Media Planner and Media Buyer Career

Media Planner CareerMedia specialists are responsible for placing advertise­ments that will reach targeted customers and get the best response from the market for the least amount of money. Within the media department, media planners gather information about the sizes and types of audiences that can be reached through each of the various media and about the cost of advertising in each medium. Media buyers, sometimes called advertising sales agents, pur­chase space in printed publications, as well as time on radio or television stations. Advertising media workers are supervised by a media director, who is accountable for the overall media plan. In addition to advertising agencies, media planners and buyers work for large com­panies that purchase space or broadcast time. There are approximately 154,000 advertising sales agents employed in the United States.

Media Planner and Media Buyer Career History

The first formal media that allowed advertisers to deliver messages about their products or services to the public were newspapers and magazines, which began selling space to advertisers in the late 19th century. This system of placing ads gave rise to the first media planners and buyers, who were in charge of deciding what kind of advertising to put in which publications and then actu­ally purchasing the space.

In the broadcast realm, radio stations started offer­ing program time to advertisers in the early 1900s. And, while television advertising began just before the end of World War II, producers were quick to realize that they could reach huge audiences by placing ads on TV. Television advertising proved to be beneficial to the TV stations as well, since they relied on sponsors for finan­cial assistance in order to bring programs into people’s homes. In the past, programs were sometimes named not for the host or star of the program, but for the sponsor­ing company that was paying for the broadcast of that particular show.

During the early years of radio and television, it was often possible for one sponsor to pay for an entire 30-minute program. The cost of producing shows on radio and television, however, increased dramatically, requir­ing many sponsors to support a single radio or televi­sion program. Media planners and buyers learned to get more for their money by buying smaller amounts of time—60-, 30-, and even 10-second spots—on a greater number of programs.

Today’s media planners and buyers have a wide array of media from which to choose. The newest of these, the World Wide Web, allows advertisers not only to precisely target customers but to interact with them as well. In addition to Web banner ads, producers can also adver­tise via sponsorships, their own Web sites, CD catalogs, voice-mail telephone shopping, and more. With so many choices, media planners and buyers must carefully deter­mine target markets and select the ideal media mix in order to reach these markets at the least cost.

Media Planner and Media Buyer Job Description

While many employees may work in the media depart­ment, the primary specialists are the media planner and the media buyer. They work with professionals from a wide range of media—from billboards, direct mail, and magazines to television, radio, and the Internet. Both types of media specialists must be familiar with the mar­kets that each medium reaches, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of advertising in each.

Media planners determine target markets based on their clients’ advertising approaches. Considering their clients’ products and services, budget, and image, media planners gather information about the public’s viewing, reading, and buying habits by administering question­naires and conducting other forms of market research. Through this research, planners are able to identify tar­get markets by sorting data according to people’s ages, incomes, marital status, interests, and leisure activities.

By knowing which groups of people watch certain shows, listen to specific radio stations, or read particular magazines or newspapers, media planners can help cli­ents select air time or print space to reach the consumers most likely to buy their products. For example, Saturday morning television shows attract children, while late-night programs often draw young singles. For shows broadcast at these times, media planners will recommend air time to their clients who are interested in advertising a certain type of movie to these viewers, such as an ani­mated film or an R-rated comedy, respectively.

Media planners who work directly for companies selling air time or print space must be sensitive to their clients’ budgets and resources. When tailoring their sales pitch to a particular client’s needs, planners often go to great lengths to persuade the client to buy air time or advertising space. They produce brochures and reports that detail the characteristics of their viewing or reading market, including the average income of those individu­als, the number of people who see the ads, and any other information that may be likely to encourage potential advertisers to promote their products.

Media planners try to land contracts by inviting cli­ents to meetings and presentations and educating them about various marketing strategies. They must not only pursue new clients but also attend to current ones, mak­ing sure that they are happy with their existing advertising pack­ages. For both new and existing clients, the media planner’s main objective is to sell as much air time or ad space as possible.

Media buyers do the actual purchasing of the time on radio or television or the space in a news­paper or magazine in which an advertisement will run. In addi­tion to tracking the time and space available for purchase, media buy­ers ensure that ads appear when and where they should, negotiate costs for ad placement, and cal­culate rates, usage, and budgets. They are also responsible for maintaining contact with cli­ents, keeping them informed of all advertising-related develop -ments and resolving any conflicts that arise. Large companies that generate a lot of advertising or those that place only print ads or only broadcast ads sometimes dif­ferentiate between the two main media groups by employing space buyers and/or time buyers.

Workers who actually sell the print space or air time to adver­tisers are called print sales work­ers or broadcast time salespeople. Like media planners, these pro­fessionals are well versed about the target markets served by their organizations and can often provide useful information about editorial content or broadcast programs.

