Many small business owners know how to do their specialty but when it comes to media, who can you trust?

Take the case of one man I know who owns a successful company. He knows he needs to market it so he buys the media representatives who ply him with trips and event tickets.  What he doesn’t know is that he is paying for these perks by not looking at all the variables.

Or the situation of a personal injury attorney I have worked with who prides himself in being the ultimate negotiator but buys what he watches on TV.

Business people are often the easiest to be sold by a media sales person who happens to call or stop by at a time that they are weighing their marketing needs.

Is there a way such a person can buy their own media and maximize their investment while getting optimum results.? The answer is yes, it can be done with a little homework.


Here is a six-step process:


  1. Do your homework. Before you buy any media, know who you want to reach. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Who is currently buying my product?
  • What is their gender, their age group, and income group level?
  • Do I want to reach buyers that are like this profile or create a new market and if so, what does this market look like?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you can do surveys, pull research from several online sources or simply ask your fellow business people for feedback. Do not take research from sales reps at face value. The chances are it has been manipulated to make their sale. It’s like asking a car dealer if their make of vehicle is the right one to buy. The answer is always “yes”.


  1. Create a persona. According to HubSpot, a persona is a semi-fictional representation that represents your customer. Think like an investigator. If this person is young, they probably lean toward online media consumption. If it’s a mom on the go, they are constantly on the road as they are child-shuttling, perhaps outdoor makes sense or shopping mall signage. If the person is over the age of 65, the newspaper might be a good fit. Even though research is always a good idea, much of this is common sense. You could always survey your customers or just really look at what they have in common. There are hundreds of media possibilities for sale that are different from the obvious ones like shopping cart advertising, boarding pass advertising, and in convenience store placards.


  1. Do the math. What can you afford to spend? Some media can be scaled to budget while others require a critical mass to work.

Here are some examples of media that can be scaled to budget:

  • Streaming radio (Pandora, Spotify)
  • Paid social media campaigns
  • Most online advertising
  • Cable television, because it can be zoned

These media can NOT be scaled to budget. They can be effective once a certain reach and frequency is met, also known as Gross Rating Points.

These include:

  • Broadcast Television
  • Cable Television (when zones are unavailable or not used)
  • Radio
  • Outdoor campaigns
  • Newspaper
  • Magazine


  1. Once you have done your homework, created personas and done the math, know the negotiability of the media you want to buy. Here is a general rule of thumb:

Highly negotiable

Broadcast/ Cable Television,



Online (sometimes, depends on the online channel)


Rarely negotiable



Social media campaigns

Online (sometimes depends on the online channel)


In the case of highly negotiable media, get multiple bids from vendors. Ask for pricing and for numbers that substantiate how many people can be reached. In radio and TV, you can ask for ratings. Nielsen certifies how many people are watching by taking percentages in the form of ratings. It boils down to a cost per rating point. It gives you a way to negotiate. Let the station representatives know that other stations are lower and you will often see the prices spiral downward. While looking at outdoor advertising, you can get daily and monthly traffic figures.  Keep in mind, rates are based on supply and demand, in these instances. This means factors like seasonality, demand for the programming, political windows and audience size come into play. You can adjust your plan to your budget by asking the media representative to prepare an actual schedule or plan for you.


Online can be bought by impressions (the number of exposures to your message), a cost per click (to a web page or landing page), or if they view your video.


With those media that rarely negotiate, try to look at the quality of the audience and make your decision the way your persona would most likely receive it. If you are marketing to a 17-year-old female, an Instagram strategy would be far more on point than a banner campaign on the local newspaper portal-  even if the same number of people are reached.


  1. Test it. Any campaign needs time. My suggestion is that if you have followed the first four steps give a campaign three to six months before pulling it. This gives you time to test the effectiveness.


  1. Create an effective message. This is a whole subject onto its own. Keep in mind, if the message doesn’t resonate with who you are trying to reach, it is not going to work. Some hints here include not using the station or publication to do the work, hire a freelancer to create it. If you are not seeing results, pull it and adjust with a new message.


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