Media Buying 101: The Ultimate Handbook for Beginners



What is media buying and why does it matter in modern marketing?

Media buying refers to the process of purchasing ad placements in key media channels to promote a product or service. With consumers overwhelmed with choices, media buying focuses to helps marketers ensure messages reach the right audiences at the right time.

By purchasing strategic ad placements in different media outlets, businesses can cost-effectively connect with their target demographics where they are most receptive. In today’s fragmented media landscape, using a process to execute a strategic media buy provides an efficient way for brands to break through the noise and drive engagement.

The art and science of media buying work involves analyzing consumer data to identify ideal media platforms and inventory, negotiating prices, and securing ideal advertisers and ad positions to achieve marketing goals. As the process of purchasing ad space becomes an increasingly integral part of marketing mixes, honing media buying strategies is key for maximizing returns on ad spend.

Before diving deep into media buying, it’s crucial to differentiate it from media planning, a closely related yet distinct entity.

What’s the difference between media buying and media planning?

Media planning and media buying are two closely related but distinct aspects of advertising medias. Media planning is the process of determining the best way to reach your target audience with your advertising message. This includes choosing the right media channels, the right timing, and the right budget. Media buying is the process of actually purchasing the advertising space or time in the ad networks you have chosen.

Here are some of the key things that a media planner does:

  • Define the target audience: The first step in the media planning process is to define the target audience they want to reach. This includes understanding their demographics, interests, and media consumption habits.
  • Set the objectives: The next step is to set the objectives for the media campaign. This could include increasing brand awareness, driving traffic to a website, or generating leads and sales.
  • Research the media landscape: The media planner will then need to research the media landscape. This includes understanding the different media channels available, their reach and frequency, and their costs relative to the marketing budget.
  • Develop a media plan: The media planner will then develop a media plan that outlines the best way to reach the target audience and achieve the objectives. This plan will include the specific media channels they want to target, the timing of the ads, and the budget.

Here are some of the key things that a media buyer does:

  • Negotiate contracts: The marketer will negotiate contracts with the media channels to purchase the advertising space or time.
  • Place the orders: Once the contracts are in place, the marketer will place the orders for the advertisers space or time.
  • Track the performance: The media buyer will track the performance of the media campaign to ensure that it is meeting the objectives. Media buyers can also use media buying tools to keep track of the media campaign’s performance.

What is media buying?

Media buying refers to the process of purchasing media placements (like ad space) on various platforms to display advertisements. It’s about finding the perfect spot, at the right time, for the best price to showcase your ad to your target audiences.

While related, media buying and media planning play different roles in the advertising process.

Media planning involves strategizing high-level campaign elements like:

  • Defining target audience demographics and media consumption habits
  • Determining optimal media mix and budget allocation across channels
  • Crafting campaign messaging and establishing KPIs

Once this foundation is set, media buying executes on the media plan by:

  • Negotiating prices and purchasing ad inventory that aligns with the media plan
  • Securing ideal ad placements across selected media platforms
  • Monitoring campaign delivery and performance metrics such as the number of impressions 

While media planners focus on the blueprint, media buyers handle the transactional and execution aspects of the advertising acquisition process. Working in tandem allows brands to devise audience-centric media campaigns and effectively deliver the right messages across the optimal mix of platforms.

With a clear understanding of what media buying is, let’s explore the foundational steps that guide its process, starting with research.

Laying the Groundwork: How to Start the Media Buying Process?

Careful planning and research are crucial early steps for advertising agencies. This groundwork informs strategic decisions when executing media buys.

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What analysis should guide media buying decisions?

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– Audience Insights: Analyze target audience demographics, psychographics, interests, and media consumption habits. This provides a blueprint for which platforms and inventory to prioritize. 

– Competitive Spending: Research where competitors are spending their ad dollars and which platforms they are leveraging to get a sense of the competitive landscape.

– Historical Performance: Look at past campaign performance data to identify high-value partnerships and placements that have delivered results.

– Marketing Objectives: Keep campaign goals front and center to pursue partnerships and inventory aligned to KPIs like brand awareness, lead generation, or sales.

– Budget Landscape: Determine budget availability across platforms and channels, being mindful of fluctuations in supply and demand such as political ad spikes.

