5 Steps to Negotiating With Media Outlets

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The plethora of available media outlets for marketing departments can make budgeting a challenge. Media buys are a necessary function of a marketing strategy in any business. Those purchases are complex in that they aren’t ‘placements’, they are ‘investments’. You simply have to look at it this way when negotiating media buys. This isn’t the most exciting topic but it’s important stuff and something marketing professionals should be doing.

First and foremost, It must be assumed you know what media outlets best serve the marketing strategy. The next step is to break your outlets into categories: For example, print, web, email blasts, direct mail, print collateral. Based on your past experience and the market realities, it shouldn’t take long to make some quick assessments on parsing the budget to the necessary outlets. Once you have an idea of scope and budget, you can begin to focus on negotiation.

Media outlets are businesses. They need capital just like the rest of us. It is unlikely in a B2B setting that your prices are ‘set’. It is more likely you negotiate with prospects in good faith and try to keep the margins reasonable. Media outlets are no different. They need to move product, and they need you to do it. You, the customer are in a position of strength. Yet too many marketing professionals do their company a dis-service by accepting the pricing structure proffered by media outlets. You have to enter business transactions with the mentality that everything is negotiable, because it is.

1. Do your homework

You also need to do your homework before you get on the phone or exchange emails with anyone. This means downloading the media kits and dissecting them from top to bottom. Most, if not all media outlets will offer package deals. This can consist of a variety of things but the key is to break down those ‘things’ and determine what they are worth, individually. If the media kit or online website is any good, the information should be readily available. If it’s not, you may want to question if this is the outlet for you. If pricing isn’t openly displayed, you will likely find yourself on the end of a hard sales call. It is best to avoid this unpleasantness.

When dealing with a specific outlet, search online and see if they run any ‘specials’ throughout the year. Go back a few pages in Google to see if there were other deals or discounts, don’t rely on the first page results. Compare those results to the media package the company uses today. You may identify some obvious areas of opportunity.

2. Keep it human

Do not negotiate virtually online or via email. It is perfectly fine (and even recommended) to make first contact through email or the web, but the first discussion of dollars should happen face to face or over the phone. When you do this, you are dealing directly with an individual that has a stake in the sales process and is already motivated to help you. Be Nice. Be specific about the media buy you wish to discuss. You should already know what it is you want to market and the manner in which you plan to market it. Let the representative know you’ve checked pricing on the web and downloaded their media kit. Let them know you’ve done your homework so they take you seriously when you begin to negotiate. And they will.

Be kind but firm. Most suppliers won’t let you get off the phone or out of the room before they’ve sold you on something but they won’t ‘work with you’ if you are belligerent or cold. A friendly demeanor can go a long way toward achieving some savings for your company.

3. Work competitive angles

If this is the first buy with a particular media outlet, you should tell them. Most suppliers want to make a good first impression and get your business before a competitor. That first impression generally comes in the form of an introductory special. Let them know this could be the first of more buys if it goes well. Express to them the realities of your budget and the concern over costs. If they believe you want to spend money, they will work with you. Most importantly, thank them for their help.

If you are able to reach your audience using multiple (but similar) media channels, bid them against each other. It’s a competitive landscape out there and suppliers will quickly re-negotiate pricing when they know they could lose the business to a direct competitor.

If you know the media outlet offers specific deals at certain times of the year, reference that pricing during your negotiations. Chances are favorable they will honor that pricing structure to gain or maintain your business.

You can also search for reviews online. This is an easy way to gain some cursory insight into doing business with a particular company. It can also be used to leverage opportunities.


4. Ask

Finally,  ask them for a reduced rate. Never assume the price is the price.  Again, express your budgetary realities. Use words like, “campaign”, “initiative” or “strategy” when you discuss your needs. This tells the supplier there is likely more business ahead, thus making them more inclined to thin their margins in the short term.

If the supplier is unwilling to budge on pricing, it’s likely you will continue to realize resistance with that supplier in the future. If they tie a deal today to a commitment tomorrow, access the reality of the offer as it relates to your strategy and your budget and return with either a counter offer or an agreement. Don’t drag out the sales process.

There will be certain media outlets/suppliers your company needs to be involved with as part of your normal operations and chances are you might have to pony-up because there is no other game in town. However, if you can negotiate with other outlets and suppliers for deals, you can mitigate those hard costs and benefit of your overall marketing strategy.

5. Have a plan

As marketing professionals, we have a responsibility to our company and our brand. It’s not enough to come up with creative and impactful campaigns. A serious marketer will also understand that there is an administrative side to what we do. You don’t have to be great at math to realize saving dollars anywhere you can is a big advantage to your overall marketing strategy. When it comes to media buys, never forget that every transaction is negotiable.

Develop a plan. Target a savings percentage you’d like to achieve as it relates to your budget and begin working toward that figure. When the end of the fiscal year hits and you demonstrate to your bosses the various ways you maximized your budget for the benefit of the brand, you will enhance your standing in the company and hopefully see a better end-of-year bonus!

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