What is Media Buying?

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    Today, businesses compete in an increasingly diverse and crowded media landscape. While the phrase “media buying” seems straightforward, a company’s ability to strategically invest in a variety of media channels—and effectively leverage them—can mean the difference between success and failure.

    With strategic targeting and ad placement, a brand is able to connect with intended consumers to increase its exposure, expand its market presence, and create lasting impacts through repeated exposure.

    Understanding Media Buying

    Defining Media Buying: A Closer Look

    According to Forbes, the short definition of media buying is the process of purchasing advertising space and/or time to promote a message or drive traffic, whether to gain sales or exposure for your brand. Purchased ads may appear on websites, radio, outdoor advertising, podcasts, social media, YouTube, television, and print media.

    The Evolution of Media Buying

    The origins of media buying lie in the print media era with magazines and newspapers. During that long stretch of time, businesses reached their target audiences by striking deals directly with publications and programs.

    Later, radio, billboards, and finally television entered the scene. TV was a game changer, but it posed added challenges, such as having to consider the costs and benefits of buying prime-time slots instead of less expensive off-peak airtime. Over time, advertising became more of an art than a science, relying heavily on negotiation skills and market understanding.

    When the digital age arrived, advertisers suddenly could reach potential customers directly by advertising on websites or search engines. By the time social media platforms went mainstream, the market was wide open, and opportunities were nearly endless.

    The Process of Media Buying

    Step 1. Setting Clear Advertising Objectives

    The first step in the media buying process is working with media planners to set campaign objectives. For example, maybe you want to raise brand awareness, or perhaps driving sales and leads is your main goal.

    Step 2. Identifying the Target Audience

    Most advertisers will spend the majority of their time on this step because this is where you’ll segment your audience. In short, you’re identifying who you want to see your ads so you can directly target those specific people.

    Step 3. Researching Media Channels

    Do research to find the best media channels to deliver the intended outcomes.  This will differ depending on what you’re trying to accomplish: awareness or driving a particular action, like streams or views. What ad-supported media are your customers consuming? Resources like Nielsen, Edison Research, Insider Intelligence, etc. can provide some insight. Do you have access to first-party data that will also inform you?  What media are your competitors using to reach this audience? 

    Step 4. Establishing a Budget

    Allocating funds for an ad campaign is the first step, but consider also precisely how you plan to spread your advertising budget across different timeframes and media.  Depending on how each media channel reaches your audience, will dictate the share of budget for each media channel.

    Step 5. Negotiating and Buying Media Space

    During the negotiation process, media buyers often have a lot of interaction with media outlets so they can get the best ad space for the lowest price. Sometimes, a buyer may never interact with a live person, using instead automated programmatic advertising.  Lastly, creative assets and instructions for specific placements are delivered to the media vendors.

    Step 6. Monitoring and Optimizing Campaigns

    When your ad campaign is live, it’s time to closely monitor key performance indicators to make sure your ads are delivering. Keeping an eye on impressions, clicks, and conversions can help you make quick data-driven optimizations.

    Media Buying Strategies

    Strategy 1: Determining the Right Media Mix

    The term “media mix” is a combination of channels or methods brands can use to reach desired audiences. A media mix may be a combination of online and offline media channels.

    Strategy 2: Choosing the Optimal Media Channels

    A brand’s target audience will determine which media channels it should focus on. For example, a younger audience will most likely see a company’s ads on social media platforms like Instagram or TikTok, while an older demographic may spend more time on Facebook, YouTube, or the History Channel.

    Strategy 3: Understanding Media Buying Metrics

    Key performance indicators include reach, impressions, click-through rates (CTR), and conversions. All of these help businesses analyze the effectiveness of their media buying efforts to determine their Return on Investment (ROI) and Return On Ad Spend (ROAS).

    Strategy 4: Utilizing Programmatic Advertising

    With programmatic advertising, advertisers bid for ad space. Because of the built-in tools most programmatic advertising platforms offer, advertisers benefit from real-time insights and being able to quickly and easily make adjustments to ads.

    Strategy 5: Leveraging Data and Using Analytics

    A seasoned media buyer will leverage data to improve targeting and use analytics to find meaningful patterns in results data. Using techniques such as retargeting, you can deliver ads to people who have already interacted with your brand. The data during the campaign helps to inform optimizations.

    Media Buying on Different Channels

    Media Buying for Television

    TV is known for its mass reach and immersive video ad format.  Spots can be purchased to target viewers in local markets or nationally.

    Media Buying for Radio

    Radio is used in audio strategies and is known as a frequency medium.  Most local advertisers use radio for branding, promotional (sales) messages, and direct response offers.