Thoroughly analyzing these dimensions enables media buyers to make optimal decisions when negotiating deals and securing ad placements. It provides the contextual insights to set up campaigns for success.

Now that we’ve established the foundational steps, let’s delve into the tools and platforms that streamline the media buying process.

What tools and platforms enable effective media buying?

A variety of technologies and platforms have emerged to streamline and empower the media buying process:

– Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs): These automated systems allow media buyers to manage ad campaigns programmatically across exchanges and data platforms. DSPs offer benefits like real-time optimization, advanced targeting, and streamlined workflow.

– Supply-Side Platforms (SSPs): These platforms help publishers manage their ad inventory and make it available to advertisers via auction-based marketplaces. This helps media buyers access inventory across a diverse range of sites.

– Ad Exchanges: These digital marketplaces utilize real-time bidding to connect media buyers to ad inventory that matches their target criteria. Exchanges like Google AdX offer media buying teams wide reach and instant optimization.

– Marketing Analytics Tools: Media monitoring and marketing analytics tools provide campaign performance data to optimize media buys. Metrics like engagement rates, conversions, and attribution help gauge ROI.

– Negotiation Management Platforms: These platforms centralize the RFP process and facilitate collaboration between buyers and sellers during negotiations. They streamline workflow and organization for media companies.

By leveraging the right mix of technologies for their needs, brands can gain transparency, automation, and insights to make their media dollars work harder.

How do DSPs, SSPs, and Ad Exchanges operate and benefit media buyers?

DSPs (Demand-Side Platforms), SSPs (Supply-Side Platforms), and Ad Exchanges play important roles in programmatic media and provide benefits to media buyers:

– DSPs are platforms used by media buyers to purchase digital ad inventory through auctions. DSPs aggregate ad inventory and provide targeting, optimization, reporting and other tools to buyers. Benefits include efficiency, advanced targeting capabilities, and campaign performance insights.

– SSPs are platforms that publishers use to sell their digital ad inventory to many sources simultaneously. SSPs group ad inventory from different sites and facilitate selling it through ad exchanges. Benefits to media buyers include expanded inventory availability and efficiencies in buying at scale.

– Ad exchanges are digital marketplaces that enable advertisers and publishers to buy and sell advertising space through real-time auctions. The automated bidding makes media buying faster and more efficient for buyers.

Together, DSPs, SSPs, and exchanges provide benefits like expanded access to ad inventory, efficiencies in media buying, advanced targeting, pricing transparency, and performance data. Programmatic trading delivers speed, intelligence and flexibility that enables media buyers to execute campaigns tactically and optimize strategically. The ecosystem greatly streamlines media acquisition.

What role do RFPs play in the media buying process?

Requests for proposals (RFPs) are a crucial part of the media buying workflow. RFPs allow buyers to communicate their ad requirements and facilitate a structured process for media partners to pitch solutions.

Key benefits of RFPs:

– They provide a clear briefing on campaign goals, audience, ad formats, and other needs to media vendors.

– They enable media partners to tailor proposals and pricing to the parameters outlined. 

– They establish a centralized process for responding to briefs and managing negotiations.

– They create documentation of agreements and expectations between parties.

The RFP process involves: 

– Media buyers drafting RFPs aligning with marketing objectives and media plans.

– Sharing RFPs with target media vendors through centralized platforms. 

– Media partners submitting proposal responses and pricing packages.

– Media buyers evaluating responses and selecting partners that best fit needs and budget.
– Finalizing partnership terms and executing media buys based on agreements.

RFPs enable deliberate, streamlined collaboration to identify optimal partnerships and maximize ad investments.

What are best practices for creating effective RFPs?

Here are some best practices for creating effective RFPs (Request for Proposals):

– Clearly define your objectives, requirements, and expectations. Provide as much detail as possible to avoid ambiguity.

– Include a timeline specifying deadlines for proposal submission, selection date, and project start/end dates. 

– Use a standard RFP template and consistent formatting for easier review and analysis.

– Ask targeted questions that give insights into vendors’ capabilities, experience, processes, and pricing.

– Request information on the proposed team, highlighting relevant expertise and credentials.

– Require examples of past work, case studies, and client references to showcase skills.

– Disclose your budget parameters or have vendors provide pricing breakdowns.

