The Secret About Media Buying

Here's a little secret about media buying. It's one of the secrets that most media buyers don't want you to hear because it could jeopardize the way they do business, but I think it's time to let the cat out of the bag. You may be surprised to hear it, and they may get upset with me for sharing -- but I think the shock will subside, and it will be beneficial for you to know.

OK, here goes: Media buying is a relationship business.

There, I said it! The simple fact is there are lots of wonderful tools and services that provide media planners and buyers with detailed data reports on site traffic and volume, audience composition and past performance -- and each of these gets quite a lot of use -- but it comes down predominantly to a relationship business.

Relationships get your foot in the door and they get you an RFP. Relationships get you a meeting and they can even get you a test buy. Actual performance and service gets you the renewal, but that's the easiest part of the process. It's getting past all the clutter and the drama associated with the initial recommendation that's the greatest challenge -- and relationships are what get you to that point. It's not easy to make a recommendation regarding a site or an opportunity that the client hasn't heard of, but a strong relationship will get the planner to invest the time and push you through. After that, it's your job to deliver.



Media buyers have a hard job. They have to field hundreds of cold calls a month from companies, many of which tell the exact same story with different words. As a result, most media planners become a bit jaded. There are two ways to break down the defenses of a jaded planner: be truly innovative, or build a relationship.

I can tell you a story of a rep who took the time many years ago to meet me in person and connect on a mutually enjoyed hobby - namely, the band Pearl Jam. We have since built a great relationship and become good friends. I will always do business with that person no matter where we work or what he is doing -- and he knows it. That's how you build a relationship; it was never done in an obviously "business" way, but in a casual, yet genuine manner, with mutual respect that grew over time and through interaction.

The mind of a media buyer is not difficult to figure out. Media buyers buy two things. They buy reach or they buy impact. Both of these can be found through any multiple of methods, so in most cases the relationship is the primary point of differentiation. Building a working relationship is no different than any other relationship, which is why the best work relationships typically become friend relationships as well.

Many sales organizations understand this and educate their people, promoting them and supporting their work in the field. The ones that promote a culture of the old "dial for dollars" motto are the same ones that churn and burn their talent --and these are the ones destined to fail.

In many cases, a company takes on the reputation of the people it hires for the field. If you hire the right people, this can be a great thing! A strong salesperson with deep relationships in the marketplace and an up-to-date Rolodex is the most valuable hire you will ever make. If a salesperson can transition from one company to another and bring the relationships they have with them, this is a testament to the strength of those relationships and the inherent value of that salesperson.

In our industry, it can be difficult to stay on top of people moving around. Too many companies churn their talent by overworking and underpaying them; hence, the relationships are even more important because they're based on the people and not just the company.

My parents taught me that you treat others the way you want to be treated -- and if you forget that from time to time, then you apologize and you try again. No one is perfect, but that's part of building a strong relationship: letting others know that you aren't perfect and that you don't expect them to be perfect, either.

With new companies starting up all the time, those relationships are what get the ball rolling, so don't overlook or abuse them, because they are the greatest asset you have.

So the next time you make that call to an agency or a brand marketer and you're asking for their business, take the time to inquire about them as a person before you start selling them as a prospect. The call might be longer and the sales process might get dragged out a little, but it will be worth it in the long run. Your value will increase and the relationship will last.

Don't you agree?

17 comments about "The Secret About Media Buying".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Donna Eaton from Search for Next Adventure!, August 26, 2009 at 12:58 p.m.


  2. Lene Lay from Q1Media, August 26, 2009 at 1:01 p.m.


  3. George Smith from GWS Consulting, August 26, 2009 at 1:05 p.m.

    Totally agree for one fundamental reason; i.e., media and many other types of "products" is considered a commodity. Thus, anything one can do to get away from that thought, the more likely of making a sale.

    I always cautioned new sales people not to answer right away the initial question they would get from 99% of people who contacted them; i.e., "What is your price?".

    If you answer that question right away you have agreed you truly are a commodity.

  4. Michael Hubbard from Media Two Interactive, August 26, 2009 at 1:05 p.m.

    Funny story to share with you... A rep flew in from New York to North Carolina to meet with several agencies, ours being one of them. He showed up early to our meeting, and preceded to tell us that his scheduled appointment before us had a receptionist come out to say that they lost the biz, and there was no longer a need for a meeting. So here he was, 1,000 miles from home sitting on their doorstep, and no longer needed.

    We have a saying at Media Two that you don't need to like all of the sales reps that come through the door - but somebody here better! Publisher reps are truly an integral part of our business, so we encourage everyone when they're in town to come visit us. We don't always have business for you today, but you are the front lines for us to know what's going on with your publication - so just establishing a relationship makes it that much easier on an agency to send you an RFP (that was due yesterday). Great article!

  5. Clyde Boyce from Firefly Media, August 26, 2009 at 1:20 p.m.

    Absolutely agreed.

    Having been both on the selling and buying side, seeing the differences in selling style has always been fascinating. I've always had an aversion to those who come in with the standard off the shelf pitch that has nothing to do with my client and who isn't willing to invest any time or effort to learn about either my client needs or my style in evaluating media. That's "truly" relationship building. Sure I would like to make new friends along the way, but that's not possible with every rep.
    I'm also intrigued by the seller who is "your friend" when your buying from them and is mysteriously absent when your not.

    One thing in your article I might disagree with. As a buyer the ONE thing I buy is performance. Reach and impact can help in achieving this, but ultimately the proof is in the value the medium brings!

  6. Phil Lawrence from OmniAmerican Bank, August 26, 2009 at 1:31 p.m.

    You slammed the point home on this. I've worked as a rep and as a buyer. I was taught early in my selling career this foundaitonal truth of sales:

    All things being equal, friends buy from friends. When things are unequal, friends still buy from friends. The ability to sale is in direct proportion to your ability to make friends.

