Chic to geek: The evolution of the media buyer

Ben Plomion is vp of marketing for Chango.

Being a media buyer today is not what it used to be. And we’re not talking about 20 or 50 years ago — it’s changed drastically just over the past few years. Early digital-era media buyers were playing the game the same way their granddad did — taking long, expensive lunches with major publishers and then buying up big chunks of their ad inventory.

Life was good. But as programmatic marketing burst onto the scene, something had to give. Marketers were suddenly much less interested in buying up audiences on specific sites. If media buyers wanted to remain the agency hotshots, they would have to reinvent themselves. They would have to find their prestige not in publishing connections but in ad tech mastery. In other words, to stay cool, media buyers had to go geek.

Help! The Search Marketers are Coming

If media buyers have been quick to transition into the tech age, it’s because they had a big incentive. If they didn’t, the search marketers were going to takeover their media plans.

As Google and the other major search engines moved into display, they took on display with the same metric-driven approach that made search marketing so effective. Efficiency was no longer an aspiration. It was everything. Sure, media buyers could still argue that display isn’t only about numbers. They could say that good creative work is part art as well as science. But if the media buyers were first and foremost well grounded in the technology, these arguments sounded weak.

We Have to Learn How to Do What?

And so, media buyers began doing their homework. There was plenty to learn. Many had to master attribution modeling and understand the fine points of frequency capping and view-through windows. Others dove into the minutiae of retargeting, discovering along the way that site retargeting is just the beginning of what programmatic marketing offers.

And, based on the media buyers I talk to, many of them discovered something surprising as they did all this homework: Programmatic marketing can actually be a lot of fun. For starters, everyone in the agency likes you when you figure out new ways to increase efficiency and save money.

But, more than that, things are changing so quickly that there’s never a chance to get bored. The real-time bidding revolution that changed the way we think about desktop display is now beginning to change the way we think about video, mobile and native campaigns. There are confusing moments. Maybe even some moments when you find yourself staring blankly at an analytics program, wondering how you got yourself into this mess. But there are never, ever dull moments.

The Human Touch Lives

Not everyone is happy about this shift, of course. I’m sure there are a few media buyers out there who are missing those long lunches with publishers. But, let’s face it, the chumminess of the old system — buys based on who did the best wining and dining — is a perfect symbol of just how wasteful it could be.

Media buyers now need to harness the human touch themselves in order to help clients understand why it makes more sense to spend their money in an RTB exchange rather than on a huge buy across They’ll also need to persuade agency colleagues who might not yet grasp the power of programmatic.

Do it over the Friday drinks cart and, going forward, the media buyers who do so will be the ones having all the fun.

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