– Share clear instructions for how you want proposals structured and submitted.

– Ensure a fair, organized RFP review process using a scoring methodology based on your criteria. 

– Allow vendors to ask clarifying questions and interface with your team as needed.

– Provide notification to all participating vendors on the award decision and offered debriefs.

Following structured best practices for RFP creation, distribution, response review, and award notification establishes fairness, transparency, and efficiency in your vendor selection process.

How does the media buying process work step-by-step?

Media buying involves strategic sequencing of steps to execute ad placements effectively:

1. Set Objectives and Budget: Define campaign goals, target KPIs, intended audience, and budget. This aligns the buy with broader marketing plans.

2. Conduct Research: Analyze audience insights, historic performance data, competitive spends, and platform options to inform decisions. 

3. Develop Media Plan: Decide on optimal media mix, ideal platforms and inventory, campaign timeline, and creative needs.

4. Create RFPs: Draft and distribute RFPs to target media partners showcasing your needs and parameters.

5. Evaluate Proposals: Review partner proposals, compare offerings, negotiate pricing and benefits, and select best fit.

6. Finalize Deal: Complete IO documents formalizing buy details, expectations, terms and agreements.

7. Traffic and Implement: Send finished creative assets, track campaign delivery, monitor performance metrics. 

8. Optimize: Use reporting insights to optimize campaign in flight, adjusting placements/targeting for better results.

9. Reconcile and Report: Confirm delivery meets agreements, provide recaps to stakeholders, plan next steps.

Following these steps enables brands to strategically plan, collaborate, execute, and optimize media buys to amplify their marketing impact.

What are the key steps involved in budgeting, contracting, trafficking creative, etc.? 

Here are some key steps involved in the media buying process of budgeting, contracting, trafficking creative, and post-campaign analysis:

– Determine campaign goals and objectives 
– Identify target audience and media mix
– Research costs of different media types
– Build in additional costs like production and agency fees
– Allocate budget across different campaigns, platforms, etc.
– Build in room for contingencies and optimizations

– Finalize budget and timeline 
– Negotiate rates and inventory availability
– Outline campaign details like ad formats, placements, targeting
– Include performance benchmarks and insights access
– Solidify payment terms and processes

Trafficking Creative:
– Send finalized ad creative assets and specs to media vendors
– Provide guidance on ad tagging, tracking, sequencing, etc.
– Traffic creative to appropriate platforms and inventory
– Implement QA process to pre-test ads before launch

Post-Campaign Analysis:
– Gather campaign performance data and analytics
– Review metrics like impressions, clicks, conversions, frequency, reach  
– Analyze how platforms and inventory performed
– Identify top placements and audiences
– Provide optimization recommendations
– Summarize insights and present to stakeholders

Careful management of each step enables effective and successful media buys that provide valuable insights.

Measuring and Optimizing Campaigns 

Measuring and optimizing campaigns is the process of collecting data on the performance of a campaign and using that data to make changes that will improve its results. This can involve tracking a variety of metrics, such as website traffic, conversion rates, and cost per acquisition.

How can media buyers optimize and measure campaigns using data and analytics?

Media buyers can optimize and measure campaigns using various data and analytics approaches:

– Set clear campaign goals and define quantifiable KPIs to track performance against those goals, such as reach, engagement rate, conversions, etc.

– Leverage audience insights tools to identify high-value target segments to focus budget on for optimal reach and engagement.

– A/B test different elements like copy, creative, landing pages, etc. and analyze performance data to determine ideal combinations.

– Use multi-touch attribution modeling to understand influence of different platforms on conversion paths. Shift budget to high-value touchpoints. 

– Establish tracking pixels and UTM codes for performance monitoring and customize analytics dashboards to surface key metrics.

– Monitor real-time campaign analytics to quickly respond where necessary to pause underperforming platforms or increase investment in high traction areas. 

– Conduct frequency capping analyses to optimize ad delivery for reach vs frequency tradeoff.

– Run outlier analysis on performance metrics to identify and investigate irregularities indicating potential issues.

– Conduct periodic competitive analyses to compare campaign effectiveness against competitors and derive optimization opportunities.

By leveraging data to drive decisions around audience targeting, creative testing, platform budget allocation, and performance optimizations, media buyers can improve campaign outcomes and return on ad spend.

