The New Rules of Media Buying

Whenever our agency gets a visit from a sales rep anxious to raise our awareness and opinion of his company, we are inevitably presented with the same list of questions. What determines which properties we buy from? What do our clients look for in an ad placement? What can the rep’s particular site do to encourage us to make a buy with it?

Ironically, our answers are generally just as predictable. We respond by rattling off a truncated list of criteria, emphasizing the importance of rate flexibility, site demographics, site reputation (both in consumer circles and within the industry itself), and customer service that facilitates the media planning and buying processes within our agency.

One would think this would be enough information to appease a sales rep and help him gauge the probability of a future partnership. But sales reps are savvy, and they know as well as we do these aren’t the only factors that affect our decisions. They want the inside scoop on what they can do to attract our business — and diminish our interaction with competing sites — while increasing their opportunity for higher commission checks.

Those reps have their work cut out for them. These days, sites in general have more to offer advertisers then ever before. More properties are making an effort to offer a full roster of ad placements to accommodate potential clients and are even willing to create placements where before there were none.

Consider, for example, the plethora of ad formats currently available. A year ago, if a client wanted to test out a rich media placement, only a handful of sites were equipped to accept the ad. Today, nearly every site worth consideration can accommodate this trendy alternative.

To make matters worse, service is also improving! Last January I wrote a column about the customer service downward spiral, noting that even the largest and most esteemed sites were letting buyers down. Back then, if two sites offered placement options of equal value, their respective levels of customer service would often become the deciding factor — a reward for the account executives that make planning, buying, and managing a campaign easy.

But with stiff competition between properties, sales reps are apt to change their ways. They certainly have in recent months. Now when site representatives visit our offices, we’re pitched on their personal merits first and foremost, often before the topic of their site offerings even comes up.

What these changes in site product and service offerings mean is media buyers now have a much harder time narrowing down the frontrunners when planning a campaign. So how will we decide where to advertise moving forward? Agencies are preparing to abide by a new set of rules. Sales reps, remember these next time you call on a firm for business.

Plan for the Future

The measure of a good media buyer is how well she is able to anticipate what is to come. Foresight is necessary in this business, when planning immediate campaigns as well as future marketing initiatives. As sites prepare to implement the Interactive Advertising Bureau‘s new “Universal Ad Package,” a selection of formats intended to standardize creative ad units on the Web, many marketers are watching closely to see which will be quick to act and which will lag behind. One major concern still plaguing advertisers is the cost of online ad creative. If we can cut down on these costs by dealing exclusively with sites that feature standardized ad units, our clients will be better for it. Our own work will be simplified, too.

Package It

Internet marketers are busy people, and we’re only going to get busier. We tend to flock to sites that can assist us in our planning. If we know of a sales rep who regularly provides customized proposals illustrating how his company’s sites can be incorporated into our campaigns (just like in the old days, before reps emailed out rate cards and left it at that), we’re sure to give the properties additional consideration. With so many potential sites to choose from, we can always use some extra help visualizing just how yours can work for our client.

On the Subject of Search

There’s no denying that pay-per-search marketing is attracting attention (it’s so popular, in fact, it warrants its own column on ClickZ). Few campaigns are launched today without a paid-search component, if only to drive some additional site traffic while banner placements brand and produce conversions.

Properties offering this marketing option are sure to see an increase in business in the coming year. If your site doesn’t offer pay-per-search advertising through a third-party supplier, keep in mind buyers will go where they have to for this valuable placement. Use this knowledge when preparing campaign proposals to display a thorough understanding of buyers’ wants and needs. They’re sure to reciprocate by sending business your way.

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