I recently ran a Google search query for “What is a media buy” and was astounded by the lack of solid, entry level information out there.

A discussion started today when an intern in our office asked “what exactly is a media buy.”

This post is meant to be extremely entry level. Media buying is easy a billion dollar industry and there are many books, publications and entire websites dedicated to this topic alone.

What is a Media Buy

If you asked this question pre-internet, you would get a totally different answer.

Pre-internet, media buys could be anything from a placement on a Super Bowl commercial, a magazine ad or advertorial, or a radio commercial.  Large agencies have the credibility and ability (and money) to be able to approach large TV networks and other media outlets directly to buy commercial space, for example.

what is a media buy

Famous Super Bowl ad from 1984 sponsored by Apple.

Media Buys for Internet Marketing

Relating to internet marketing, the principle of a media buy is basically the same but executed differently.

We see media buys every single day.  Browse any of your favorite news sites such as the New York Times, your local newspaper, or even Perez Hilton.  Slots on the sidebars, footers or headers of these websites are for sale.  Sometimes you can purchase these ads directly from the owner of the website as a media buy.  These media buys start very low, from just a few dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars each month. Other times you can buy space on the site per impression from a self serve advertising network such as Ad Brite for as little as $100.

That said, there are 2 different types of media buying.

Agency Media Buy

Buying ad space from a 3rd party.  Examples of this can include Google Adwords, Facebook, Pulse 360, and Adbrite.

The good part about going through an agency, such as Google Adwords is that it is very easy to set up.  One can literally get an ad up and running within minutes by going through a 3rd party.

The downside is that it is sometimes more expensive, and you generally have less flexibility.  The middle man takes a chunk of your budget, always remember.

There are also high end agencies that will negotiate or broker deals for you based on your needs.

If you’ve ever seen the show ‘Mad Men’ you will be familiar with this.  The client comes in wanting more exposure for their brand and gives them money. Don Draper makes the ads and then sends it to another department that decides where the ad goes: radio, TV, etc.

Direct Media Buy

Buying ad space directly from the website owner.  For example, contacting the owner of Nike.com and buying ad space on their site would be a direct buy.

Finding the right partner or website to advertise on can be very time consuming.  It can also go bad very quickly if you do not know what you are doing.


what is a media buy

The ad you see in this image is a very typical example of a media buy. If you are interested in a media buy on this page you can contact them for more information.


In some cases (and in most high-end websites) you have to call or email the owner of the website to negotiate media buy placement.

what is media buying

If you want in on a media buy on National Geographic, you better put your business suit on and call.

There are new websites appearing on the market that have been making media buying a breeze.

Buysellads.com for instance, allows you to browse ad inventory by niche to find and sample various media buying opportunities.

For instance, I am the webmaster about a site relating to SEO.  I want more visitors to my site so I search for other sites relating to the same niche.

internet media buy

Example of a media buy on the Search Engine Journal Website. Different sizes and types of ads are displayed along with availability and pricing information.


Media buys are not limited to just website placements.

You can buy a sponsored tweet, link, Facebook update, email and practically anything else you can imagine.

Want a Tweet to go out from Paris Hilton’s Twitter account about your celebrity gossip website?  For $4,600 your Tweet will be seen by nearly 11 million followers.

paris hilton tweet

Want a Tweet from Paris Hilton? You don’t even have to talk to her!


Again, the world of media buying is very complex and technical.  If you want to learn more there are a ton of resources out there.

If you really want to get started, the best way is to dive right in.  Head on over to Buysellads.com and buy a small ad space. After that sign up for Google Adwords and play around with a sample campaign.  No guide or website will teach you as much as you can learn on your own.

If you are looking for some good resources, be very careful.  The world of media buying sometimes mixes in with the “make money online” and affiliate crowd which can be very sketchy to say the least.  Marketing Land and Search Engine Land are 2 resrouces that have been known to have some great posts about media buying.