    Friendship gives you the opportunity to perform. Nothing hurts a good friendship like bad performance. Friendship obligates both parties to be fully vested in the success of the campaign.

  7. Neha Khanna from Seiter & Miller, August 26, 2009 at 1:32 p.m.

    I couldn't agree more! I am on the planning and buying side and face all types of reps i.e the patient, the impatient, the pushy, the non pushy and the ones that want to build a relationship. Without doubt it's those that make even small attempts to know you, are the ones that end up on the plans more often than others. It doesn't even have to be any major effort but simple things like 'talking about the weather', 'what plans for the long weekend' or 'pulling additional reports for you' that make you remember these reps.While you have to learn to work with all types of people, it's those that focus on the long term rather than one campaign that make the difference. I would add that those who call and email 'every day' to ask about possibilities of getting on the plan, hardly make it.

    A secret well-shared! Thanks

  8. Michael Linton from Reframe It, August 26, 2009 at 2:07 p.m.

    Thanks for posting this Cory. When you take the time to build a solid relationship you show respect both for yourself and the other party. The nice thing about taking the long term view vs. the smash & grab is you do business over and over again and have a new friend to boot. It's great to always *want* to see people at iMedia vs. some ppl who seem to want to avoid folks. Do business the right way, take the long term view, and reap the professional and personal rewards.

  9. Mark Mccarthy from Upstate Capital Group, August 26, 2009 at 2:10 p.m.

    So sales is based on building relationships? I think I first learned that at the lemonaide stand when I was 10 years old, but thanks for sharing the "Secret" with us.
    I am now going to ask my top prospect who their favorite band is and buy tickets for that show.
    To call this an insightfull piece of information I find somewhat insulting.

  10. Peggy Groppo from Philip Johnson Agency, August 26, 2009 at 2:21 p.m.

    I agree with the importance of building a relationship. I disagree that you start building that relationship with the first phone call. There is nothing I hate more than sappy "how's the weather" and "do you have any kids" questions during an introductory phone call. Relationships, like friendships, start slowly and are built on as the mutual benefit to both parties is realized. Let's get to know each other while tailgating at a Pats game, not in a cold call during the busiest part of my day. And impress me with your knowledge of your product, my client, and how they fit before you try to be my friend.

  11. Brian Ferrario from Rocket Fuel Inc., August 26, 2009 at 2:50 p.m.

    peggy -- i agree with you -- a little creepy to start the faux business aside questions too early. by the way, how's your week going? cory -- didn't everyone's parents teach them basic relationship skills? -- to play nice in the sandbox, to get that first date, to land that job, to book that I/O? with all the available social media/personal info available online it seems like it would be easy to do some due diligence on the people you're selling to help start that appropriate conversation with the appropriate candor, style and content and not trip on that first step. i love great sales people and i loathe terrible ones -- i would say the bad ones should put new batteries in their early warning "i'm being too slick o-meter" and the good ones probably have great intuition.

  12. Merri lee Barton from BartonMedia, August 26, 2009 at 6:51 p.m.

    Relationships are the foundation of the ad business. That's no secret. It's all about trust, confidence and respect. However, bottom line is still what's best for the client. Sometimes that's NOT the media property where the sales relationship exists. If handled properly, the respect can increase when we DON'T recommend what our friend is selling, for the right reasons. The relationship can grow stronger and the respect can deepen. That is....if the trust and confidence remain.

  13. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 26, 2009 at 10:38 p.m.

    People buy from people who they like and trust.

  14. Michael Senno from New York University, August 26, 2009 at 11:37 p.m.

    Take it a step further - almost every business is built on relationships. Media or not, I always give vendor's I've developed strong relationships first crack at RFP's, partnerships, etc. Even internally, selling ideas and concepts are easier when you have an established relationship and developed a trusted reputation. Technology be damned, people skills will always prevail.

  15. Kent Kirschner from MobileBits, August 27, 2009 at 9:22 a.m.

    I was pumping gas yesterday in South Florida, on my return from a series of meetings there. Having been selling in the space you are describing I'm always curious to understand the true key to it all. Part of me feels as though I embody the principles outlined, I do maintain strong relationships and carry them with me, but there is always a nagging doubt with sales people that is at their core and is probably what continues to drive them.

    So, last night, there in the parking lot, I watched a young man in a flashy new Mercedes. He was taking a break from pumping gas because he was on a heated call that sounded to be the culmination of a big sale. (of what I have no idea). He paced back and forth, a space of about 40 feet, occasionally jumped a bit off the ground, laughed out loud, talked about final signatures, paced some more and then....said his goodbyes and put his phone away. Upon putting the phone in his pocket, he jumped off the ground, threw his arm in the air and to noone in particular exclaimed 'now that's how you sell'. And then he finished pumping his gas.

  16. Michael Price from Digital Personality, August 29, 2009 at 9:14 a.m.

    Couldn't agree more. In interviews people always ask - whats one the biggest things you bring to the table - it is building and maintaining relationships. To me more important than any strategy or tactic is the ability to understand your client on multiple levels. From the personal to the professional, if you don't connect, you likely won't get asked to continue working with them

    As you sya the other stuff is "easy."

  17. Todd Brewster from Media Buying Decisions, September 12, 2009 at 12:18 p.m.

    I am sorry, but I couldn't disagree with you more. The difference between a media buyer and a person who buys media is that a media buyer has to analyze the statistics. I love to come in after someone has bought media and show them how they can reach at least 30% more of their target audience staying within the budget. The value of the relationship to the media rep is that the smart rep will present the stats in the format that you like and if all things are equal I will use the rep that does things the way I like.

Next story loading loading..