Skip to content

Getting the most out of your media agency

Five people's hands side by side on a wooden table

Share This Post

Why read this? : We explore how to maximise the value you get from your media agency. Learn the services they should offer, the objectives you should set, and what makes the best agencies stand out. Read this to get more out of your media agency.

Media agencies are one of the most common agency types in marketing.

They help you manage the process and details of media planning and buying. Their expertise helps you make sure you get maximum value from the largest part of your marketing spend. 

But not every media agency is the same. That’s why this week, we look at what your ideal media agency should be doing for you.

Young man standing in Times Square at night looking up the bright media advertising billboards

What media agencies do

Your media agency does 3 key jobs for you :-

  • share media data and insights
  • build media plans to deliver reach and frequency.
  • negotiate costs and manage media placements.

Media - Data and insights

Your media agency should provide you with data about your customer’s media behaviour. It’s part of what you pay for when you hire them. 

The data comes from media sales teams and other more independent sources. It tells you which media channels, platforms and programs your target audience engages with.

The media agency uses that data to build your media plan. It tells them how many of the right customers will be exposed to each advert. That’s used to calculate the total reach and frequency. 

Person holding glasses in front of them against a blurry street background

The data also helps you work out when and where customers will see your advert. Placing adverts at the right time and location improves the impact of your media plan. 

That’s why the brief is such a key part of the advertising development process. It tells the advertising and media agency :-

  • what you’re trying to do (your objectives).
  • who you’re trying to do it to (your target audience).

It’s the media agency’s job to work out when and where to place your advertising so it gets in front of the right customers. 

The clearer the media agency is about your customers, the better the quality of your media plan.

The advertising development process - a guide on how to advertise successfully

You should share your customer profile to help them better understand your customers. They should match your customer marketing data to the media data profiles they have. This match varies depending on if you’ve segmented the market by :-

  • demographics.
  • occasions.
  • attitudes.

Demographics and media

Demographics covers customer data like gender, age, location and education level. It’s the easiest type of data to work with in media planning

Media companies use surveys to capture this type of data about the audiences viewing, reading and listening to their content.

It tells them how many and which types of people experience different parts of the media.

You use it to identify both general and specific media behaviours about your customers.

Young Girl reading book

General media data shows overall trends and patterns. Men watch more sport. Women watch more reality shows. Younger people watch more music shows. Older people watch more documentaries. 

However, specific media data helps you narrow your focus. It gets down into the details and helps you find relevant exceptions for your target audience

For example, it can show :-

  • women’s team sports like basketball or netball are very popular with women.
  • men like watching reality TV shows which involve physical challenges like Survivor or Ninja Warrior.
  • older people are more likely to watch music shows which feature music from when they were growing up.
  • a documentary about the latest social media trends would be more popular with younger people.

Your media agency will have this data. They use it to build your media plan so your adverts get in front of the right demographic target. 

Occasions and media

Media has a location and time element. It appears somewhere at sometime

You can tie that to specific occasions if that’s part of your market segmentation.

For example, many grocery products are advertised in outdoor media locations close to supermarkets.

The idea is the customer sees the advert just before entering the store. And that makes them more likely to buy your product. It’s fresh in their mind just as they’re going shopping.

Two women clinking white wine glasses together at an sunny outside cafe

The same idea goes for seasonal advertising. Christmas, Easter and Halloween adverts are timed to drive relevant purchases in the run-up to those events, for example. It’s the same if you sponsor a particular event as part of your PR plan. You place your media in relevant locations and to appear at relevant times. 

You can even tie the advert to a particular time of day, or day of the week if there’s a relevant consumption or purchasing occasion. Take food products, for example. Healthier products time their media to appear earlier in the day. Most people start the day eating healthily. But for more indulgent products, you time your media for the end of the day. People indulge more as a ‘reward’ after a tough day.

Matching your customer marketing data and the media agency data helps you place your adverts at the best locations and times.

Attitudes and media

Finally, you can also link media with attitudes. Companies like Roy Morgan and Kantar (through their TGI data) have media audience panels that complete attitudinal data surveys. 

They use these answers to create attitudinal profiles of different media channels, platforms and programs. 

For example, these can tell you which types of media people interested in social and political issues use. They’d be different from people more into health and well-being, or parenting for example. 

You might be able to guess some of these using your common sense. But having the actual data removes the guesswork. Your media agency uses this data to again make sure your advertising reaches the right target audience at the right time and in the right way. 

Media insights

Your media agency should also help you turn all this data into insights.

An insight is a deeper understanding of what drives customer decisions. You use this to make your marketing approach more relevant to the customer. It makes your marketing more persuasive. 

For example, let’s say you can choose between advertising in 2 different programs with similar total audience numbers. Insights help you work out which one will have a bigger impact. 