Creative Synergy in Media Buying

Creative synergy in media buying is the practice of using different media channels in a coordinated way to create a more effective and engaging campaign. This can involve using different channels to reach the same target audience with different messages, or using different channels to tell a single story in a more comprehensive way.

How do creative and media teams collaborate for successful campaigns?

Seamless collaboration between creative and media teams is key for impactful campaigns.

  • Creative teams develop compelling messages and aesthetics that capture attention.
  • Media teams ensure those assets reach the right audiences across the best platforms.
  • Together they align messaging with audience insights and optimize placements based on performance.
  • Constant communication allows them to iterate creative based on platform specifications and audience engagement patterns.
  • Shared access to campaign data enables both to continuously refine approach.

By merging art and science, creative talent and media expertise can develop cohesive experiences that resonate at each touchpoint.

 Creativity is just one side of the coin. The other is ensuring that every dollar spent translates to tangible results.

Maximizing ROI: Strategies for Effective Media Buying

Maximizing ROI is the goal of any media buying strategy. Here are some key strategies that can help you achieve this goal:

  • Define your goals and objectives. What do you want to achieve with your media campaigns? Once you know your goals, you can develop a media plan that is aligned with them.
  • Understand your target audience. Who are you trying to reach with your campaigns? Once you know your target audience, you can choose the right media channels to reach them.
  • Use data and analytics to inform your decisions. Track the performance of your campaigns so you can see what’s working and what’s not. This will help you make informed decisions about how to allocate your media budget.
  • Test and optimize your campaigns. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different channels and messages. This is the best way to find what works best for your business.
  • Work with a media buying agency. A media buying agency can help you develop and execute a media plan that maximizes your ROI.

What techniques help optimize ad performance and manage spend efficiently?

Several strategies can improve campaign efficiency:

  • A/B test different versions of creative to determine optimal asset for each platform.
  • Leverage marketing attribution to understand which partnerships and placements deliver results.
  • Use real-time dashboards to monitor delivery metrics and adjust underperforming buys.
  • Employ audience segmentation to tailor messaging and placements to different niches.
  • Set incremental sales or engagement milestones to hit before releasing additional funds.
  • Negotiate added value placements, bonus airings or additional impressions without inflated costs.
  • Allocate budget across awareness-driving and direct-response channels to balance exposure and conversions.
  • Scale down or pause lower performing platforms and shift dollars to higher ROI partnerships.

Ongoing optimization, disciplined budget management, and performance-driven decision making are imperative for maximizing marketing impact.

Media buying isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. There are various methods and strategies, each with its unique advantages.

What are some examples of impactful media buying campaigns? 

Here are some examples of impactful and innovative media buying campaigns:

– Oreo’s “Daily Twist” campaign during the 2012 Super Bowl power outage quickly created timely, relevant print ads tying into the blackout that generated enormous social engagement.

– Netflix targeted ads to devices connected to commercials to hit viewers at the most relevant moment when they’d be interested in subscribing.

– Dos Equis beer’s “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign with a memorable character delivered strong engagement and sales growth.

– Charmin’s Times Square virtual reality experience provided an immersive restroom experience showing off its toilet paper’s strength.

– GrubHub focused on purchasing premium ad inventory to appear next to highly coveted content to convince people to frequently order delivery. 

– Old Spice targeted male viewers through NFL and other TV ad placements along with digital and social ads to revive brand relevance.

– Absolut vodka’s print ad campaign focused on the bottle shape rather than the liquid to become iconic cultural images.

– Patagonia strategically only ran ads during environmentally themed shows to specifically reach its target sustainability oriented audience.

These campaigns exemplify strategic media buying beyond basic placements by tapping cultural moments, leveraging new formats, or maximizing context. The innovative approaches delivered powerful results.

Diverse Approaches: Exploring Types of Media Buying

There are many different approaches to media buying, and the best approach for a particular business will depend on its goals, budget, and target audience.

What are the different methods of media buying? 

Brands can choose from a range of media buying approaches:

– Programmatic Buying: Automated bidding for ad inventory in real-time via demand-side platforms. Enables precision targeting but can risk limited vetting.

– Direct Buys: Negotiating fixed ad placements directly with specific publishers or platforms. Provides predictable access but offers less flexibility. 

