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? : The biggest part of your marketing budget will go through your media agency. We share how to get the most value out of working with them. Learn what services they should provide. What objectives they should have. And what makes the best agencies stand out from the rest. Read this for ideas on how to get the most out of your media agency.

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

You use them to help manage the complexity of media planning and buying.

They help you manage the process and the details. They make sure you get the most value for this large part of your marketing spend. 

But not every media agency is the same. That’s why this week, we look at what makes a good media agency stand out from the rest. 

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

What media agencies do

As per our media planning guide, there’s 3 key jobs your media agency should do for you :-

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

Media - Data and insights

Your media agency should be able to share lots of data about your customer’s media behaviour.

They’ll get that from media sales teams, and from other more independent sources.

It tells you about the audiences who engage with specific media channels, platforms and programs.

Part of your media agency fee goes towards covering the cost of gathering, analysing and sharing this data.

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

At the simplest level, it’s quantifiable data. For example, it can tell you how many people watch a particular TV show. Or visit a specific website. Or will see your advert on a specific billboard. And that tells you how many people will see your advert if you book a spot in that program. 

But it also tells you which type of people make up that audience. And when and where they interact with the media. That means you can find the times and locations when your target audience is most likely to see your advertising. Clearly, that will make your media plan work better. 

It’s why the brief is such a key part of the advertising development process. It tells the both 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 put your advertising in front of customers. 

The clearer the customer picture you can paint for your media agency, the better they’ll be able to make the media plan. 

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

Something like a customer segment profile is a great way to help them understand your customers.

They look at your customer marketing data and match it to the profiles in the media data they have. How this match works depends on how you’ve segmented the market. This can be based on :-

  • 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 each specific element of the media.

It can give you both general media behaviours, but also more specific media behaviours too. 

Young Girl reading book

For example, media data shows in general, men watch more sport, and women watch more reality shows. Younger people are more likely to watch music shows, and older people more likely to watch documentaries. 

But it’s in the specifics where the media data gets more interesting. Where it finds details and exceptions to help get your advertising in front of the right target audience

For example, it might show you that :-

  • women’s teamsports 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 type of data. They can 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 entering the store, and that makes them more likely to buy it. 

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

The same idea applies to 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. 

It can even be tied to a particular time of day or day of the week if there’s a relevant consumption or purchasing occasion. 

Say for example, your product is food-related. If it’s a healthier product, you’d time your media to appear earlier in the day. People eat more healthily at the start of the day.

But if it’s a more indulgent product, you’d time your media for the end of the day. People consume more indulgent products as a ‘reward’ after a tough day.

Not all categories will have a clear occasion. But those which do benefit from using this data to place their media at more relevant time and locations.

Attitudes and media

Finally, you can also link media with attitudes. Companies like Roy Morgan and Kantar (through their TGI data) have panels of media audiences who they ask to complete attitudinal data surveys. 

They can then give you an attitudinal profile of different media channels, platforms and programs. 

So for example, these can tell you which types of TV shows, magazines or websites people who’re interested in social and political issues use. They would be different from people who’re more into health and well-being, or parenting for example. 

Some of these attitudinal matches, you could work out using common sense. But having data makes the media choices more reliable. It’s another way your media agency can use data to help make sure you advertising reaches the right target audience

Media insights

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

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

For example, you may be looking at audience numbers which are similar for different channels or program. Insights can help you work out which one is likely to have a bigger impact. 

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

You can look at the nature and theme of the content around the media space, and work out which fits your objectives better. 

Example - Sex and violence in media planning

We share an example of this in our behavioural science article. It was taken from research discussed in Robert Cialdini’s book Presuasion.

It suggests some products are driven by a customer need to stand out and be distinctive. Fashion and beauty products for example. Adverts for these types of products work better in contexts where the focus is on that need to stand out and be distinctive. So for those products it suggest media placements in sex and romance themed dating shows and romcom movies work better. 

But for other products, the need is to NOT stand out. To feel safer as part of a crowd. That’s where adverts which focus on a brand’s popularity (e.g. 8 out of 10 cats prefer …) do well. And these types of adverts work best in shows where there’s a more threatening or violent tone. So for these types of products, media placements in crime shows and thrillers work better.

Competitor data and insights

Your media agency should also be able to give you data and information about your competitors.

Many (though not all) media channels publish Share of Voice data. This shows you media spend levels for key competitors in a category. 

