Becoming a Media Buyer

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A media buyer’s job is to make sure a company’s advertising message rises above the noise of the ever-broadening media space. Amid advertisements on buses, in magazines and on nearly every website, media buyers work to get their company’s brand, service or product recognized by the right audience through strategically purchasing advertising space and time.

As advertising becomes more prevalent online, more crucial to print publication success, and more experiential and interactive to catch the attention of a younger audience, strategic media buying will become an even more important component of a company’s overall marketing strategy.

Media Buyers, Media Planners and Advertising Sales Agents

Marketing a company’s product, brand or service takes a network of professionals with a variety of special focuses.

Media planners lead the vision of the marketing team. They analyze information about the viewing and reading habits of target markets. They evaluate the company’s marketing concept and content and determine the optimal mix of the available types of media. This process involves gathering and analyzing data regarding how many people a certain type of media reaches and how often it reaches them. Marketing support staff, including market research analysts, help to gather and organize this data. Based on their findings, media planners and buyers work together to develop strategies and determine the channels that would be best suited to effectively marketing the client company’s brand or product.

Next, media buyers carry out the marketing plan. They negotiate with the advertising sales agents who represent the companies that own media outlets to purchase the advertising time and space deemed strategically relevant.

Advertising sales agents work for media providers like television and radio stations and print and online publishers where they sell advertising time on the programs, publications and sites owned by these media companies. Others work for media representative and planning firms that are hired to represent media companies. The agents at these companies solicit advertisers on behalf of the media providers who hire them. Advertising sales agents work directly with media buyers to fill advertising space.

The Role of Media Buyers

Media buyers work for companies who have a product, brand or service to promote. The media buyer’s responsibility is to find and purchase advertising time and space to help get the company’s message in front of consumers. Some are employed directly by those companies, but many work for advertising, public relations and media buying firms like R&R Partners, McCann Worldgroup, BBDO and Capitol Media Solutions.

Buyers work closely with media planners to develop a marketing campaign and research the duration and combination of media outlets used to reach the target market. Media buyers find specific media outlets available for purchase and strategically buy the space and time needed to communicate the desired message. To do this, buyers evaluate media reach, formats and pricing, as well as consumer demographics in order to meet the marketing objectives of marketing managers.

Once the purchase has been made, they make sure the advertisements appear precisely as scheduled. They also help the team track data that may include how many people clicked on an ad or how many free samples were delivered. This way, buyers are able to determine how successful each part of the advertising campaign was at meeting the client’s goals.

As media outlets and the way people consume media content changes, some channels become more or less relevant overall, or more or less effective in reaching specific market groups. This means media buyers must keep pace with new types of advertising and media in order to ensure brands and products maintain a strong presence in the marketplace.

Media buyers need to have a strategic financial mindset to calculate rates, usage, and budgets, but they also need to be sensitive to the nuances of consumer media consumption and broad-based marketing strategy. Media buyers are the money managers of the team, so they must be organized and economical in their handling of advertising budgets.

Media buyers often specialize in certain types of media. Their specialties are largely driven by the needs of the their employer. Since most companies need to market in a variety of formats, most media buyers have several areas of expertise. Very large companies may hire specialized, media-specific buyers to cover larger brands or campaigns.

The main specialties are driven by advertising format and include:

  • Traditional advertising, including television, radio, print (newspapers, magazines, etc.) and outdoor (including billboards, posters, bus stops, etc.)
  • Interactive marketing, including web ads, mobile apps, email blasts and social media
  • Engagement marketing, which includes experiential campaigns (like targeted sample distribution), point of purchase advertising (like in-store demos), and behavioral marketing (like viral campaigns and street teams)

Degrees for Media Buyers

Media buying positions typically require a bachelor’s degree. Most professionals that work in this field hold degrees in marketing, communications or public relations. The diversity of academic backgrounds among those working as media buyers may include these specialized degrees, among others:

  • BS/BA – Marketing
  • BS/BA – E-Commerce
  • BS/BA – Advertising
  • BS/BA – Public Relations
  • BS/BA – Communications: Public Relations
  • Graduate Certificate: Integrated Marketing Communications
  • MS – Advertising

Certification

The American Academy of Public Relations Marketing and Advertising (AAPRMA) offers a variety of marketing related certifications including the Certified Media Buyer (CMB) designation. The requirements for certification include holding an accredited college degree, three years of professional experience, an agreement to abide by the AAPRMA ethics guidelines, and passing of the peer review case study project. Maintaining and renewing the certification requires 10 hours of continuing education each year.

The Society to Advance Media Professionalism (STAMP) is an organization committed to excellence in media buying, planning, and placement. They offer three different certification exams:

  • Certified Media Generalist (CMG)
  • Certified Broadcast Media Buyer (CBMB)
  • Certified Print Planner/Buyer (CPPB)

To qualify for any of these three certifications, media buyers must have at least two years of experience within the specific area of certification.

Salary Expectations

Many media buyers earn a portion of their income on commission. The more advertising space and time they can acquire, the more money they earn. As such, the base salaries provided here as reported by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2010, don’t necessarily reflect the full earning potential of media buyers. The BLS provides salary data for purchasing agents, which is a broad occupational classification inclusive of media buyers. It showed the national average among these professionals to be $60,160.

Some of the highest earning purchasing agents fell under the industry classification for company and enterprise management, which would be the narrower classification under which media buyers in administrative rolls would fall. Within this industry classification they earned $63,370 on average.

Not surprisingly, California is the state with the highest number of purchasing agents. Here they earned an average of $64,060. The highest salaries were found in the District of Columbia where purchasing agents earned an average of $83,380. The District of Columbia also has the highest concentration of purchasing agents in the nation, followed by Virginia and Washington State, where agents earned an average of $68,800 and $62,650 each year respectively.

Media buyers, as a specific type of purchasing agents, aren’t primarily employed in the same industries heavily populated by other purchasing agents. Media buyers are much more commonly found in the following industries earning these respective salaries:

  • Retail trade –  $50,390
  • Information – $61,710
  • Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services – $56,820

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