What is media buying and how to master the buyer’s profession

What is media buying and how to master the buyer’s profession

Media buyer is a position that is often seen in advertising and media agencies. However, many companies have in-house media buyers as well. Large companies often have a media planner/media buyer in their staff.

Media buying 101

All media buyers, of course, are divided into those who work with different advertising channels:

  • digital media buying;
  • print media buying;
  • television;
  • outdoor advertising and others. 

At the same time, in the general pool of vacancies, that are now represented on the labor market, the share of media buyers who organize the purchase of offline advertising, is only 10-15%.

In general, the concept of the “media buyer” position, since it appeared at all, has very strongly transformed. The traditional definition of “advertising buyer” has long been outdated. Now, the media buyer is not the person who is the fastest to press the “book” button on the ad block with the most impressions in prime time.

If we talk about digital media buyers, it means analytical work with many advertising platforms, and, accordingly, with many specializations in this profession, including work with mobile traffic, work with traffic from social networks. Besides, some professionals choose to be media buyers with a specialization only in email or Facebook.

Today the work of digital media buyers includes knowledge of various bidding models, knowledge of metrics, ability to work with various advertising platforms, networks, analytical services, to evaluate the effectiveness of purchased traffic, and work with additional advertising tools.

This seems like lots and lots of work, but if you omit all the technical nuances of the media buyer job, here are the main duties of any digital media buyer:

  • negotiating, getting the most advantageous conditions from advertising networks and sites; 
  • optimization/minimization of advertising costs, document management, reporting; 
  • creation, maintenance, monitoring, and optimization of advertising in various channels, advertising networks, and accounts (if they work in a media buying agency). 

In the market, these are the most common media buyer’s skills:

  • interpersonal communication skills;
  • presentation skills;
  • analytical skills;
  • negotiation skills. 

The last skill in this list could be the most important one for a media buyer.

Media buying software, platforms, technologies and tools 

We have compiled a list of the most popular advertising platforms, that a modern media buyer should be familiar with. It is important to note that in large media and digital-agencies we most often come across media buyers who do not work with platforms and networks, their specialization is only in the field of negotiations.

  1. Advidi
  2. Smorgads
  3. Amagi MIX
  4. Lamar
  5. Pocketmath
  6. Thalamus
  7. Adintime
  8. Brandzooka
  9. ZypMedia
  10. Centro’s Basis DSP
  11. BuyAdsDirect
  12. Bonadza (Dead, as of Feb 2018)
  13. Mobicow
  14. AdRoll
  15. Adperium

Internal processes of media buyer’s work in media or digital agency (4 approaches) 

The position of a media buyer may function differently in different agencies. Let’s try to describe different variants of what this scheme may look like.

First of all, it may depend on the size of the agency, on the product line of the agency, on the volume and composition of the client portfolio.

Approach 1

A simplified scheme of interaction within a media buying department in a large but not a network agency may look like this.

The Media Planner offers a media plan from a split instrument.

The media plan is given to the media buyer, who negotiates with the sites according to the conditions. 

In such a scheme there are 2 links, in a chain of which the function of the media buyer is only to negotiate with the platforms.

Approach 2 

There may also be a slightly different scheme – the agency has several media buyers, one of whom is assigned to collect data from the market for one of the clients, agree on the terms. These data/offers are transferred to the group media head, who either approves them or does not approve them.

Approach 3 

In a small agency, the position of a media buyer can be combined with the functional responsibilities of a media planner and even an account. In these three positions, he is a direct participant in the entire process of working with the client. He collects data from the market, he plans, he also negotiates with platforms/platforms and the client.

Approach 4 

A more complex scheme is likely to be present in network agencies. The seller sells the idea to the client, the media player develops a media plan to implement the idea, the media buyer agrees on the terms with the sites and platforms, agrees on the price, trades, passes the result to the account, which passes the offer to the client.

The hardest part of the media buyer’s profession 

Now that you know what is media buying, let’s discover a bit more about the pros and cons of the job.

Media buyer is a difficult profession, in which it is necessary to maintain a balance between two goals: the media buying agency’s earnings (marginality) and the effectiveness of the digital channel (for the client).

In media buyer’s work, there is such a notion as super commission. Super commission is exactly what an agency earns from. And here the task of a media buyer is to maximize this super commission by increasing the margin of each instrument (channel) in the advertising split.

There are 2 categories of networks and platforms in terms of negotiating with media buyers about the super commission and discounts. The former offers different conditions, the latter do not negotiate discounts at all.

Media buyers, of course, more difficult to work with the second. But, on the other hand, it is also difficult for the provider of higher-quality traffic to communicate with media buyers, they can not give them the maximum discount.

This is where the media buyer’s dilemma appears – which is more important: quality or marginality. And if in a company/agency the media planner and the media buyer are different positions, then it is the task of the media planner to offer the client the best possible quality tool (they are the ones who stand for the split quality), and the task of the media buyer to leave in the split positions that meet these two conditions simultaneously.

There is an opinion on the market that the better the quality tool, the less discount for the agency. For example, the minimum discount for agencies is for advertising networks such as Google. And, conversely, there is often a rule – the lower the quality tool, the greater the discount. Often suppliers of the tool to at least something to sell as much as possible increase this discount, losing their earnings.

All of the above explains why many people believe that the main skull of a media buyer is the skill of negotiating. For the most part and that’s why many people also think that the work of a media buyer is not very pleasant. And communication between platforms and agencies does not always look nice, but this is the situation in the market where we should exist together.

What do employers search for in media buyers? 

How do employers of media placement specialists look for (media buyer position)?

According to HeadHunter.com, the largest number of vacancies in the field of Internet placement are in positions such as media buyers, performance marketers, or marketers.

Besides media buyers, employers are also looking for media planners, traffic managers, and arbitrators. Their functional responsibilities may vary depending on the specialization and size of the company or agency where they will be working.

In the European and American markets, an active division into media buyers within the same channel is beginning to take place. These are the most popular positions to date:

  • Social media market buyer/Social media manager 
  • Facebook Media buyer 
  • Programmatic Media buyer 
  • Digital media buyer 
  • Online media buyer 
  • Programmatic media manager 
  • Email media buyer 

Employers are mainly looking for young specialists (69%) to take the position of “media buyer” with experience from 1 to 3 years. While the majority of candidates (over 70%), who are applicants for this position, have more than 6 years of experience.


Among the requirements that employers place on the media buyer position are, of course, the ability to work with certain systems of advertising placement, advertising networks, and different technologies of Internet traffic procurement. About the most popular channels of purchase of Internet advertising which employers prefer (top-5), we already spoke above.

It is possible to allocate separately requirements of employers concerning knowledge of technologies of purchase of the traffic In-App (mobile traffic purchase). Also, media buying agencies indicate the importance of the media buyer’s ability to perform look-alike settings and conduct A/B testing.

Prospects for growth in the media buyer profession 

It is possible to distinguish 5 stages of growth in the profession of a media buyer.

The first step is the position of a junior media buyer. Other position designations: media buyer assistant, junior media buyer, media planner’s assistant, and others.

The level of requirements for this position is low, most employers offer training, the duties are to carry out advertising placement and prepare reports on placement. Often, the job is simply to collect and process data. There are no data on the salary level.

The second step is the position of a media buyer. Experience of 1 to 3 years. It makes sense to count on that after the start of a career on a full position media buyer can get in a year. The level of responsibility on this position increases, the requirements for experience with various systems of advertising placement are expanding, the analytical approach – the basis of work on a full position media buyer. Negotiations are becoming an important part of the working process.

The third stage – senior media buyers. He is also a leading media buyer, senior planning manager. Experience of 3 to 6 years. Most often this position in a media buying agency is determined by the size of the agency and is also used as a tool to motivate more experienced employees seeking to develop their level of competence.

The fourth step is the media group head. Other position designations: media group head, performance group head, social media group head, head of media planning and buying, team-leading media buyer, and others. At this level, the required experience of 5 years, experience in managing a team of 5 people is added tasks such as controlling team workload, training employees and customers, building partnerships with customers and sites, coordinating customer requests, and more. At present, the market share of open positions at this level is less than 1%.

The fifth step is the media director. Often media directors are grown inside a company. European experience shows that you can grow from a media buyer to a media director in 5-6 years. The main thing in the profession of a media director is managerial qualities.

If you have aspirations and desire to grow and develop, you can bypass certain stages. Experts do not recommend doing a long break in such a profession – because of the rapid development of technology of advertising, the occurrence of new platforms, systems, and platforms for advancement, it is possible very quickly to lose qualification, and then it is necessary to start training anew.

A bonus for media buyers

Top 5 leading universities in the world, from which media buyers come (according to LinkedIn):

  • The University and Texas at Austin, 
  • Michigan State University, 
  • Uniwersytet Warszawski, 
  • New York University, 
  • Penn State University. 

Top 5 companies (in the world), which most often have a media buyer vacancy (according to LinkedIn):

  • Starcom (1st place in the ranking by media purchases in AdIndex),
  • Mediacom (17th place in the ranking by the volume of media purchases in the AdIndex ranking), 
  • Mindshare (9th place in the ranking by the volume of media purchases in Adindex), 
  • Zenith (5th place in the AdIndex ranking by the volume of media purchases), 
  • Wavemaker (6th place in the AdIndex ranking by the volume of media purchases). 

Interesting/important concepts in the field of advertising traffic procurement 

Motivated traffic (or incentivized traffic) is traffic that is generated by rewards (monetary or non-monetary) for certain user actions. Most often, motivated traffic is used when promoting mobile applications, and the necessary action is to download an application.

Fraud is fraud in the sphere of information technologies. In particular, in the sphere of Internet traffic redirection, it is an advertisement for an offer with the help of prohibited traffic or provision of qualitative traffic under the guise of poor quality. For the advertiser always means the drain of budget money. It is most often encountered when purchasing traffic on the model CPA. Clickfraud is the same story, only it represents fraudulent gags.

Traffic arbitrage – buying traffic and reselling it to earn money. Often affiliate programs and CPA networks are used for this purpose. By purchasing traffic from a source, the webmaster, using a certain strategy, converts that traffic into lids or targeted actions, for which the webmaster (or CPA agency) receives pre-agreed royalties from its affiliate program, CPA-network or directly from the advertiser.

Fill Rate – the percentage of requests to display an advertisement or the ratio of the actual number of displays sold to the maximum number of displays possible. Ideally, this figure is 100%, but this situation does not happen due to several technical reasons. On the other hand, the normal level of this indicator is 95%, and if this value is less than 90% – requires a search for reasons, something went wrong.

Quality Score – an indicator of content quality assessment, which uses sites to select who to sell advertising to. For example, Google calculates an indicator of advertising quality in AdWords based on how effective was one or another ad with specific keywords and target pages.

ARPDAU (Average Revenue per Daily Active User) – an important metric (especially in the market of mobile applications, which denotes the average earnings from one active user per day. It is calculated as daily earnings divided by the number of active users. For example, if the daily audience of a mobile application of 1000 users earns $200, then ARPDAU equal to $0.2 will mean that on average one active user earns about $0.2 per day. 



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