This is helpful because you can tell when competitors are spending more or less than you.

You can track their spend and use it to help work out the impact it’s having on your sales.

Blond woman partially hidden behind a leafy bush

But of course, if you can access that information, your competitors can too. They can tell tell how much and where you spend your media dollars. 

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

Media value for money insights

Finally, your media agency should be advising you on 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’ll see your advert but never buy.

Your media agency increases the value of your spend by keeping this 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. So, 10k of your audience will see an advert. And it’s only $5k to buy a 30 second slot in that show. 

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 be doing. They should be picking 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 of reach and frequency 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 is exposed to an advert to make them 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 a number of different ways, e.g. :-

  • Opportunities to see (OTS) – this usually refers to the number of people who will see an advert over a certain number of times. So you might see a number for 3+ or 4+ OTS for example. That’s the number of customers who’ll see the advert more than 3 or 4 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 give 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 is helping you boost your profits. 

Negotiate the best fee 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 job of the media agency 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 their money. It’s in the difference between what you pay them, and how much of a discount they can negotiate with media suppliers.

Usually, they’ll be open about how much this is. You still need to get good value, and you need a better rate than if you negotiated directly with the media sales team. Some businesses prefer to pay a flat fee for media agency support, but the negotiated discount percentage is a much more common model. 

This approach also makes media buying easier for you from a purely 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 in partnership 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 are aware of these specifications.

When the ads are ready, they check that 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 or on billboards. Correctly formatted digital media adverts to go on different website and social media channels. It’s part of their service to sort all this out so you don’t have to. It means every advert you book appears correctly and at the right time.

The media agency will also handle all the timelines involved. Each media channel will have different lead times of when you need to provide the advertising materials. TV for example often has a long lead time and may need to be booked 12 weeks in advance. Whereas digital can often be booked only a day in advance. 

Other media agency attitudes and behaviours to look for

Every media agency you meet should be able to offer these 3 basic media services.

They should give you data and insights, help you plan for reach and frequency, and negotiate fees and handle the media booking itself. 

The obvious next question though, is how do you identify which ones do it better?

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

You could use all the elements in our informal agency checklist to work through this.

Marketing agency evaluation - an informal checklist

But in terms of media agency, there’s usually 3 key areas you look for :-

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

They understand finances

As we already said, your media spend is almost certainly the biggest part of your marketing budget.

So, if you’re using a media agency to manage it, it’s vital they 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 will offer extra analytic support 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. The more media grows your business, the more media budget you’ll spend with them in the future. 

So, check their attention to detail on the numbers. Make sure they can organise and explain the data in clear and insightful ways. 

They make you think

In fact clarity and insightfulness 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.

They need to make you see the benefit of using your media spend wisely.

man in a blue T-shirt looking at the ceiling

You also want your media agency to be bringing you regular insights and opportunities. New ways to understand how customers use media. New ways to connect with them. 

These areas are where media can 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, don’t forget media planning is a process, but it’s one that depends on people to succeed.

You ask the people at your media agency to look after one of the most important parts of your brand activation. You ask them to spend your money wisely. It’s important you find a media agency you trust to do that. 

They need to be clear and genuine in how they work with you.

You need to have confidence in what they’re doing. 

Close up of two hands in a handshake

They should share relevant information with you. Explain all the jargon, or better still talk in plain English. You want their expertise to help you make better decisions about your media. To explain the effectiveness of your media spend. To be open and honest if things don’t work first time. Media planning’s an on-going 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 if you run digital media campaigns. And your market research agencies if you want to evaluate the impact of your advertising. 

They should feel like partners with you in the success of your business. That you’ll get better results by working well 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. You’re buying space and time. And you only see the impact of it after it’s gone out.

It can get complicated. There’s usually a lot of money involved. It impacts your sales. 

So, your media agency support 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. 

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

That helps hit your reach and frequency objectives.

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

The media agency’s expertise helps you make sure the media planning and buying process run smoothly and efficiently.

They’re key partners for your business. It’s important you find one you can build a strong relationship with. One you gives you confidence in how they manage the finances. One who makes you think and shows you opportunities to use media in better ways. And one who you trust and actually like to work with. 

Check out our media planning guide and our agency evaluation article for more on this topic. Or contact us if you need help in getting the most 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.

Latest blog posts

Subscribe to get three-brains updates