In contrast to print and broadcast planners and buyers, interactive media specialists are responsible for managing all critical aspects of their clients’ online adver­tising campaigns. While interactive media planners may have responsibilities similar to those of print or broad­cast planners, they also act as new technology specialists, placing and tracking all online ads and maintaining rela­tionships with clients and webmasters alike.

The typical online media planning process begins with an agency spreadsheet that details the criteria about the media buy. These criteria often include target demo­graphics, start and end dates for the ad campaign, and online objectives. After sending all relevant information to a variety of Web sites, the media specialist receives cost, market, and other data from the sites. Finally, the media specialist places the order and sends all creative informa­tion needed to the selected Web sites. Once the order has been placed, the media specialist receives tracking and performance data and then compiles and analyzes the information in preparation for future ad campaigns.

Media planners and buyers may have a wide variety of clients. Film studios, television networks, restaurants, hotel chains, beverage companies, food product manufactur­ers, and automobile dealers all need to advertise to attract potential customers. While huge companies, such as motion picture studios, soft drink manufacturers, major airlines, and vacation resorts, pay a lot of money to have their prod­ucts or services advertised nationally, many smaller firms need to advertise only in their immediate area. Local adver­tising may come from a health club that wants to announce a special membership rate or from a retail store promoting a sale. Media planners and buyers must be aware of their various clients’ advertising needs and create campaigns that will accomplish their promotional objectives.

Media Planner and Media Buyer Career Requirements

High School

Although most media positions, including those at the entry level, require a bachelor’s degree, you can prepare for a future job as media planner and/ or buyer by taking specific courses offered at the high school level. These include business, mar­keting, advertising, cinematography, radio and television, and film and video. General liberal arts classes, such as eco­nomics, English, communication, and journalism, are also important, since media planners and buyers must be able to communicate clearly with both clients and coworkers. In addition, mathematics classes will give you the skills to work accurately with budget figures and placement costs.

Postsecondary Training

Increasingly, media planners and buyers have college degrees, often with majors in marketing or advertising. Even if you have prior work experience or training in media, you should select college classes that provide a good balance of business course work, broadcast and print experience, and liberal arts studies.

Business classes may include economics, marketing, sales, and advertising. In addition, courses that focus on specific media, such as cinematography, film and video, radio and television, and new technologies (like the Internet), are important. Additional classes in journal­ism, English, and speech will prove helpful as well. Media directors often need to have a master’s degree, as well as extensive experience working with the various media.

Other Requirements

Media planners and buyers in broadcasting should have a keen understanding of programming and consumer buying trends, as well as a knowledge of each potential client’s business. Print media specialists must be familiar with the process involved in creating print ads and the markets reached by various publications. In addition, all media workers need to be capable of maintaining good relationships with current clients, as well as pursuing new clients on a continual basis.

Communication and problem solving skills are important, as are creativity, common sense, patience, and persistence. Media planners and buyers must also have excellent oral, written, and analytical skills, knowledge of interactive media planning trends and tools, and the abil­ity to handle multiple assignments in a fast-paced work environment. Strategic thinking skills, industry interest, and computer experience with both database and word processing programs are also vital.

Exploring Media Planner and Media Buyer Career

Many high schools and two-year colleges and most four-year colleges have media departments that may include radio stations and public access or cable television chan­nels. In order to gain worthwhile experience in media, you can work for these departments as aides, production assistants, programmers, or writers. In addition, high school and college newspapers and yearbooks often need students to sell advertising to local merchants. Theater departments also frequently look for people to sell ads for performance programs.

Media Buyer CareerIn the local community, newspapers and other publi­cations often hire high school students to work part-time and/or in the summer in sales and clerical positions for the classified advertising department. Some towns have cable television stations that regularly look for volunteers to operate cameras, sell advertising, and coordinate vari­ous programs. In addition, a variety of religious-spon­sored activities, such as craft fairs, holiday boutiques, and rummage sales, can provide you with opportunities to create and place ads and work with the local media in order to get exposure for the events.


Media planners and buyers often work for advertising agencies in large cities, such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. These agencies represent various clients who are trying to sell everything from financial services to dishwasher soap to the latest comedy featuring the hot star of the moment. Other media specialists work directly for radio and television networks, newspapers, maga­zines, and Web sites selling airtime and print space. While many of these media organizations are located in large urban areas, particularly radio and television stations, most small towns put out newspapers and therefore need specialists to sell ad space and coordinate accounts. Approximately 154,000 advertising sales agents work in the United States. Twenty percent of agents work in radio and television broadcasting.

Starting Out

More than half of the jobs in print and broadcast media do not remain open long enough for companies to adver­tise available positions in the classified sections of news­papers. As a result, many media organizations, such as radio and television stations, do not usually advertise job openings in the want ads. Media planners and buy­ers often hear about available positions through friends, acquaintances, or family members and frequently enter the field as entry-level broadcasting or sales associates. Both broadcasting and sales can provide employees just starting out with experience in approaching and work­ing for clients, as well as knowledge about the specifics of programming and its relation to selling air time.

