Media Buying: Agency Approach or Self-Service Strategy?

The pros and cons of agency versus self-service media buying; let us guide you towards the most efficient and cost-effective advertising strategy.

Media Buying: Agency Approach or Self-Service Strategy?

A media buying agency and media planning agency

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a company director, a brand manager, or the owner of a side-hustle startup, you already know the crucial role that advertising can play in driving your business forward. Your operation might blaze a trail with its innovative products, superior service, and unparalleled expertise, but without a well-crafted and skillfully executed media strategy, it will miss critical opportunities for growth and expansion.

For startups, SMBs, and those without the luxury of dedicated in-house marketing personnel, navigating the ever-changing advertising landscape can seem like a time-consuming, expensive, and potentially risky proposition. At the same time, retaining agency services can often feel like a substantial financial commitment, prompting concerns about cost-effectiveness and real, measurable outcomes.

The purpose of this article is to dissect the key considerations when deciding between self-service media buying and partnering with a dedicated agency. The goal is to help businesses make informed decisions that align with their strategic objectives and financial realities.

Media Planning and Media Buying – What Are They?

Media planning and buying are simple concepts, but ones that don’t carry a lot of meaning outside the world of marketing. To provide some quick context for the uninitiated:

Media Planning

In the simplest terms, media planning is the process of deciding where, when, and how to deploy advertising media to achieve the maximum return on investment.

Though straightforward in principle, media planning can be a complex, painstaking task, often involving extensive demographic research, data-driven market analysis, performance modelling, and creative problem-solving.

Media Buying

Where media planning is about strategising, media buying is about implementation.

Media buyers serve to bridge the gap between advertisers and media publishers, working on behalf of their clients to negotiate the best possible deals for advertising space.

A notoriously competitive and opaque industry, media buying can be a shadowy practice which often comes down to personal relationships as much as it does to numbers.

For many businesses, particularly startups and SMBs, resources are limited and must be carefully allocated. Managing a media buying campaign in-house can be time-consuming, requiring dedication to planning, negotiating, buying, tracking, and adjusting strategies.

What Motivates Businesses to Engage with Media Agencies?

In making the decision to engage a media agency, businesses are often motivated by a range of factors. These considerations extend beyond the simple goal of bolstering their advertising efforts; they involve a thorough assessment of the business’s current capabilities, its future growth aspirations, and the potential benefits an agency-led marketing strategy could bring.

Although countless factors might prompt a brand to reach out to a media agency, below are some of the reasons we hear most often.

The Allure of Expertise

In the ever-evolving landscape of media buying, staying ahead of the curve can be a daunting task for businesses, particularly smaller ones or those just starting out.

Media agencies possess specialised knowledge and employ seasoned professionals who live and breathe advertising strategies. These experts are in tune with industry trends, understand the intricacies of different advertising platforms, and have the tactical know-how to negotiate for the best advertising spots and rates.

Engaging a media agency provides businesses with access to this pool of expertise, which can be a game-changer in effectively reaching audiences and making the most out of advertising budgets.

Operational Efficiency

For many businesses, particularly startups and SMBs, resources are limited and must be carefully allocated. Managing a media buying campaign in-house can be time-consuming, requiring dedication to planning, negotiating, buying, tracking, and adjusting strategies.

By retaining the services of a media agency, ambitious brands often elect to delegate these tasks to experienced professionals. This not only streamlines marketing operations but also frees up internal resources to focus on core business areas.

As a result, the company can operate more efficiently, with the media agency ensuring that ad campaigns are running smoothly and performing optimally.

The Promise of Growth

The ultimate goal of any business is growth and expansion. A well-executed media buying strategy can fuel this by boosting brand visibility, attracting new customers, and increasing sales.

Established agencies have the tools and expertise to craft and implement effective media strategies that align with a business’s growth objectives. Their extensive network connections and understanding of diverse media platforms can enable a business to reach wider audiences, penetrate new markets, and scale up operations.

