Confessions of a TV ad buyer: ‘Sometimes a client’s media plan makes no sense’

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

In 2018, digital ad spending accounted for more than 51 percent of market share, toppling TV ad spending for the first time, according to Magna’s September forecast for the year. TV ad buyers are feeling the pressure.

In the latest installment of our Confessions series, where we exchange anonymity for honesty, we spoke with a young TV ad buyer at a large media agency who executes on the television buys media planners bring to them. This person told Digiday that clients, looking to push their TV ad budgets as far as they will go, are asking for impossible buys and planners and buyers feel the need to accommodate as much as possible.

What is the most stressful part of your job?
Sometimes a client’s media plan makes no sense for us to execute. I don’t see what goes on between the planners and clients. I’m at the last rung in the process, working with TV companies to get ads placed, so if something is planned poorly, I can’t tell if it’s the planner’s fault, the client’s or a combination of both, and I don’t know who to be angry at.

What are some examples?
A plan might call for too many spots in late news and that particular market doesn’t have the inventory and can’t support it, or a plan might price spots at way too cheap, so it’s impossible to buy everything a client wants because there’s no way you can buy everything for so cheap. You end up having to do something that doesn’t fit the client’s plan as well or turn in something that the client doesn’t want because of the parameters that were given to you.

What is driving this pressure?
Clients want the most for the cheapest they can get. Because of all the digital options available to them today, clients are spending less on TV, but they still want it to make just as much of an impact. They don’t want to let go of any of the channels they are on, and TV is still an important channel to them. Clients just aren’t willing to shell out the appropriate amount of money.

How often does this happen?
At my old company, it was all the time. For certain clients, it was literally almost every time we had to do a buy for them. At my company now, it’s not as often, but still frequently.

Can you do anything about it?
When that situation happens, I talk to my boss and do my best to explain why what a planner has given me won’t work. My boss might push back on the client a little and the client might come back and give us a little more wiggle room with the budget, but, at the end of the day, you can’t spend more money than you’re given. What I really want to do is ask the planners: “Did you not look at everything? How did you decide this was a good idea?” It’s frustrating, but I have to go ahead with the plan.

Who do you believe the blame should fall to?
I generally blame the planners. Clients will dictate a flawed plan, and the planners, even though they might know it’s a bad idea, say, ‘OK, this is what you are forcing me to do,’ and then it comes down to me.

Do you feel like you should be in the room when planners are strategizing with clients?
I definitely think planners should ask buyers for input. I feel like I should have some input here and there. It would help the client because I would be able to help make sure a better buy was being placed in the market and the client would end up getting a better return on investment. If I was in on too many meetings though, it would take up too much time and keep me from doing my job.

In this age of consolidation, do you ever worry about losing your job?
At least for my job, I’m not worried. Since we work with multiple clients at once, it’s not as much affected if one client leaves. I have more stability in that sense, but if one of our larger clients were to leave, that would be an issue.

How much is your salary, and do you think you are being paid fairly?
My salary is about $63,000, and I feel like I’m being paid fairly.

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