Advertising agencies sometimes do advertise job openings, both in local and national papers and on the Web. Competition is quite fierce for entry-level jobs, however, particularly at large agencies in big cities.

Print media employees often start working on smaller publications as in-house sales staff members, answering telephones and taking orders from customers. Other duties may include handling classified ads or coordinating the production and placement of small print ads created by in-house artists. While publications often advertise for entry-level positions, the best way to find work in advertising is to send resumes to as many agencies, publications, and broad­casting offices as possible. With any luck, your resume will arrive just as an opening is becoming available.

While you are enrolled in a college program, you should investigate opportunities for internships or on-campus employment in related areas. Your school’s career planning center or placement office should have information on such positions. Previous experience often provides a competitive edge for all job seekers, but it is crucial to aspiring media planners and buyers.


Large agencies and networks often hire only experienced people, so it is common for media planners and buyers to learn the business at smaller companies. These oppor­tunities allow media specialists to gain the experience and confidence they need to move up to more advanced positions. Jobs at smaller agencies and television and radio stations also provide possibilities for more rapid promotion than those at larger organizations.

Media planners and buyers climbing the company ladder can advance to the position of media director or may earn promotions to executive-level positions. For those already at the management level, advancement can come in the form of larger clients and more responsibil­ity. In addition, many media planners and buyers who have experience with traditional media are investigat­ing the opportunities and challenges that come with the job of interactive media planner/buyer or Web media specialist.


Because media planners and buyers work for a variety of organizations all across the country and abroad, earn­ings can vary greatly. Media directors can earn between $46,000 and $ 118,400, depending on the type of employer and the director’s experience level. For example, directors at small agencies make an average of $42,100, while those at large agencies can earn more than $120,000, according to a 2002 Advertising Age salary survey.

Media planners and buyers in television typically earn higher salaries than those in radio. In general, however, beginning broadcasting salespeople usually earn between $18,000 and $35,000 per year and can advance to as much as $46,000 after a few years of experience.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, advertis­ing sales agents had salaries that ranged from less than $20,640 to more than $89,290 in 2004. Advertising sales agents employed in radio and television broadcasting had mean annual earnings of $49,580 in 2004; those employed in the motion picture and video industries earned $55,780.

Most employers of media planners and buyers offer a variety of benefits, including health and life insurance, a retirement plan, and paid vacation and sick days.

Work Environment

Although media planners and buyers often work a 40­hour week, their hours are not strictly nine to five. Ser­vice calls, presentations, and meetings with ad space reps and clients are important parts of the job that usually have a profound effect on work schedules. In addition, media planners and buyers must invest considerable time investigating and reading about trends in programming, buying, and advertising.

The variety of opportunities for media planners and buyers results in a wide diversity of working conditions. Larger advertising agencies, publications, and networks may have modern and comfortable working facilities. Smaller markets may have more modest working envi­ronments.

Whatever the size of the organization, many planners seldom go into the office and must call in to keep in touch with the home organization. Travel is a big part of media planners’ responsibilities to their clients, and they may have clients in many different types of businesses and services, as well as in different areas of the country.

While much of the media planner and buyer’s job requires interaction with a variety of people, includ­ing coworkers, sales reps, supervisors, and clients, most media specialists also perform many tasks that require independent work, such as researching and writing reports. In any case, the media planner and buyer must be able to handle many tasks at the same time in a fast-paced, continually changing environment.

Media Planner and Media Buyer Career Outlook

The employment outlook for media planners and buy­ers, like the outlook for the advertising industry itself, depends on the general health of the economy. When the economy thrives, companies produce an increasing num­ber of goods and seek to promote them via television, radio, the Internet, newspapers, magazines, and various other media. The U.S. Department of Labor anticipates that employment in the advertising industry is projected to grow 22 percent over the 2004-14 period, faster than the average for all industries.

More and more people are relying on radio and televi­sion for their entertainment and information. With cable and local television channels offering a wide variety of programs, advertisers are increasingly turning to TV in order to get exposure for their products and services. Although newspaper sales are in decline, there is growth in special interest periodicals and other print publica­tions. Interactive media, such as the Internet, CD cata­logs, and voice-mail shopping, are providing a flurry of advertising activity all around the world. All of this activ­ity will increase market opportunities for media planners and buyers.

Employment possibilities for media specialists are far greater in large cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, where most magazines and many broad­cast networks have their headquarters. However, smaller publications are often located in outlying areas, and large national organizations usually have sales offices in several cities across the country.

Competition for all advertising positions, including entry-level jobs, is expected to be intense. Media planners and buyers who have considerable experience will have the best chances of finding employment.

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