Media Buying in a Recession: 3 Candid Truths from an Inc. 5000 Media Agency CEO

Media Buying in a Recession

What does “recession-proofing” mean from a paid media point of view?

Let’s start by acknowledging that when done properly, advertising secures current and future revenue. Efficient campaigns secure more revenue per dollar. Spending media dollars with a focus on cost-efficiency is necessary during economic downturns

Now is the time to kick your advertising into high gear, and do the extra credit to recession-proof your campaigns. Here are three surefire tactics for spending media dollars with a focus on efficiency from Marketing Doctor’s President, Adweek Trailblazer 2021 and Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies 4x Winner Janet Casey:

Media Buying in a Recession

What does “recession-proofing” mean from a paid media point of view?

Let’s start by acknowledging that when done properly, advertising secures current and future revenue. Efficient campaigns secure more revenue per dollar. Spending media dollars with a focus on cost-efficiency is necessary during economic downturns

Now is the time to kick your advertising into high gear, and do the extra credit to recession-proof your campaigns. Here are three surefire tactics for spending media dollars with a focus on efficiency from Marketing Doctor’s President, Adweek Trailblazer 2021 and Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies 4x Winner Janet Casey:

​1. Never Let Your Creative Agency Buy Your Media

At our agency we look at the data when we take over campaigns from other agencies. We often accurately report that we beat most former agencies by +50-400% within a few months. What we don’t do a good job of saying is this: The agencies we beat at the 50% end of the spectrum are always other media agencies. The agencies we beat wildly, usually by 200-400%, are the creative, branding or strategy agencies who “also place media”.   

While the idea of a one-stop-shop for creative and media seems like a time-saver, it may not serve your company’s best interest. Full-service agencies are usually grounded in creative art, branding or strategy. Media is another animal, especially lately as platforms emerge and change rapidly. All platforms will spend your budget in the blink of an eye, but only media agencies deliver the ROI with the efficiencies that secure true, future revenue. I liken it to handing your money over to the Stock Market – the money will be spent but to what end?  Results are highly based on the skill of the agent, in this case the media agency

We have a new partnership with a strategy agency to do their media planning and buying. Their former media agency relied on “set it and forget it” services that did not vary from client to client.  They saw too much “rinse and repeat” for 2023. Niche target customers never command the same media plan. Each plan can be highly customized today and media agencies have more tools and levers than we ever dreamed possible. These tools involve subscriptions, training and relationships with platform agents who can make a big difference in your ROI.

Media agencies should not cost you a penny in the long run. The efficiencies they bring in real dollars more than compensate for fees. The brand wins by a longshot. A good media agency will welcome partnering with the other agencies the brand works with and guide them in testing all elements of their creative pipeline. In 2023 creative elements should not be subjective, they should be the result of A/B testing focused on improving ROI.

Agencies who specialize in media planning and buying extract insights from customer journeys, choose appropriate attribution models, and analyze data deeply to achieve business goals. 

What about Brands who buy their own media? That’s a great question. We have been brought in to support brands who buy their own media and to replace internal media teams. What we have seen in the last 3 years is that internal media teams are too underwater to keep up with continuing education and that leads to inefficient results. They are also typically underfunded in buying the tools they need, which change frequently.

Algorithms, capabilities and attribution tools are changing at lightning speed. What was best practices 60 or 90 days ago will cost you ROI today. Our team spends ⅓ of their time learning. That’s expensive, but it also directly leads to campaign efficiencies. There is no end to the learnings necessary. Some channels have endless live consulting, industry specialists to audit campaigns, on-demand video learnings, live tutorials and partner programs that consume big chunks of time. We do all-of-the-above, always the latest and we always follow the data.

2. Data: Start with the Lay-Ups!

The truth is: even the biggest, savviest companies are only using a fraction of what’s available. 

Data is the new oil, the new gold, and the new currency. In the advertising industry, data is no longer just an option, it’s a necessity. Media agencies that know how to turn data into high ROI will win for brands every time. At Marketing Doctor, we are up to our eyeballs in knowledge about data evolution and how it connects to measurement solutions. The more, the merrier.

There are various types of data out there:

  • First-party data: data collected directly from your customers
  • Second-party data: data shared between companies
  • Third-party data: data collected by external companies

Some platforms offer third-party data, while others do not. For example, some digital platforms don’t offer third-party data because they have their own (i.e. walled gardens like Meta and Google). 

Clients come to us all the time looking for guidance on how to make the most of their consumer data cost-efficiently. As a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), you might feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data available and the various platforms to integrate it into your advertising efforts. Don’t feel guilty for not knowing where to start. 

67% of CMOs report being overwhelmed by data and 85% confirm data-driven decisions fuel competitive advantage. So, how do you make your data work for you without getting bogged down? 

Put your arms around the data you’re already sitting on, and capitalize on it. When you share it with your media buying agency, they should be head-over-heels, leveraging it for targeting right away. Data is the ammunition for strong customer acquisition campaigns. For one of our clients with a deep seven-figure omni-channel ad spend, we combined our media strategy and campaign infrastructure with their CRM to increase leads by 793% over 2 years.

