Media buying is a cinch…. can’t be that difficult, right?

You just a need a calculator, a pot plant and to have a brain. Calculator, pot plant and brain are rather useful and a good start but they are not sufficient. Such thinking massively over-simplifies the task in hand.

But surely, I have a university degree/ I am good with numbers/ I am used to buying products and services for my company / I brilliantly renegotiated my home energy or telephone supplier deal / I always get bargains buying souvenirs on holidays  (please choose as may apply).

Well done on all accounts.

However, media buying is an expertise that requires specific qualities.


The qualities of a strong media buyer are

  1. Understanding of all media
  2. Be articulated
  3. Nimble with numbers
  4. Able to think on the spot and be creative
  5. Be prepared to deal with human beings


  1. Understand of all media

Whatever the medium that is being purchased, a media buyer should have an understanding of how that buy fits in the greater marketing plan of the client. Is it a stand-alone buy? Is it the core of an overall campaign? Is it set in stone or is there room for manoeuvre? How does it integrate with the rest of the media plan? Does that buy rely on the timings and performance of other media buy(s)?

A media buyer will know the market place within which the buy is happening and understand it’s dynamics and terminology e.g. ABC/ RAJAR/ YouGov/ ROUTE/ PamCo/ Google Analytics/ Jicreg/ BARB/ CPT/ CPM/ OTH/ OTS etc. Is the buy in a buoyant & strong environment that is easily sold out? Is it in a declining sector? Are there economies of scale to be investigated?

All are factors that media buyers should instinctively think of.


Media owner X tells you: “with this advert Dear Client you will reach 250,000 of your target audience”.

That may sound good, but is it? What is that number within the context of that media owner circulation/ readership/ listenership/ viewership? Is it only, for example, 20% of their total audience and therefore aren’t you paying for 80% wastage?


What are you buying exactly?  

Is it a page in a newspaper or is it showing your advertising to x number of readers via the format of a page? Is it a 30 seconds commercial advert across so many spots or is it x number of listeners during dayparts that are optimising your target audience’s natural exposure on that station? Is it a 30 secs television advert or is it the large viewership and kudos associated with appearing in a well thought after programme? And so on for every medium.

A media buyer will know the trading currencies such as circulation, readership, listenership, viewership, dayparts, positioning, share of voice rotation.

He/ she will know to interrogate the data: Is the source reliable, recognised and the most up to date? What is the audience base of the data source showed? What is the sample size and is it robust enough? What is the positionings/ timing/ environment/ audience delivery/ wastage?

  1. Be articulated

Shy people may not apply? Not necessarily.

The more knowledge and experience the media buyer will gain, the more their confidence will soar.

Back to know his/ her stuff. Knowledge is power. Knowledge will empower.

Good training, good mentors are important.


Media buyers are comfortable with both the written and spoken word.

Nowadays a lot of deals are done via emails. Emails are great to put a deal in writing and allow time for substantiation, as well as, space for rationalisation.

But emails do not always get the best deals and therefore being comfortable with speaking in person on the phone or face to face is a skill that should not be under-estimated nor lost. It takes practice.

Spiritmedia innovative buys such as an outdoor banner with a breathing cow; creative artwork changing based on the speed of drivers past an outdoor site; creative being displayed only during snow falls in specific European Ski resorts; a Christmas tree with twinkling lights on roadside posters; the covering of a Glasgow Underground station main concourse wall; all took telephone conversations as well as emails to make those ideas come to life. That human touch first started the ball rolling – more on that in point 5.


  1.  Nimble with numbers

Ah yes numbers do matter and a good media buyer will be conversant and comfortable with numbers.

Do you know your net cost? Gross up cost? How to gross up a net cost? How to net a grossed-up cost?

How to check a cost per thousand? Reach? Frequency? Impacts?  How do you calculate impacts if all you have are reach and OTS? How do you calculate your OTS if all you have are impacts and reach? How to build an index? Etc.


These are not just technical terms. They are all different numbers with different sources and different meaning. They all play a part in media buying.

Get comfortable with numbers and calculations before you start negotiating.

  1. Able to think on the spot and be creative

Back to being articulated but also it is about having the flexibility and foresight to see all angles of the negotiation.

Not all media buys will be straight forward. What are you going to do about it?

A good media buyer will realise when rigidity is counter-productive, and it is time to think laterally using other parameters involved and the media owner other assets if suitable.


Just because the buying parameter started with x,y,z, doesn’t mean that you cannot ask for something different, something extra as part of the equation. Just because it has not been done before, doesn’t mean that it cannot be done.  It may never be done again but why not try?

It may be a pyramid shape advert in a quality daily broadsheet newspaper which will never be allowed again as editorial found it too awkward to work around. It may be a bus shelter with sound that will later be banned by that Council as too intrusive. Media firsts happen with the expertise of a strong media buyer and open-mindedness of sale representatives.


An experienced media buyer will know when to be creative (if the brief & format allows it) and have that mindset and ability to engage with it and engage others with it too.

  1. Be prepared to deal with human beings

Being a media buyer goes hand in hand with being a media sales representative.

It requires one of each (and sometimes other team members) to make great deals.

All are human beings. All have their own agenda, targets, pressures, stress levels, ability levels.


The best deals are when all parties get something out of it.

Understand that this is business and that it should never be personal. If you make it personal you lose objectivity and control. An experienced media buyer will be able to have a spirited negotiation and yet sit down for coffee/ drink/ cake/ lunch (whatever takes your fancy) with their contact. The reality is that they may be too busy or geographically too far away to do so, but the intention can be there.

As for emails, remember that they can be ignored. Remember that they have no tone of voice and can only be written in your own way and your own head, but they are read with very different sensitivities and connotations. Neuro-linguistic programming here we go. Anything can be subjective even in the rational world of numbers. Emails lack the fluidity of a chat when ideas can be brain stormed. They lack the connectivity that real-life conversations allow particularly in solving issues.

All experienced media buyers know when only a phone call will do.