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Gather round, all ye digital natives, and let me tell you a story from the not-so-distant past. The days before automation and commoditization, when traditional media buying — and traditional media channels — dominated advertising. In this era, media buying had its place as its own department within full-service ad agencies.
In this seemingly prehistoric model, clients approached a media buyer with an established amount of money to spend. The buyer subsequently purchased, monitored and measured pricing through publishers. Sales were handled either in-person during marathon working lunches or via phone call. Buyers’ overarching motive centered on building rapport with media reps and negotiating the best rates for the best placement. In turn, this provided their clients more bang for their buck, a higher reach or frequency and an optimal return on investment.
From drafting RFPs to entering insertion orders, media buying was hard work. It was up to the buyer to research possible channels and identify target audiences for campaigns. Whether it was broadcast, cable TV, radio, outdoor or professional sporting teams, media buying influenced who saw brands’ creative campaigns and where they saw them. It also required these experts to analyze and optimize the effectiveness of campaigns before, during and after placement. This meant lots of crunching numbers to get the most mileage out of a specific buy.
Media buying is a disappearing art — but is it completely dead?
To the uninitiated, predicting media ratings seems like risky business. And it was. Like the stock market — another infamously fickle industry — ratings changed daily. Generally, evaluating the effectiveness of a traditional media buy meant leaning on data provided by market research numbers from industry entities like Nielsen Media Research.
This volatility made it tough to stay afloat in an already cut-throat industry. However, these veritable media-buying machines had the combined spending power and media clout to dominate their local advertising landscape. Armed with dangerous negotiation skills, these individuals could deliver an optimized budget for any client — on any channel.
But at the end of the day, media buyers were only human.
It’s true that traditional media buying was built on relationships and an understanding of any given location’s local ad landscape. Some would say that this is something that cannot be taught; it must be learned. Others would call that an art.
No matter how you look at it, building and maintaining rapport with industry contacts took time. Fully immersing oneself in a crowded media landscape took finesse. And despite our best intentions, we made mistakes from time to time.
Thanks to the rise of all things digital, things have changed. Like other manual processes, media buying is now heavily automated. Programmatic is currently king in the media buying world. These days, media companies can virtually buy all media types — including TV — digitally. That’s not to mention the onslaught of new media formats and channels (we’re looking at you, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and other streaming platforms).
Rather than relying on living, breathing media buyers to purchase and sell ads, the majority of ads are now sold via software. However, before we begin any doomsday naysaying about the rise of the machines, it’s important to note that not all automation is inherently evil.
Programmatic has made things a lot easier for media buyers.
In the programmatic media buying model, data is consolidated into single, accessible dashboards that allow for easy reporting and extensive filtering options. Advertising is bought and sold in real time, which enables the instantaneous oversight of all data. Rather than relying on post-mortem campaign optimization, changes can now be made mid-campaign — which helps ensure that investments are wise and clients are happy.
So, where do traditional media buyers fit in?
Programmatic offers granular tracking tools and a more efficient way to buy ads at scale. But it still requires a long-term strategy. Sure, some of the traditional facets of media buying are gone. But there’s no need to fret because there’s no replacement for human talent and innovation (not yet, at least). Charismatic mavericks with indelible people skills are still going to succeed.
Rather than exist on an island, however, it’s important for media buyers to adapt. Whereas old school stalwarts may have prided themselves on individual connections and accomplishments, emerging media stars should embrace a more collaborative mindset. They should work with their teams — including digital and other modern media teams — to gain a more comprehensive understanding of each campaign channel.
The relationship-building aspect of media buying is still a skillset that new media buyers should possess. However, adding a data-centric and strategic layer will help media buyers succeed in the future. In other words, it’s important to leverage programmatic to make the most of their existing efforts. Media buying isn’t a dying art — it’s a changing one.
April 30, 2019 at 07:16AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs