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I recently came to the agency side from over 20 years in television media. Through it all, I really enjoyed the positive effects of placing my clients’ message alongside national network shows and content. Associating local and regional clients with powerful brands like ESPN, HGTV, The Food Network, Discovery Channel, and CBS allowed their brands to reach a level of prestige unavailable through other advertising options. The sight, sound, and emotional dimensions of video are undoubtedly an effective tool for introducing your brand to essentially passive audiences at the top of the sales funnel.

For many years, I worked with both agencies and in-house marketing teams pairing businesses with the best audiences for their products and services. Coming from the media side, I know that it takes thoughtful consideration to make effective media buying choices.

If you’re trying to decide between partnering with an agency or buying media direct, here’s seven key questions you can ask yourself to help determine which is best for you.

1. Do you have a clear understanding of your target audience and the best marketing channels to reach them?
Since you are already operating a successful business, you probably have a clear understanding of who your best customers are and may also have an idea of what you want your future customers to look like. The other side of knowing who they are is knowing the best ways to reach them and the type of creative messaging that will influence them to engage with your brand. If you are unsure who your ideal customers are, this is where an agency’s expertise shines. Their ability to dive deep into market research as well as knowledge of available marketing channels can help you understand your target audience – introducing you to your future customers faster. Truly understanding your customer and the best places to reach them will allow you to choose the right media options, both traditional and digital, for placing your marketing message.

2. Can you use your time efficiently to execute the day-to-day needs of your strategy?
Every marketing/advertising campaign must start with a good strategy. However, a good strategy will not bear fruit without seamless execution. Because advertising options change so quickly, this will require research into each option to ensure it aligns with the strategy you have put in place and meets your budget. If you have the time and staff necessary to carry through your strategy as it was designed, then you may be able to handle the placement yourself. If you would prefer to oversee your strategy as it unfolds without dedicating additional time and staff, then partnering with an agency that does all of this as a part of their normal business operations may be your best choice.

3. Are you able to sort through the innumerable media options available to identify the most effective mix to compliment your strategy?
If you are interested in meeting with each media representatives in the market to learn about all of the media options available to you, then going direct is a great way for you to do this. Agencies meet with media representatives frequently in order to stay up-to-date on the latest offerings and weigh the value of each against the alternatives. An agency will help you find your best media fit and they will field all of the calls with media reps that would have come direct to you.

4. Do you have the buying power necessary to negotiate more efficient rates than your competitors?
If your media investment is large enough, you can negotiate a lower advertising rate giving you a higher return on your investment. However, if your competitors have a larger media budget, they may get that lower rate instead, leaving you to pay more than the competition for the same amount of voice in the market. On the opposite side, agencies leverage the sum of their media buying power to get you the best bang for your buck.

5. Do you have relationships with all of the media outlets necessary to execute your plan?
An important aspect of being an effective media buyer is networking with your local media reps. If you have existing relationships with them, or if you’re interested in building those relationships, going direct may be a good way to develop those valuable connections. One of the largest hurdles in media plan execution is knowing who to work with, and how to work with each individual media outlet. Many times, agencies already have established connections with the media and understand the subtle operational nuances that are necessary to put your plan in place. By using an agency, you can save yourself the time it takes to build these relationships and the education necessary to work well with them.

6. Do you have an objective source of market research that isn’t biased toward a specific media outlet?
Unbiased research is key to helping you make key strategic decisions for your business. If you have access to this type of information, it is far more valuable than the information provided by the various media. They often present statistics that “tell a good story” for their media. Not to say it doesn’t have any value or that it’s untrue. However, it should be considered alongside objective market and media research for sound decision making. Agencies have access to research that isn’t designed to make any particular media look good. (And they usually have a team member whose job it is to dive into statistics.) An agency can make clear, unbiased decisions and save you money by leveraging their expertise across all media options and the research tools available to them.

7. Can you make the critical decisions necessary without the support of an expert in the market?
If you are confident in your marketing decision making abilities and don’t see value in adding an objective partner to support you, then going direct may be the best option for you. Understanding this about yourself will save you the time necessary to establish a fruitful agency partnership. Your agency only succeeds when you succeed, period. The agency’s goal is designed to address your business challenges with strategically sound marketing tactics aimed at growing your business.

While it’s not impossible for you to buy media direct, it’s important that you understand the depth of knowledge that is required to execute the right strategy for a successful and impactful media campaign. I enjoyed every year of my media consultant career, however, being on the agency side offers the unique ability to provide a complete solution to our clients. It’s great to have a key role in allowing business owners the freedom to focus on what they do best, while we do what we do best. Together, I’m certain we can select the right marketing options to help grow your business.

Alan Olson

Author Alan Olson

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