Training Media Buyers for Success

From researching buys to negotiating rates, novice media buyers have a lot to learn. How much can be taught, and how much must a rookie buyer learn for herself?

I remember my first day on the job and how infinitely intricate the business seemed. I was given a lengthy, detailed manual, “Guide to Planning and Purchasing Media,” and told to familiarize myself with the daily e-newsletters and industry Web sites that would keep me informed about the latest casualties among portals, mergers between ad networks, and new ad formats growing in popularity.

It wasn’t until I first planned a buy on my own that I realized just how many tricks and tactics were involved, on the part of both the buyer and the seller. Nothing could have prepared me for the mind games that precede each and every deal.

I would watch my colleagues with awe during their negotiations, mentally filing away their methods for future use. They were relentless in their quests to get the lowest rates. They pitted supplier against supplier for their business and delayed approval of insertion orders in the hope of bringing down the rates still further at the very last minute.

On the sellers’ side, account reps would be using their own strategies for keeping prices within their comfort zones. With experienced buyers and sellers on both sides, deals that were satisfactory to both parties would be reached.

This part of the Internet media business is best learned through observation and personal exploration, but numerous other aspects that lead up to the buying process can be taught, often through a series of practice exercises.

If your apprentice has little or no experience in online media buying, first instruct her on the various pricing models she’ll be working with: from the basics, such as cost per thousand and cost per click, to more uncommon models, such as cost per action.

A tutorial on frequency cap use will be helpful before getting onto the subject of the various types of ad formats available and optimal ad placement (above- versus below the fold, etc.).

Even if she’ll ultimately have little involvement with planning campaigns for which she’ll be making the buys, educating your apprentice on this aspect of advertising is key to helping her understand what her role is. Once your buyer-in-training understands the fundamental elements of an Internet advertising campaign (locating the target audience, choosing the appropriate ad format, and delivering a compelling message, all with the purpose of achieving the client’s marketing goals), it’s time to put her to the test.

Develop a hypothetical campaign. Ask her to plan the media buys. Pretend, for example, your agency has a new client who wants to promote an e-commerce business online. Any product or service will do, but the more specialized the product offering, the more challenging this task will be. Ask your novice buyer to discern how and where this client should be advertising online.

This will be difficult at first, of course. She’ll probably be familiar with only brand name sites and search engines, without an in-depth knowledge of the Internet landscape. If she conducts some online research to locate appropriate sites and placements, she will build up her repertoire. It’s also a great way to help the novice buyer grow accustomed to the research process. If your agency employs media planning software, leave it out of the exercise. It will only serve as a “cheat sheet,” preventing her from solving the problem at hand.

Once she’s located the most appropriate placements, have her allocate the client’s budget among the media properties. Ask her to explain how she reached her conclusions.

Then, it’s time for a little role-playing. Assume the character of the media seller. Ask her to negotiate the buy. Don’t give in to her demands too easily. The situation must be as realistic as possible for the exercise to be valuable.

Training a new buyer for success can take months of work. Don’t be tempted to keep her on the sidelines too long. Observing you at work will be useful indeed, but she’ll never learn as much from being a scrutinizing apprentice as she will from plunging in on her own.

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