Media Buyers - Who are they?

The media buyer as portrayed on Mad Men, courtesy of thefilteredlens.comToday's media buyer is much like Harry Crane from AMC's Mad Men - a dapper young enthusiast with big ideas about new media and a certain loyalty to the game. They are passionate workers that often start at the bottom of an agency; the pay is low and there's not a lot of training. They must immediately learn to navigate the ad-buying process while running multiple campaigns with nothing but an excel spreadsheet and a client's wish.

Back in the day, when advertising was at it's height on Madison Avenue, buying media was really about going around to bigger television networks and creating relationships. Then media buyers had a good understanding of where to go and how much to pay for a particular ad slot. It really was a relationship-based industry.

Today, with technology so close at hand, planning and buying media is much more standardized. The ads are paid for, ranked, and evenly distributed across channels based on the program ratings. The program ratings are done by a super large mega computer program. It's that easy.

For example, say you have an ad that you want to show to men ages 35-44 with a budget of $100,000. The computer programs can define a few networks that can show your ad during programs that rank high among your demographic. The media buyer selects one or two options based on the budget and the campaign is off and running. (There are a few more steps here, but for simplicity sake this is a good overview.)

In order to begin transaction up, you first need a media buyer. That media buyer needs to be familiar with the networks, the ad formats, and how the money is spent. And most importantly, they need to know how to use the big computer with all the information needed.

Who is this person, the media buyer?

They are likely early twenty-somethings with a degree in marketing or communications from a four-year university. They need to be good at multi-tasking, as their position entails handling multiple accounts at once. Finally, they will be judged on how well they spent the ad dollars. Which probably means they don't care if the proper audience is seeing the ads, as long as they are getting XX,000 impressions every day of the week, and the click rate is at least X%.

Let me restate this in simple terms: A media buyer's job is to spend every cent of the client's money as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Here is an example of a job ad for a media buyer I pulled off the internet:


  • Negotiates and purchases television, radio, and print media for all accounts within an assigned group of markets.
  • Estimates, updates and adjusts all broadcast ratings per demographic, per quarter.
  • Negotiates all rates, special placement and added value by medium for all markets
  • Documents all negotiations, make goods and credits.
  • Executes all media plans in the assigned group of markets within established budgets; buys media space and air time.
  • Designs optimum buys in terms of cost efficiency, goals delivery and vendor agreements.
  • Meets with media representatives and accesses media database to research available options for media placement.
  • Maintains all media buys and is responsible for the post-buy results of all buys.
  • Monitors buys in progress by spot checking placement and negotiating credit or billing adjustments when necessary.
  • Tracks media expenditures to ensure agency and client budget compliance.
  • Collaborates with clients and media team members to resolve media billing issues.
  • The Media Buyer supports smaller and lower profile markets than do the Marketing Director.

High School Diploma required; Bachelor's Degree preferred.
Media or Media Buying experience preferred.
Strong mathematical abilities required in this position

Basically this job is for someone that can use a computer, manager money over time, document what they have done, and make sure everything is billed correctly.

What does their job probably not consist of?

  • Optimizing to online conversions
  • Optimizing by day of week or time of day
  • Optimizing to visits instead of clicks

NOTE: We will discuss the topics above in a later post.

This is not true for every media buyer... just all of the media buyers I have ever worked with. But face it - they don't have the time, the resources, and their jobs aren't set up to buy and optimize media in this way. Therefore media buyers are doing exactly what they are supposed to do!

Now that we know what a media buyer is and what they do, we can explore further topics of media optimization and analysis. Until then, happy analyzing!

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