Media Buying: Getting a Bang for your Buck (#1)

Media Buying: Getting a Bang for your Buck (#1)

This is Part 1 of an article about buying advertising in the B2B sector. It is written by Mark Bridger, director at Bridger Howes Limited (BH), a media buying and PR company.

I get asked a lot of questions about media buying. Here, I’ve collated some of my answers into a helpful, two-part guide that I hope helps you to navigate these choppy waters. Beware: there are storms, strong currents, and sharks lurk.

I started as a classified sales executive selling on Sheet Metal Industries (SMI) magazine in June 1990. My parents owned an advertising consultancy called Adropa and the SMI advertisement manager visited the house one afternoon trying to sell my father space. He mentioned that he needed someone in a junior sales role and an introduction was made. It wasn’t the last time that my father, Paul, a great mentor, facilitated such a connection.

Going back a step, my upbringing afforded me greater exposure to media buying and agencies than many get so early in their careers—lives, even. I remember having to clear Paul’s media schedules from the dining room table to eat my dinner. In those days, there were no computers; everything was documented on paper. Magazines and four-colour film separations (artwork) fell on our doorstep every week. Dozens of media packs would arrive in the autumn / fall months.

It’s no surprise then that upon inauguration of my PR business, BH, in 2014, I was keen to monetise what had become a lifetime of relevant experience, principally comprised of a quarter of a century of selling media. With one eye on my past and another on my future, it was a natural step to add a media buying option for our clients. My first assignment was for load cell manufacturer Straightpoint, pre-Crosby acquisition. In my most recent annual plan, I bought media for eight companies, with a total spend of half a million dollars.

BH has always been about producing high level content and this is our core business. We media buy for approximately 60% of our clients but in terms of revenue the percentage is relatively small. We have capacity to buy media for any industrial equipment manufacturer. Where BH originally offered the service exclusively to our clients, you now don’t have to be a BH PR client to benefit from this expertise.

This article covers:

Why use media buyers?

What if a client is worried that they’ll lose control?

What are agency commissions?

What does a media buyer need to start?

Why use media buyers?

I get asked this a lot, sometimes with a tone of cynicism. ‘Why can’t I do it myself?’ people scoff. Well, you can, but often the person tasked with buying the print or digital space doesn’t have a publishing background. They might be well-versed in sales and marketing generally but that doesn’t equate to understanding the science of media buying, which it takes to spend a budget wisely.

Sadly, there remains a lot of rogue publications out there that claim circulation numbers and readerships that are fabricated. They essentially take money off unsuspecting buyers to put advertisements in front of people that don’t exist. It takes an experienced, expert eye to identify these magazines and websites, and remove them even from consideration. It helps to work with a specialist media buyer in a specific marketplace as they’ll already have a great starting point from which to make initial recommendations.

If you do insist on buying your own media, or you’re instructed to do so, make a note of the common perils and pitfalls. The obvious risk is that you end up overpaying or wasting money in the wrong titles. Gather the data from magazines and separate good from bad. Clarify the detail and then determine what information publications could be hiding. Decipher what is missing and request it. Manufacturers would expect their customers to request data sheets, brochures, and even demonstrations before making a capital investment, and the same level of due diligence should apply. A professional and reputable magazine publisher will make their data and information transparent and available.

I’m always mindful that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. There are many different sales techniques, and pitches are getting cleverer all the time, especially when digital numbers are being quoted. Anyone with some media savvy should see through a scam, but if you are not sure, start asking those questions and obtain all the information before deciding. If you are then sitting on the fence, trust your gut. Don’t worry about walking away if it doesn’t seem right. 

What if a client is worried that they’ll lose control?

It is an old cliché, but the customer is always right. In some cases, I would say the customer is wrong and I am right, but the final decision is in their hands, regardless. Just last month, I introduced an alternative publication to a client. I backed it up with all the information, including a competitor analysis between the two magazines and a proposal from each. My recommendation was to switch over, but the client wanted to remain with the original book. We provide all the market knowledge in our proposals for our clients to make informed decisions, and we must respect the direction they choose to go.

What are agency commissions?

The international standard for agency commission is 15%. The process is simple, and the agency does all the work. The commission is their fee. Media buyers liaise with magazines, formulate a plan, and negotiate rates working within the allocated budget. If the budget and gross spend for the client is $30,000, the agency receives $4,500 in commission and the magazine nets the remainder: $25,500. However, terms can be flexible, and a flat fee can be agreed up front.

What does a media buyer need to start?

It’s always a bespoke process. It could be for a year, product, trade show, or something else. Some clients are familiar with the process and others have never purchased an advert before, let alone produced a budget and a strategy.

Let’s start with the four pillars of any good media plan:

1. Publications that a client has used historically

2. Additional magazines that warrant research

3. End-user marketplaces or industry sectors where there is a sales focus

4. Complete control of all advertising negotiations

It is like solving a jigsaw puzzle. Once you have all the pieces there, you start by putting the border together. In this case it is the list of publications ranked in terms of importance and frequency of insertions. If your No. 1 magazine is monthly and you want to run a full page every issue, that budget needs to be allocated first. Any ‘must haves’ are added next; you may have a hold on an outside back cover or directory advert commitment, which is placed every year. These are the fundamentals, and the puzzle takes shape from here.

BH specialises in the lifting and material handling world; we have an in-depth knowledge of all the titles. But lifting equipment is used widely in most end-user industries. For example, we research and buy media in renewable energy, construction, steel, marine, oil and gas, and many other sectors.

It’s important that magazine sales managers only work through us. I had an incident the other day where a manager tried to cut us out of the loop and go direct to the client. Of course, the door was shut in their face and the client referred them back. This is bad practice on part of the salesperson. Not only is it an act of skulduggery, but it puts work back on the client’s desk that they’re using us to take off it. Nobody wins.

Part 2 of this article covers:

How do you choose between print, local, global, online, newsletters, etc.?

Is it important to build contingency into a budget?

Does print media have a future in equipment supply chains?

Should I buy media to get editorial coverage?

(Click here to read Part 2)

Another article in the series covers media packs and circulation audits.

Mark Bridger