Consider Easy Third-Party Data in your Media Targeting

Third-party data is a valuable puzzle piece for understanding your audience segments, and should be a priority. Third-party audience data expenditures accounted for $22 billion in 2021. $13.1 billion on data itself and $8.7 billion on audience data activation solutions.

We encourage CMOs to seek agency partners who can source information from ethical, clean third-party data aggregators. Data aggregators extract information from browser cookies, data marketplaces, email lists, and more. These details fill in consumer profile gaps so our media buyers can get nitty gritty with targeting.

How does this work for traditional media? I’ll share an example. Our team uses our resources to answer questions like, “which streaming service does this segment use most often?” or, “how are they watching live sports?” Then we see when they’re tuning in. From there, we can build out the streaming component of our media plan to capture the audience’s attention when and where they spend most of their time watching. For CTV, we incorporate segments from third-party data right into the buy so only those people receive the ads in question. It’s specific and purposeful.

I want to point out that third-party data does not replace collecting your own data. It complements the other data types to paint the full persona picture. As data privacy regulations tighten and consumers demand more personalized experiences, zero-party and first-party data remain crucial. 

Compliance and Attribution

Speaking of, you can’t talk about data without addressing compliance. When advising on data providers, your agency should check for items like GDPR/CCPA compliance, data quality, and their integration capabilities. 

Our team is savvy and up-to-date on all compliance limitations and regulations around targeting, creative, landing page content, etc. Not only are we highly trained on these intricacies, we also work closely with dedicated reps at major platforms to ensure campaign protection. The benefits of working with any agency who knows the ins and outs far outweigh the costs of purchasing and/or managing data yourself.

Bottom line? Rather than jumping into the deep end of data capabilities (e.g. storage solutions, tech stacks), start with the lay-ups. Use what you have and work with an agency who knows how to transform data into value. 

3. Leverage Media Agency Infrastructure

When you partner with a paid media agency, you’re getting a significant bang for your buck. Access to very expensive research and data integration tools, not to mention nuanced understanding of traditional and digital media placements. Research capabilities alone are enough to make or break a campaign’s success.

Substantial research strengthens our media plans. We use the most credible sources in the industry to look at:

  • Competitive media: Provides a view into every dimension of your competitors’ advertising to assess opportunities and threats
  • Audience research: How do they interact with media? When do they plan to buy something?
  • Media research: Information about ratings, estimated reach, effective vendors, etc.

Not to mention field research or other types of original research. At the end of the day, it all relates to the customer. Understanding who we’re trying to reach will guarantee revenue for you now and later. Customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable.

Infrastructure can extend into partnerships. At Marketing Doctor, our clients also benefit from our relationships with platform reps. Our partners at minor digital and paid social platforms have a bird’s eye view of the landscape, positioning them to offer valuable advice. They audit our campaigns and ensure we’re following all best practices, staying up-to-date with current algorithm needs, and more. Only the top 2% of agencies in the US have this support, and it benefits you directly. Since we have access to these reps, our optimizations go much further than a creative agency’s could.

When you invest in an agency, you also invest in their data integration capabilities. By combining pieces of marketing data into a cohesive view, you get a clearer picture of how paid media influences the success of your company as a whole. Managing data silos across technologies, locations, and systems is challenging! An e-Commerce client isn’t going to be able to understand their ROAS if they have data scattered across TikTok, Shopify, and Google Analytics, for example. 

A good agency should help you break down data silos by using a customer data platform (CDP) so your information isn’t so scattered. Their infrastructure should address and conquer data management, creating a single source of truth to make your life easier. With a CDP, agencies can collect and organize first party data across various sources to build a complete view of each user, as well as audience segments for more personalized targeting. Agencies can also use a data management platform (DMP) which gathers first, second, and third party data across various sources online and offline. We can then activate and use this data across other ad exchanges for more personalized, targeted advertising.

We routinely connect data silos for clients who have information across CRMs, paid media campaigns, and other data collection tools. For example, sales-qualified lead data might feed into Google’s algorithm to inform optimizations. Or first-party data informs audience segments and content. It all works together to create an ecosystem that produces conversions. Improved operational efficiency = higher ROI.

With top-notch infrastructure comes superior attribution methodology. Really, what’s data without measurement? We focus on performance media, which means attribution is our bread and butter. We provide flexible measurement solutions to meet the needs of improved data standards from consumers, regulators, and technology companies. Our technical team lives under the hood of AdTech, applying cross-campaign and cross-channel attribution modeling to every client. Diligence is critical when it comes to privacy-centric data sharing and addressing data silos.

Rely on media agencies’ know-how, equipment, resources, and infrastructure to be the backbone of your campaigns during economic downturns. It will save you precious time and money.

Recession-Proof Your Paid Media Campaigns

I said it once, and I’ll say it again: Efficient campaigns secure more revenue per dollar. Dedicated media planning and buying teams should not only recession-proof your advertising campaigns, but also future-proof them. Seeking a partner who does the extra credit to exceed expectations? Let’s talk.

Ready to lead your industry with the latest media insights?

Sign up for our monthly Media Minute newsletter for hard-hitting, data-driven media buying content.



This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.