Person holding light bulb with blurred out light effect in the background

You look at the nature and theme of the content where the media will appear. You link that back to what you know about your customer, and what you’re trying to do.

Example - Sex and violence in media planning

There’s a good example of this in our behavioural science article. It comes from Robert Cialdini’s excellent book Presuasion.

It suggests some products are driven by a customer’s need to stand out and be distinctive. Fashion and beauty products, for example. The best media context to advertise those types of products is where the content also suggests standing out and being distinctive. Dating shows and romcom movies, for example. 

But for other products, the need is to NOT stand out. To feel safer as part of a crowd. Adverts which focus on a brand’s popularity (e.g. 8 out of 10 cats prefer …) are good at this. These work best in contexts where there’s a more threatening or violent tone. Crime shows and action thriller movies, for example.

Competitor data and insights

Your media agency should also share data about your competitor’s media activity.

Many (though not all) media channels publish Share of Voice data. This shows you media spend levels for key competitors, so you can work out who’s spending more or less than you are.

You can track competitor spend and work out how much impact it’s having on your sales. (though of course, competitors can also access this same information and work out your media activity). 

Blond woman partially hidden behind a leafy bush

The challenge here is to use that data better than competitors do. To analyse it for insights, and adjust your future media plans accordingly.

Media value for money insights

Finally, your media agency should also advise you where to get the best value for your media spend.

Value can be tricky to gauge. It’s clearly linked to reach. But you also have to consider the quality of that reach.

There’s always some wastage in media. People who see your advert, but never buy.

Your media agency increases the efficiency of your spend by keeping this wastage as low as they can.

Person holding 6 hundred dollar bills in front of them which have been set alight

Let’s look at a quick example. 

Say it costs you $50k to place one 30-second advert in the middle of a popular TV show. It airs in the evening and reaches 1m people. But you know, only 5% of the viewers are in your target audience. That ad will reach 50k of your audience.

Your media agency then looks at a much less popular daytime TV show. It only reaches 100k people. But 10% of those are in your audience. One advert in that show will reach 10k of your audience and only costs $5k. 

So, if you spent $50k on adverts in the daytime TV show, you could reach 100k of your audience. Twice what you’d get for the same amount on the evening show. And you’d have a frequency of 10, rather than 1. 

These are the types of media spend calculations the media agency should do for you. They should pick channels, platforms and programs which give you the best value for your media spend in terms of reach and frequency.

Build the right mix of reach and frequency

Reach and frequency are important media planning terms. Let’s look at them more closely because it’s key your media agency build the right mix for you :-


Reach is how many people in your target audience will see your advert at least one time. The more of the right people see your advert, the bigger the impact it’ll have. The one thing you can guarantee is if your advert doesn’t reach customers, it won’t have any impact. 


Frequency is how often they’ll see the advertising. Customers usually need to see an advert several times for it to have an impact. The repetition is important. There’s usually an optimum number of times a customer has to be exposed to an advert for them to act on it. (usually between 5 and 7 times).

Reach and frequency combined

As per our media planning guide, reach and frequency numbers can often be combined and expressed in several different ways, e.g. :-

  • Opportunities to see (OTS) – this usually refers to the number of people who’ll see an advert more than a certain number of times. So you might see a number for 4+ OTS, for example. That’s the number of customers who’ll see the advert 4 or more times. (sometimes it’s an absolute number, but more often it’s a percentage of the total potential audience). 
  • Gross Rating Points (GRPs) – This is the total number of advertising exposures and is calculated by multiplying the reach and the frequency together. 
  • Target Audience Rating Points (TARPS) – This is a further calculation where rather than the total audience, it’s the percentage of an audience which viewed at a given time. 

These are all important data points to help measure the impact of your advertising. For example, you can use them to help with your forecasts. You estimate how many extra customers you’ll get as a result of your advertising. And then you plug this into your profit and loss to work out if your advertising will grow your business profitably.

Negotiate costs and book the media

Once you’ve reviewed and signed off the media schedule (see our media planning guide for more on this), it’s the media agency’ job to make it all happen. 

They’ll have estimated the media rates they can get from the media sales teams. That’s what you sign off and pay for. But it’s not necessarily what the media agency will pay the media supplier. 

For example, they might be booking media for their other clients with the same supplier. They can negotiate a better deal based on their overall spend, not just your spend. This is where the media agency makes most of its money. It’s in the difference between what clients pay them, and how good a deal they can negotiate with media suppliers.

You still get a good deal as you get the discount the media agency negotiates for you. It also makes media buying easier for you from an admin point of view. You only get one bill – from the media agency. They sort out all the individual payments to each media supplier in the plan.

