’re running.”
The Bottom Line
The bottom line for both networks and site-specific rep firms is that you get ease of transaction and a single point of contact no matter what your objective. There is a place for both types of buys, and knowing when to use a network versus a site-specific rep firm will make you a better media buyer.