Ten Tips on Hiring a Media Buyer

Despite all the Chicken Littles out there crying about falling skies, the advertising labor markets are still churning at a fairly normal rate.

We might not be in the hyper-spin cycle of the previous two years, when people got hired away every 18 months with a 25 percent raise, but plenty of agencies are looking for good media folks.

Here are some suggestions for finding a person who fits into the organization.

  1. Make sure that the people who would report to the candidates get to interview them. Not only do lower-level employees appreciate the opportunity to give input on their future bosses, they often prove the most insightful of interviewers. It’s often the tactical-level people who can best understand the shortcomings of a candidate manager — in terms of both area expertise and management style. A corollary to this rule is to make sure that at least one of the candidate’s references is someone who worked for him or her.

  2. Make a point of seeking out certain people to make them candidates. Often, agencies will rely solely on advertising and word of mouth to drum up people seeking job openings. The perfect candidate might be the one handling media for your client’s competition. Or it might be the person with the loyal client relationships you met at a recent conference. Call these people up and exert a personal touch to convince them to consider your new position. Hiring should not solely be the job of the HR department.
  3. Hire for talent, even if you suspect the person is overqualified. Some managers worry that if they hire someone with brilliance, that person won’t stay in the job long enough. They would rather hire people who would conveniently limit their ambitions to the job at hand. This leads to inflexible staffs of fairly conservative people — exactly the kind of labor pool you do not want in a fast-changing industry.
  4. Ask for a writing sample. Don’t get stuck with a candidate who can’t represent the agency’s ideas. Be sure the candidate can present ideas with some clarity. A media employee without this skill will be a burden to his or her peers and supervisors. It doesn’t do much good to judge the candidate’s writing sample against those of others. What’s important is to make sure the candidate can pass the basics.
  5. Determine if they can pass the “airport test.” If you were stuck with the candidate at O’Hare Airport for 18 hours, waiting for your return flight from a client pitch, would you be driven crazy by this person? Would he or she make the situation more tolerable? Those who pass the airport test tend to make for a very upbeat and vibrant agency culture. People like coming to work in a place like that. They hate returning to a place full of whiners. (Incidentally, I never pass the airport test, because after I’ve watched the CNN Airport Network through five of its cycles, I’m apt to snap.)
  6. Offer successful candidates enough money to win them. But also keep a planned raise in reserve for when they prove their worth. Agencies tend to operate hand to mouth sometimes, delaying raises and promotions until funding becomes available. Plan ahead, and the turnover rate will decline.
  7. Consider internal candidates. The most convenient answer to a staffing need is almost always grabbing someone from the outside. Your existing staff will have too much work to do as it is, never mind taking on a new role. But staff repeatedly denied these opportunities will only create yet more openings to be filled in the future.
  8. When you hire new media people, listen carefully to them and learn from their experiences. Learning and adapting to the agency’s internal systems and processes will prove important, but the agency stands to learn a great deal when new people arrive. Don’t be in too much of a rush to make the new folks conform to the old processes.
  9. When you hire a person, seek information about friends and former colleagues. Sometimes, they might also prove good candidates for other open positions.
  10. Look for agency layoffs to provide some great talent. Agency management teams aren’t sophisticated enough to lay off only the worst-performing people. There are often some excellent candidates who find themselves unemployed. You have to go after those talented individuals actively, because others will be seeking them as well. This talent will frequently find new jobs without even having to send out risumis.

Follow these tips, and you’ll likely find the right media person for the job.

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