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Traditional Media Buys: A Vintage Guide

Imagine walking out into the world and not seeing nor hearing a single ad - no ads in the morning paper, no billboards on the way to work, no ads breaking up your morning radio show, nothing but bills in the stack of mail. Maybe at first you’d appreciate the break from promotions and solicitations in your daily life, but after a while it would start to feel like The Twilight Zone. All of the traditional ads - print, out-of-home, radio, TV - that surround us everyday perform an important role in our society. They inform us of new businesses, help us find services we’re in need of, introduce us to new opportunities and much more. Losing traditional media ads would make the real world much more bland.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened during the pandemic, at least to some extent. It seems that a year ago, advertisers all had a knee-jerk reaction and pulled their media dollars away from traditional channels and focused more exclusively on digital. Of course, this was already beginning to happen prior to COVID-19. Compared to traditional media buys, digital media is often seen to be a lower cost-of-entry alternative. However, digital advertising can see diminishing returns as you reach a point of oversaturation. You need traditional media to provide that boost in awareness for your campaigns.

While it may take some time for traditional media channels to recover post-pandemic, they are far from fading into obscurity for good. After all, imagine what kind of world that would be. If you’ve started to see your digital advertising efforts stagnate, perhaps it’s time you diversify your media mix with these traditional media buys.

Mixing Up Traditional Media


Print media is one of the oldest forms of advertising. Magazines, newspapers, direct mail and other printed collateral have been the backbone of B2B and B2C marketing for centuries. As a medium, print is a tangible, portable thing consumers can very easily hold, interact with and intentionally consume.

These items tend to have a long “shelf life” as something that can sit on someone’s coffee table for months and be passed along to other consumers. Compared to a digital ad, print media is a longer-term investment, however; the landscape of publications is complex, and targeting audiences is difficult without proper research and planning.


Out-of-home (OOH) media encompasses essentially anything in the physical world that can be used as an advertising canvas - anything from massive billboards to public transit to street furniture and more. Even venues such as cinemas and sports stadiums fall into the OOH category. Before the pandemic, OOH advertising had been experiencing a resurgence due to multiple factors including the convergence of new technologies that make buying and selling OOH media easier.

The strength of this channel lies in the location of the ad. OOH ads are ideal for reaching your audience where they are, whether it be on the road, at the movies, at the bus stop or enjoying a home game. With relatively low competition within the spaces you advertise, a lower cost-per-thousand (CPM) and a high visual impact, OOH is a great solution to drive more traffic in urban areas.


Since the first radio ad aired on November 2, 1920 (election day in the US), radio has remained a dependable option for brands across the country. Consumers have a strong connection with their radio stations of choice, making terrestrial radio a reliable way to connect with an engaged, passionate and loyal audience.

Radio offers the most direct avenue into a local market. Ads are usually designed to spread brand awareness, and they typically include a way for someone listening to act upon the information they’ve heard in some way, whether that’s visiting a website, a physical store or calling or texting a number.

Get Your Hands on Traditional Media Buys

One reason many brands may be investing more and more in digital media is that traditional media has more of a barrier of entry, especially if you aren’t sure what you’re doing. Typically, you need to work directly with a publisher or media owner, and you need to plan your creative and campaigns months in advance. While this may all seem intimidating, with a little insight and the right media professionals on your side, you too can harness the power of traditional media bys without emptying your wallet.


When buying print ads, the key to success is taking the time to carefully plan out everything: your audience, your publications, your creative, your schedule, etc. The best place to start is with demographics. To make sure your ads match your audience, make sure to ask for readership profiles and circulation audits. Readership profiles break down a publication’s audience by age, gender, lifestyle, purchasing habits and more. Circulation audits break down a publication’s printing, circulation and reach.

Between newspapers, magazines and journals, there are numerous options to choose from. Even within a single market, the process of finding the right publishers can be tedious. You may require the help of experienced media buyers to make sense of how publications layer in a market. There can be daily, weekly, monthly and even quarterly publication cycles to consider. Add into the mix the more specialized publications - magazines like Food & Wine, Popular Mechanics and Women’s Health - and you can see why picking the right print media quickly becomes overwhelming without a little forethought.

You also want to determine how the ads will appear in your target publications beforehand. Here’s a riddle for you: would you rather run a quarter-page ad four times or a full-page ad once? You might believe that size matters more, but actually it’s frequency. It’ll be better for you in the long-term to run a smaller ad in several different issues than to shell out for a larger advert in a single issue. The reasoning being that people usually need to see an ad several times to really be able to recall the messaging.

When negotiating with publishers, it may be wise to engage with a media agency who has years of experience executing print campaigns and is likely to have existing relationships they can utilize for your benefit. When publishers trust you want to work with you, you may see more creative opportunities, such as aligning your brand specifically with an article topic or editorial theme.


You should think of the OOH media buying landscape as being divided into the supply side and the demand side. On the supply side, you have several players. There’s the media owners, the ones who own OOH ad units, media management solutions, intermediaries who manage these ad units on behalf of media owners, and production companies, the vendors who will actually be printing and delivering your creative. Luckily, the demand side is much less complex. This is your side, made up of the brands themselves or media buying agencies.

Even with more data intelligence, location is still the most important consideration. With such a wide range of placement types (billboards, transit, point-of-purchase, cinema, etc.), it’s difficult to find a single solution that can account for them all. You also need to understand how your audience will see and interact with your ad, which may involve going out into the market and assessing the space in person.

As you’re developing your campaign, it’s important to determine what kind of conversion event you’re seeking. Would it be a success for someone to visit a physical store or your eCommerce site? Or, are you only trying to boost your brand awareness? Nailing down your goals not only helps you find a measurement of performance, but it will help you determine your creative and messaging, the appropriate location and other details.


When it comes to radio, negotiation is key, and that requires a deep understanding of the media landscape. There are a few factors that influence the cost of radio ads, such as demographics, audience size and geography. On top of that, you should always analyze key indicators including ratings, the cost-per-point (CPP) and CPM, as well as how many listeners a particular spot is expected to deliver. Outside forces could also shake up the market; these include events like elections or holidays (or even a global pandemic).

As for your own campaign, ensure that you have a firm grasp on who your target audience is and how you plan to reach them before you start negotiating placements. You may actually discover that going after the primetime hours or popular talk shows isn’t what’s best for your brand and your audience, and you could actually benefit from looking at the stations or times that no one else is competing for.

Radio ad spots can come in 30-second, 15-second, 10-second or even 5-second commercials. You’ll find the shorter commercials are priced much more affordably. Another cheaper option are run-of-the-station (ROS) commercials, in which stations will play your ad in unfilled ad spots throughout the day. You can also generate brand awareness by sponsoring on-air features such as sports, news, weather or traffic.

As is the case with most traditional media buys, you’ll be rewarded for planning ahead. If you book your spots now and negotiate a longer-term deal, you’re more likely to receive discounts or other value propositions just for committing to purchasing in advance.

Keeping it Real With The Ward Group

When so much of media budgets are going towards online advertising, it may not feel cool to invest in traditional media buys, but print, OOH and radio still play a vital role for brands. If you want to take your advertising offline, reach out to The Ward Group. After over 35 years, our media planners and buyers know their way around traditional ad markets and are ready to be your humble guides on this advertising journey.

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