More and more small businesses are buying their own advertising or using consultants, realizing some nice cost savings over using traditional advertising agencies. In fact in my local market of Huntsville, Alabama, we’ve seen the traditional advertising agency fall by the wayside over the past five years or so.  It seems one of the reasons these agencies have folded has to do with a sea change in media buying. So how can you get the best rates for your advertising? How do you control the buying process instead of falling under the spell of aggressive media reps? Here are a few tips I’ve picked up after years of buying media in the six figures.

Question any unsolicited offer from a media outlet

Ahhh, media reps. They can be charming, fun and exciting to be around. Yet their excitement can easily lead those not familiar with buying TV, radio or print away from a solid business strategy in their push to make a sale. When these reps call your business with a special deal or new sponsorship, take a listen, but then take a step back to make sure any ‘deal’ aligns with YOUR goals and doesn’t just help the rep meet their sales goal.

Know who you are wanting to reach

Far too often I see smart business people buying televisions spots trying to reach a non-TV audience. Or I hear a radio ad on a rock station for a retirement home. Even if a 60-year-old is listening to a rock station, he/she is not in any mood to be thinking of retirement. An effective ad campaign begins with a solid demographic understanding. Think about your customers… are they sports fans, history buffs, into cooking? What time of day are they most likely to be using the media you’re considering? What would be a secondary time slot in case your first choice is too expensive? And these are just the tip of the iceberg for demographics. A great media rep or advertising consultant will provide solid research to assist your search.

Know what media they use

Are you trying to reach business people? Maybe drive-time public radio might be a good fit. If you want to get your message to stay-at-home moms, morning television is an option to consider. Again, a solid understanding of your customers will help make the best use of your advertising dollars.

Media usage is becoming more and more fragmented recently as middle- to upper-income consumers are found to be using multiple media at once. Take a look at your own living room in the evenings. How many digital devices are being used while the family’s watching TV? Here’s some Nielsen research to help shed some light on this.

Know how long you want to run the ad

Here’s where you decide on how often you want the target audience to hear and/or see the ad and for how long. There are countless case studies on the most effective ways to repeat advertising, but at the very least make sure you do repeat and often. At one time a national burger chain would run a lot of ads for three months, then nothing for one month, then back to a heavy schedule for three.Once you have your schedule in mind, along with your spending budget, you can now start working your own deals with the media reps. Buying in volume, say three or six months at a time really amps up your buying power. Leverage your dollars to get value-added exposure from your media outlet. Often they have bonuses available such as 15-second ads or ‘taggables’ – those commercials which promote a station’s own programming “brought to you by (fill-in-your-business-here).”

Those are just a few things I’ve learned over the years. What have been some of your media-buying lessons?

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