    Media Buying for Print

    Print media is a contextual buy and part of your display strategy to target a desired audience via the appropriate newspaper, magazine, or other printed material.  Ads can be purchased adjacent to desirable content.

    Media Buying for Outdoor Advertising

    Outdoor advertising is known for its ability to geo-target widely diverse audiences.  It’s used as part of your display or video strategy. Make your outdoor creative impactful with imagery and low word count. Equally important, identify high-traffic locations.

    Media Buying for Digital Platforms

    Digital platforms are used to target audiences efficiently using display, audio, and video ads.  Create engaging ads, and make sure they’re optimized for mobile screens.

    Media Buying for Social Media

    Social media ads are effective at micro-targeting specific fans or large groups of followers.  The key is identifying which social media platforms your audience frequents. Platform-specific features like Stories or Reels on Facebook or Instagram can help maximize engagement.

    Maximizing Effectiveness through Media Buying

    Enhancing Reach and Frequency

    Reach is how many people see your ad, and frequency is how often they see it. Having the right media mix will give your ad better reach, as will effective budgeting. For better reach, a budget should be spread out appropriately across the channels you’re using.

    Optimizing Ad Placement and Timing

    Placement refers to the spot on a page or screen where your ad appears. With print or digital ads, above-the-fold placement refers to the part of the page or screen that appears before the page is turned or the viewer scrolls down. Ad timing should align with the target audience’s media consumption habits.

    Measuring and Analyzing Campaign Performance

    Key performance indicators will help you evaluate the effectiveness of your campaign while it’s live and after it runs. Using tools like Google Analytics gives an understanding of your audience’s behavior and responses.

    Benefits and Challenges of Media Buying

    Benefits of Effective Media Buying

    Effective media buying offers these benefits:

    • Ad placement on the right channels within optimal content or at optimal times can reach a targeted audience to increase brand awareness.
    • Effective messaging can drive customer acquisition and retention.
    • You can enjoy an impressive return on investment (ROI).

    Challenges and Pitfalls to Avoid

    Media buying has its challenges and pitfalls, including these:

    • Failing to identify the correct target audience can result in wasted money and lost opportunities.
    • When you choose the wrong media channels, your ads will reach an unreceptive audience, affecting your ROI.
    • Learning how to monitor campaign performance is a steep learning curve, and a common mistake is to place ads and not monitor their performance.

    The Future of Media Buying

    Emerging Trends in Media Buying

    The landscape of media buying evolves continuously, and new trends and innovations constantly reshape the industry. Expect to see more of these trends and strategies:

    • Programmatic media buying that leverages technology to automate the ad-buying process and maximize ROI
    • Omnichannel approaches to reach a customer across all touchpoints, from digital and radio to social media and out of home
    • Personalization strategies that use data-driven insights for tailoring ads to an individual consumer’s preferences and behaviors

    The Influence of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

    Artificial intelligence is a rapidly moving landscape, and new tools and capabilities are rolled out daily. Here is how you can expect AI to impact the world of media buying:

    • Algorithms can analyze vast amounts of data to predict consumer behavior and aid in targeting.
    • Identifying trends will become faster.
    • AI can make rapid and highly accurate audience-targeting decisions.
    • Automation will continue to streamline the media buying process, from bidding and placement to tracking and optimization.


    Effective media buying drives brand awareness and increases consumer acquisition. While media buying isn’t new, the landscape changes rapidly and frequently. Staying on top of trends and best practices will give your ad campaigns the best possible chance of success.

    Key Takeaways for Effective Media Buying

    Successful media buyers focus on these factors:

    • Setting clear objectives
    • Identifying target audiences
    • Knowing how to reach your audience
    • Negotiating pricing and added value
    • Continuously monitoring and optimizing ad campaigns
    • Leveraging data and analytics to make advertising decisions


    What is the difference between media buying and media planning?

    Media planning focuses on establishing a target audience, conducting market research, determining a budget, and creating objectives. Alternatively, media buying involves the execution of the media plan. It is the actual purchase of ad space on chosen media channels.

    How does programmatic advertising impact media buying?

    By using data and algorithms, programmatic advertising allows advertisers to target specific audiences in real-time. Additionally, with programmatic advertising, you can more efficiently purchase ads that are precise and personalized. This might be manual buys, programmatic buys, or direct buys.

    What are the essential skills for a successful media buyer?

    Successful media buyers have strong analytical skills. These individuals are adept at analyzing data, understanding audience behavior, and making quick decisions. Negotiation skills are also important. To be a successful media buyer, it’s essential to stay up-to-date on trends.

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