Media Buyers, Dodos, Predictions: I'm Sticking To Mine

On Sept. 16, 2013, I predicted the death of the traditional media buyer. That date was completely random, as it just happened to be the date I wrote a blog post with the title “Man vs. machine, the advent of electronic buying and the death of the media buyer.”

I have since written about this phenomenon many times here on MediaPost, predicting the death of the media buyer as we knew her/him within five years of that date in 2013.

My prediction was based on the fact that, when Wall Street switched to mostly algorithm-based trading, it shed about two-thirds of the humans who were the traditional traders. Instead, Wall Street started hiring like tech firms, recruiting large armies of programmers and software specialists who could shave of important seconds off each trade, delivering millions into the coffers of the brokers without having to spend any time on the trading floor.



Why am I mentioning this? Because last week a trade magazine reminded me of my prediction in the blog post and wondered why it seemingly has not come true yet. Several industry leaders were asked about the fate of today’s media planner. And after reading what these industry leaders are saying, I maintain my prediction that the traditional media planner is on her/his way out.

We learn that the traditional media buyer role is evolving into media data analysts in charge of monitoring and optimizing automated media buying schedules and plans (regardless of whether they are programmatic or not).

If Bud Light wants to attract young males, or Pampers needs new moms, and they don’t care so much where the GRPs are delivered as long as they are delivered within whatever the quality and quantity parameters are from AB-InBev or P&G, an algorithm can probably do the job faster and more precisely than a human media buyer. Just as Goldman Sachs can beat a human trader with one of its algorithms.

But then we learn one reason why it may not be in agencies’ interest to pursue the inevitable death of the media buyer: because many agencies are in the business of selling billable hours.

The money an agency charges for all the techies are captured in tech fees, which the World Federation of Advertisers places in the 40% to 60% range of all programmatic buys. On top of that, agencies charge for the hours of the media buyer who allegedly has been sitting behind her/his desk manning spreadsheets and negotiations to deliver and execute media buys.

That is a lucrative money-making formula! And agencies are reluctant to give up on anything that’s lucrative. They can only charge very little margin and overhead on an algorithm.

Still, the change is inevitable. Just like self-driving cars and trucks and drones, automation will prove to be faster, more accurate and agile at doing the job of a human.

So we have two more years to go on my prediction. Let’s sharpen it a little bit. By Sept. 16, 2018, traditional media buyers will not exactly have gone the way of the dodo. But in another two years their numbers will have dwindled to one-third of what they once represented, just like the traders who once occupied the stock exchange. Let’s check in again in 2018!

2 comments about "Media Buyers, Dodos, Predictions: I'm Sticking To Mine ".
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  1. Shelley Deneroff-thompson from sdt media,llc, November 14, 2016 at 11:32 a.m.

    There are several points that I disagree with in this post but agree that changed are needed.

    First, with the plethora of choices, we still need humans to determine which media partners and  the best mix  for each campaign.  This needs an approach that is both scientific and artistic, in other words, human.

    Secondly, the examples sited are for very large clients.  There is a whole world of smaller clients and agencies who don't have these in-house techincal resources and still depend on humans to do the work in collaboration with programmatic media partners.

    As far as the evolution of the media planner's/strategist's  job, I agree media planners need to become proficient in analytics and it is incumbent on the agencies to make sure their media strategists get the training that they need to meet this need and not be siloed into traditional, digital or analytics only roles. 

    As an ousourced media strategist, I see this repetedly, where each  team member is only focused on the metrics  for which they are accountable and have no awareness or interest in the over all performance/effectiveness of a campaign. This has got to change. 

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, November 15, 2016 at 8:36 a.m.

    Assuming that this is mainly about digital media, it is certainly true that some "buying" and "selling/marketing" jobs are and will be lost with the increased use of automated buying. However, ultimately, a human---or several humans---will have to plan the buys and communicate said plans to clients for their approval. And, once the buys are in progress, someone ---or group of someones--will have to make alterations in the buys as well as policing them to make sure that what was "bought" actually was "delivered". It doesn't really matter what these people are called---"planners", "buyers", "architects", "engineers", etc. ----so long as humans are involved at all decision making steps to some degree.

    As for "legacy media" I doubt that programmatic--- as currently designed and priced ( very high costs folks )--- is going to make much headway. Still the "legacy media" planning and buying functions are in need of upgrading as well, though great savings in terms of reduced personnel expenses may not be in the offing.

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