– Upfront Buys: Purchasing ad inventory like TV spots far in advance during seasonal programming negotiations. Useful for securing premier slots.

– Spot Buys: Buying ad space closer to the air date, often to fill unsold inventory. Risks less ideal placements but costs less. 

– Search Buys: Bidding on search engine marketing slots based on optimized keywords. Reaches users during active product searches.

– Local Buys: Partnering with local media like radio, TV, newspapers in target regions. Connects with hyperlocal audiences.

– Influencer Buys: Contracting influencers on social media to showcase products/services. Provides authentic peer endorsements.

– Cross-Channel: Multi-channel, integrated media plans that combine different platforms, partnerships and inventory types.

Tailoring media buys based on goals, audiences, and budget can help brands maximize exposure while balancing benefits and tradeoffs.

As with any industry, the future holds new trends and evolutions. Let’s gaze into the crystal ball for media buying.

How can programmatic, influencer marketing be used? (NEW)

Programmatic influencer marketing is a type of influencer marketing that uses programmatic advertising technology to automate the process of finding, selecting, and managing influencers. This can help to improve efficiency and effectiveness, and it can also help to reach a wider audience.

Here are some of the ways that programmatic influencer marketing can be used:

  • To find influencers: Programmatic influencer marketing platforms can use data to find influencers who are a good fit for a brand’s target audience. This can be done by looking at factors such as the influencer’s demographics, interests, and social media following.
  • To select influencers: Programmatic influencer marketing platforms can also help brands to select the right influencers for their campaigns. This can be done by considering factors such as the influencer’s reach, engagement, and cost.
  • To manage influencers: Programmatic influencer marketing platforms can also help brands to manage their relationships with influencers. This can include things like negotiating contracts, tracking results, and resolving disputes.
  • To measure results: Programmatic influencer marketing platforms can also help brands to measure the results of their campaigns. This can be done by tracking things like brand awareness, website traffic, and sales.

Media Buying Trends and Innovation 

The media buying landscape is constantly evolving, with new trends and innovations emerging all the time.

What emerging trends are shaping the future of media buying?

The media buying landscape is constantly evolving, and there are a number of emerging trends that are shaping the future of the industry. Here are a few of the most important trends to watch:

  • The rise of programmatic advertising: Programmatic advertising is a type of digital advertising that uses software to automate the buying and selling of advertising space. This can help to improve efficiency and targeting, and it can also help to reach a wider audience.
  • The growth of digital channels: Digital channels are becoming increasingly popular, and this is driving the growth of programmatic advertising. In 2022, programmatic advertising is expected to account for over 80% of all digital advertising spending.
  • The use of data: Data is becoming increasingly important in media buying, as it can be used to target ads more effectively and measure the results of campaigns. Media buyers are increasingly using data to make better decisions about where to place ads and how to reach their target audience.
  • The rise of influencer marketing: Influencer marketing is a type of marketing that uses influencers to promote a brand’s products or services. This can be a cost-effective way to reach a large audience, and it can also be more effective than traditional advertising.
  • The use of artificial intelligence (AI): AI is being used in a variety of ways in the media buying industry, including to automate tasks, target ads more effectively, and measure the results of campaigns. AI is still in its early stages of development, but it has the potential to revolutionize the way media is bought and sold.

These are just a few of the emerging trends that are shaping the future of media buying. As the media landscape continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more new and innovative ways to buy and deliver advertising.

Key Skills and Competencies (NEW)

There are many important key skills and competencies media buyers must have in order to successfully perform their jobs.

What skills do top media buyers master?

Here are some of the key skills and competencies that you need to be a successful media buyer:

  • Strong analytical skills: Media buyers need to be able to analyze data to make informed decisions about where to place ads and how to reach their target audience.
  • Excellent communication skills: Media buyers need to be able to communicate effectively with clients, media partners, and other stakeholders.
  • Negotiation skills: Media buyers need to be able to negotiate contracts with media partners and secure the best possible rates for their clients.
  • Problem-solving skills: Media buyers need to be able to think critically and solve problems quickly and efficiently.
  • Attention to detail: Media buyers need to be able to pay attention to detail and ensure that all aspects of a campaign are executed correctly.
  • Time management skills: Media buyers need to be able to manage their time effectively and meet deadlines.
  • Teamwork skills: Media buyers need to be able to work effectively as part of a team and collaborate with others to achieve common goals.
  • Data-driven decision-making skills: Media buyers need to be able to make decisions based on data and evidence.
  • Creativity: Media buyers need to be creative and come up with new and innovative ways to reach their target audience.
  • Staying up-to-date on the latest trends and technologies: Media buyers need to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and technologies in the media industry.