Media specifications and timelines

They also organise the physical supply of the advertising materials to the media suppliers (usually working with the advertising agency). 

Media channels differ in terms of size, format and times of the advertising they take.

It’s the media agency’s job to make sure the creative teams know the specifications.

When the ads are ready, they check they’re sent to the media owners in the right formats.

Blank Billboard seen from the ground against a clear cloudy sky

For example, videos in the right dimensions and which run for the correct length of time for TV or cinema advertising. High-resolution artwork for adverts to appear in magazines and on billboards. Correctly formatted digital media adverts to go on different websites and social media channels. It’s part of their service to sort all this out for you. It means every advert you book appears correctly and at the right time.

The media agency will also manage timelines. Each media channel will have different lead times when you need to supply the finished adverts. TV, for example, has a long lead time. It may need to be booked 12 weeks in advance. In contrast, digital can often be booked only a day in advance. 

Other media agency attitudes and behaviours to look for

But beyond these 3 basic media services, what other factors should you consider when deciding on a media agency? How do you know which agency is going to be the right one for you?

In most cases, it’s less about what they do, and more about how they do it. 

Our informal agency checklist gives broad tips on all types of agencies.

But in terms of media agency, there are usually 3 areas to focus on :-

  • they understand finances.
  • they make you think.
  • you trust and like them.

Marketing agency evaluation - an informal checklist

They understand finances

Media is usually where you spend the most money in marketing. So, if you use a media agency to manage it, they must understand the finances. 

That’s not just negotiating good deals for you with media sales teams. It’s also working with you to evaluate the impact of your media spend.

Many media agencies offer extra analytic services or work with specialist market research companies to help you with media spend evaluation.

Close up of woman's hands holding a bunch of dollar bills and in the process of counting them

It’s in their interests for your media to succeed. If media grows your business, you then spend more on media.

So, check their clarity and expertise on the numbers. Make sure they’re well organised and can explain the data in clear and insightful ways. 

They make you think

In fact, clarity and insight should run through everything they do.

There’s a lot of jargon to deal with in media planning. Lots of detail to manage. All those different choices in media channels, platforms and programs. 

So, you need a media agency who can explain all this. And do it in a way which makes it interesting and exciting for you.

You want to feel confident your media budget is being spent wisely.

man in a blue T-shirt looking at the ceiling

Your media agency should also bring you regular insights and opportunities. New ways to understand how customers use media. New ways to connect with them. 

These help amplify your competitive advantage. They mean you get your advertising in front of more customers, at better times and in more relevant places.

You trust and like them

Finally, remember that though media planning is a process, it depends on people to succeed.

You ask the people at your media agency to look after a vital part of your brand activation. You ask them to spend your money wisely. So you must find a media agency you trust to do that. 

They should be transparent in what they do for you. You want total confidence in how they support what you need to do.

Close up of two hands in a handshake

They should share relevant information with you. Explain all the jargon. Talk in plain English. Their expertise should help you make better decisions about your media. They should be open and honest if things don’t work first time. Media planning is an ongoing test and learn process. You learn from your mistakes and your media agency is part of that process.  

They also need to work well with other marketing agencies. Your advertising agency, for example. Your digital agency for digital media campaigns. And your market research agencies to help evaluate the impact of your advertising. 

They should feel like partners in your success. That you’ll get better results by working together. Great media agency relationships drive the best media plans.

Conclusion - Getting the most out of your media agency

Media planning and buying is a weird area. It can get complicated. There’s usually a lot of money involved. It impacts your sales. 

So, your media agency supports you in 3 key areas.

First, they give you data and insights to help you find the right target audience.

Then they help you plan the different media channels, platforms and programs. That helps you hit your reach and frequency objectives.

Five people's hands side by side on a wooden table

And finally, they negotiate costs and book the actual media placements.  

The media agency helps make sure the media planning and buying process runs smoothly and efficiently.

You must build a good relationship with them. They need to give you confidence in how they manage the finances. They need to make you think and bring you insights and opportunities. You must be able to trust them and enjoy working with them. These things are how you get the most out of your media agency. 

Check out our media planning guide and our agency evaluation article for more on this. Or get in touch if you need help getting more out of your media agency.

Photo credits

Hands : Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Night time billboards : Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Glasses : Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

Girl reading magazine : Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

Two women clinking wine glasses together : Photo by Zan on Unsplash

Person holding light bulb : Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash

Woman peeking out from bush : Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Money on fire : Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

Blank billboard : Photo by Kate Trysh on Unsplash

Counting cash : Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Man looking at ceiling (adapted) : Photo by Anton Danilov on Unsplash

Handshake : Cytonn Photography on Pexels

Share this content

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest blog posts

Subscribe to get Three-Brains updates