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Alex Blyth



Best practice – media buying

B2B Marketing

Advertising is an expensive business. It costs a lot to employ creative experts to devise the advertisement in the first place, and the media space in which it is shown is usually even more expensive. If no one sees the ad then it is a waste of a lot of money. If the wrong people see it then it can actually be damaging to a brand. Getting it right is therefore important, but it is easier said than done, particularly when it comes to B2B marketing, with its niche markets, constrained budgets, and limited number of purchasers. This guide is intended to help B2B marketers through this particularly tricky area.

Using an agency

The vast majority of companies outsource media planning and buying to a specialist agency. Carat Business is the leading B2B media buying agency in the UK, and Toby Brack, Client Assistant there, offers this explanation of the benefits of using an agency: “There are over 5,000 B2B publications to say nothing of all the television, radio, outsorr and online opportunities. So it can be useful to work with an agency that is aware of the niche players, rather than just the obvious titles. Because we are continually booking space, we know how well different slots perform, and can share this expertise with our clients. Furthermore, because we book so much advertising on behalf of our clients we are able to negotiate good rates.”

These are compelling arguments and explain why almost all companies outsource media buying. It is only the very large companies or the very small ones for whom using an agency does not make sense. Large companies, such as Unilever, book so much advertising that they can build the expertise and economies of scale in-house. Small companies that only book the occasional ad and know where they want to place it are unlikely to find an agency cost-effective.

Managing the relationship

While agencies do of course charge for their services, this should be more than covered by the improved return on investment that the agency delivers. Traditionally, agencies have received a fee based on a percentage, usually around 3%, of the value of the media they book. However, many agencies now prefer to receive a set monthly fee. Neil Hurman, Managing Partner of media planning and buying agency Manning Gottlieb OMD, explains why: “The commission system incentivises agencies to book as much space as possible on behalf of their clients. In many cases, however, the best course of action will be not to book any space. Because we’re paid on a monthly fee we can happily advise our clients to keep hold of their money, and so we develop a more useful advisory role.”

Regardless of how an agency is remunerated, everyone agrees that the most important factor is openness. As Mike Walsh, md of Blueberry Creative, an agency which creates advertisements for professional service providers including accountants, financial services companies, recruitment agencies, puts it: ”You should know what your agency is paying for your media and what mark up they are making and whether this is considered a management fee. Your agency ought to happily show you media invoices.”

Selecting your media

Each campaign requires a different mix of media, and while media buyers on the consumer side can draw on a range of research tools to help them decide which to pick, B2B buyers must rely on their own experience. Similarly, while some companies never advertise in a publication that has not had its circulation audited, others are running a niche campaign and so want to appear in small, possibly unaudited titles. The media buyer has to inspect competing titles, editorial content and publisher target audience breakdowns to get a feel for the value of the publication.

Gyro, the UK’s biggest B2B direct marketing agency, has recently set up a media buying department, headed by Kathryn Evans. She explains the different media she uses: “Trade press is still the biggest area for B2B advertisers. Many also go for the national press, and online advertising is growing very rapidly. It is very measurable so popular with clients and now takes up about 70% of my time. Outdoor media is mostly confined to train stations and airport departure lounges, while there is very little B2B advertising on radio now.”

Each medium has its own strengths and allows advertisers to accomplish different objectives. For instance, if a company is launching a new product or service it will usually run large ads, with impactful creative in key positions such as on the cover or on the first right hand page. It will take a similar approach when it is looking to raise awareness. However, if it wants to generate response from the ad, generally from existing customers, then it will use a smaller format and possibly a strip ad. These allow for a clearer call to action, and also are cheaper and so allow for a longer campaign.

Responding to events

Booking one-off ads hardly ever works. Advertising needs to be strategic and ongoing campaigns should be planned and booked far in advance. However, this does not mean that advertisers can then sit back and just watch the strategy unfold. Nigel Pyke, Marketing Director at accountancy firm, PwC, says: "Every year we plan how to spend our annual budget, but we always hold some of it back for tactical advertising. This year the new International Financial Reporting Standards came through and we wanted to let existing and prospective clients know what this means for their businesses, so we took a tactical opportunity to sponsor an IFRS supplement in Accountancy Age."

There are even some products which rely almost entirely on tactical advertising. For instance, national newspapers tend to only release ads when they have good news about rising circulation figures to publicise. Even those that are not must be equipped to respond to unforeseen events. Kathryn Evans remembers the Love bug virus which affected so many computers around Valentine’s Day 2000: “The company I was working for had developed a patch for the virus and within 24 hours we had bought banner space on which to advertise it. We received a huge response.”

Making the deal

Negotiation is an important element of media buying. A good buyer will be able to get a media owner to reduce the rate card. Some, such as The Economist, are notoriously unwilling to accept less, but most are willing to discuss it. According to Richard Perry, General Manager at Gyro, it’s all about relationships: “We like to work closely with media owners, so that we can usually come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. Crucially, just as well have many clients, so media owners often have many different publications, channels, sites and so on. This gives us plenty of room for manoevure.”

Advertisers ought to remember that return on investment is almost always more important than basic cost. So, whilst in order to negotiate properly, it is necessary to be able to walk away, it can be foolish to wreck a carefully conceived campaign plan for the sake of a few thousand pounds. Similarly, the cheapest space is rarely the best space. As Rebecca Clayton, Head of Marketing at QAS, a supplier of address management solutions, puts it: “Media planning in advance is the most critical part of getting value for money. What may look like a good deal in the short term could actually turn out to be a complete waste of time and effort if it does not get the message across effectively. The most critical factor is making sure it hits your objectives and you brief the agency properly.”

Staying media neutral

While advertising remains an excellent method for raising awareness, building brands and even driving response, marketers should never let themselves think that it is the only means of communicating with buyers. In some cases, media buying agencies can take a blinkered view of this and so imbalance the marketing budget. To avoid this pitfall at IBM, Anthony Marsella has been working with the Chartered Institute of Marketing to develop what he describes as a media-neutral approach. “We don’t just start with advertising and see what’s left, “he explains. “We also consider more direct forms of marketing, and ensure that our overall plan, not just our media buying plan, is geared to maximise the effectiveness of our budget.”


- buying the wrong for an advertising campaign is a waste of money at best and damaging to a brand at worst

- only very large or very small advertisers buy their own media; pretty much everyone else uses an agency

- agencies know what publications are suitable for a campaign, and are able to develop productive relationships with media owners and pass on the benefit to their clients

- increasingly agencies are being paid set fees rather than a percentage of the media space they buy

- trade press is still the most popular medium for B2B advertising, but online is growing rapidly

- advertising campaigns need to be strategic, but ought to leave room for tactical initiatives

- good negotiation is as much as working creatively with a media owner as it is about getting the lowest price possible

- advertising is not the only way to communicate a message, and many companies consciously strive to be media neutral in their marketing

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