How can media buyers negotiate value and manage teams and budgets effectively?

Media buyers can negotiate value and manage teams and budgets effectively by following these tips:

  1. Understand the value of the media: Media buyers need to understand the value of the media they are buying. This includes understanding the reach and frequency of each media channel, the costs associated with each channel, and the target audience.
  2. Be prepared to negotiate: Media buyers need to be prepared to negotiate with media partners. This includes having a clear understanding of their needs and the value they are willing to offer.
  3. Be creative: Media buyers need to be creative in their negotiations. This means being willing to think outside the box and come up with new and innovative ways to reach their target audience.
  4. Build relationships: Media buyers need to build relationships with media partners. This will help them to get better rates and more favorable terms.
  5. Set clear goals: Media buyers need to set clear goals for their campaigns. This will help them to track their progress and make necessary adjustments.
  6. Communicate effectively: Media buyers need to communicate effectively with their teams and clients. This will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the campaign is executed smoothly.
  7. Manage time effectively: Media buyers need to manage their time effectively. This will help them to meet deadlines and avoid problems.
  8. Be organized: Media buyers need to be organized. This will help them to keep track of their campaigns and ensure that everything is running smoothly.
  9. Be accountable: Media buyers need to be accountable for their results. This means being able to measure the success of their campaigns and make necessary adjustments.
  10. Be adaptable: Media buyers need to be adaptable. This means being willing to change their plans as needed.

By following these tips, media buyers can negotiate value and manage teams and budgets effectively. This will help them to achieve their goals and help their clients to reach their target audience

Future Frontiers: Predictions for Media Buying

The media buying landscape is constantly evolving, and there are a number of emerging trends that are shaping the future of the industry.

How will emerging trends shape media buying in the coming years?

– Streaming and CTV growth: As audiences shift to streaming, smart TV and connected TV ad buys will become integral for reach. Media budgets will need to follow suit.

– First-party data: As third-party data usage faces regulations, media buyers will become more reliant on first-party data like CRM and site behavioral data for targeting and optimization.

– Automation proliferation: Platforms leveraging AI and machine learning will enable higher degrees of automated media buying, customization, and optimization.

– Mobile-first mindset: With mobile dominating consumption, media plans will adopt mobile-centric strategies across targeting, formatting, attribution and analytics. 

– Augmented buying: Emerging digital platforms like AR/VR could open new immersive ad inventory opportunities media buyers will need to navigate.

– Value-driven partnerships: There will be greater emphasis on structuring mutually beneficial deals with measurable value beyond pure reach and impressions.

Agility, customer-centricity and forward thinking will be imperative for media buyers to capitalize on evolutions in consumer behavior and technology.

Conclusion: Mastering the Art and Science of Media Buying

In today’s fragmented media landscape, executing optimized media buys is essential for brands to effectively reach their target audiences and drive results. As we have explored, media buying is a strategic process that involves research, planning, collaboration, analysis, and ongoing optimization. 

By leveraging the right mix of platforms, partnerships, and inventory coupled with compelling creative, media buyers can develop campaigns that break through the noise. RFPs, performance metrics, and audience insights help guide decision-making. Awareness of emerging trends, from streaming’s rise to automated buying, ensures strategies stay ahead of changes.

While media buying has evolved from a purely manual process to a data-driven science, human creativity, business acumen, and negotiation skills remain at its core. Blending art, analysis, and relationships leads to media plans that amplify brand impact. The brands that stay nimble and open to testing new platforms and approaches will remain at the forefront.

In our increasingly fragmented media ecosystem, media buying is a must-have capability for modern marketing success. By investing in the right tools, teams, and strategies, businesses can make every media dollar work harder to drive meaningful engagement and ROI. Though the platforms and possibilities will continue advancing, establishing a smart media buying foundation will set brands up to capitalize on future opportunities.

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