Small business marketing: How to buy media

Buying ad space for your small business has never been more complicated than now.

Buying ad space for your small business has never been more complicated than now.

By Mark G. Auerbach

It takes a good mix of common sense, sufficient budget, patience, negotiation skills, and a complete understanding of your product or service and market to be a successful media buyer. (President Obama, make note…this could be a great next job for you). Some people turn to a full-service ad agency that can do the buy and supply the creative. Some people use a media buyer, who’s a specialist in the art of the buy, and supposedly well connected enough to swing good deals for their clients. Some choose a mix of support people, and some do it themselves.

In days of old, media buying was pretty easy. You just had to figure out which newspapers, magazines, radio and TV were reaching your potential customers, and have your ads designed and placed. Now, you have the Internet and social media in the mix, and an ever-changing landscape. Take the local news on TV for example. People tuned in to their local news before the national network news. The early side of news was local news; the middle was weather, and the latter part was sports. People watched it on their TV. It was a more affordable buy than the national feed that came on a few minutes later. Now, some people watch news at its original broadcast time on TV. But many more catch it online streamed through a website, on their smart phones, on a Facebook feed when it’s most convenient.

A decade ago, most people began their day with coffee and a morning newspaper. Now, they get their morning news on the radio, on TV, through a feed, and in many cases, when they want it. TV news is 24/7, and people access it when and how they want it.

So, a few thoughts about buying media.

1. If you don’t have the time, hire the expert–an individual or an agency who can buy according to what’s right for your business, negotiate the deal, work with the creative to traffic the project, and monitor the results. Whoever you hire, make sure to check their references.

2. Remember, in many cases, the media advertising rep, the media buyer, and the agency receive commissions from the media outlets they buy from. They all want your business, because they gain something from your buy. Make sure they have YOUR interests at heart and not their profit lines. That said, having been a radio rep, and having worked with many, there are some very ethical, responsible people out there representing their products and services; and reputable agencies (mine included), who don’t work on commission, but negotiate the best rates available, pass the agency commission back to their clients, and bill on their standard agency hourly or retainer rates. 

3. Make sure you have the money to advertise sufficiently. On a commercial radio station, one spot isn’t sufficient. It gets lost in the shuffle. In a newspaper, one ad placed for one week, might not be seen by the reader base if they’re not reading the paper the day your ad appears. Make sure that money covers your creative. Although most newspapers, radio and TV stations will design your ad at no charge, you want quality and a cohesive look and sound to all of your materials.

4. Be ready to respond when your ad runs. Do you have a phone number in your ad? Will it be answered when your ad runs? If your radio ad runs overnight, will there be voice mail that’s easy for a customer to use (without going through a phone tree)? Does your website have a place for people to make one click to order or request information? Can your staff respond immediately? If your ad says “Call now” or “order now,” can your customer achieve that?

5. Everything is negotiable. No media outlet will turn away advertising dollars. Price, however, is a matter of supply and demand. If you’re planning to run an ad during the busy holiday season, order early. Ad discounts are based on frequency. If you do your buy for the year, you’ll save money over buying by the week. Ask if you can get a discount for prepaying (use your airline point branded credit card and earn miles). If you’re a non-profit, ask about a non-profit rate.

6. Don’t buy just what you consume. Your personal media tastes may not be the same as that of your customers or prospects. Just because you like the Food Network, old movies, and soaps doesn’t mean they’re reaching your audience. One exception to the rule is public radio and public television. Your underwriting (as opposed to advertising) dollar supports a program or service that people tune in specifically for. Those audiences recall who supports their favorite programs like “All Things Considered” or “Frontline.” 

7. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. A good marketing campaign will reach people through a variety of venues, newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, and the web. If you put all of your advertising into one local newspaper, you may be missing the audience that reads its competitor. 

8. Track your ad results. If you’re using a discount coupon, code it for each ad you place, so you know where the response is coming from. When a customer orders by phone, ask where they learned about your product. Likewise, when people order online. You’ll quickly learn what’s effective.


Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

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