In essence, hiring a media agency can be seen as an investment in the future growth of a business, potentially leading to impressive returns in the long term.

co-workers in the office working, in advertising

Unpacking Your Investment: What Am I Getting for Media Buying Agency Fees?

When it comes to retaining the services of a dedicated media agency, many companies are understandably sceptical about the potential return on investment; after all, why pay someone to do something which you could do yourself?

Whilst it’s certainly true that for many companies – particularly those in relevant industries – paying for a premium media planning and buying service may be an unnecessary expense, for others, the benefits of working with an agency can be significant.


Media planning is a highly specialised, ever-changing field, and one which requires constant vigilance to stay abreast of the latest industry trends.

A good media agency will draw upon the collective experience of its planning team, analysing target audience, ad space availability, ad reach, penetration, frequency, and budget, as well as defining key metrics for campaign success and performance.


Media buyers frequently bring in high volumes of business for their partnered media outlets. This gives them considerable power when it comes to ad rate negotiation.

Large businesses running national campaigns may be granted access to preferential rates and deals from publishers, but for most firms, working with an independent media buyer will be the only way to secure these kinds of deals.


A reputable media agency will work closely with its clients, providing regular reports and transparent feedback on campaign progress, ad performance, and return on investment.

These reports not only help to keep advertisers in the loop they also offer a valuable opportunity to provide input and direction for future campaigns.

Shaping the Future of Media Buying: The Old Way vs. the New

For decades, the realms of media planning and buying have been entrenched in traditional methods. Despite the transformative impact of tech on virtually all other aspects of business, these sectors have been slow to adapt and innovate – often at the clients’ expense.

At Media Buying, we believe a new approach is not only possible – it’s necessary.

The Old Way


Traditionally, media buying agencies were divided into two distinct categories: physical media buyers would purchase ad inventory across television, newspapers, billboards, public transport, and the like; meanwhile, digital media buyers would be tasked with negotiating ad space online, such as websites and social media platforms.

The result was a highly fragmented industry, with clients often having to defer to separate media department strategies for their marketing.


Media buying is a complex process that requires expert knowledge and understanding, as well as relationships with publishers that often take years to foster.

In the past, this meant that planning and buying agency services were often closed off, with all but the largest brands feeling they were ‘worthy’ of the prized radio and TV advertising spots.


With so many media owners relying on opaque client relationships to sell their media, buyers would often purchase ad space without really knowing how effective it would be.

The result was an archaic, inefficient system of billable hours, commission-based payments, ad fraud, scattered advertising, and kickbacks masquerading as ‘preferential rates’.

The choice between partnering with an independent media agency and adopting a self-service strategy isn't a decision to be taken lightly. It's a critical consideration that can significantly influence a business's trajectory in the increasingly complex advertising landscape.

The New Way


A modern business should have consistent marketing across all media channels, from out-of-home (OOH) and physical campaigns to online and digital advertising, all the way down to their social media campaigns.

An overarching strategy for media planning, buying, implementation, and optimisation leaves the door open for brands to grow and expand, with the ability to target audiences via new channels as the opportunities present themselves.


The digital revolution levelled the playing field for advertisers in many ways, granting them direct access to worldwide audiences, and giving them the ability to track the success of their campaigns in real-time.

This increased opportunity should be reflected by media planners and buying agency professionals, giving startups, sole traders, and small businesses the same access to radio stations, television networks, and high-footfall billboards.


Forward-thinking media agencies (including ours) are independent media agencies. They aren’t tied to specific media owners, and don’t encourage their clients to devote advertising spend in places that fail to create added value.

Independent agencies like Media Buying lead by example, prioritising openness and transparency, and fostering client trust through the assurance of receiving a candid assessment of the most effective ways to allocate their ad budget.


It’s an unfortunate fact, but there are no guarantees in the world of marketing – even the biggest household names have seen their finely tuned media plan fall flat.

It’s a stark reality that marketing isn’t a field of absolutes – even the most recognisable brands have seen their meticulously crafted media plans fall flat.

Modern agencies embody a new model for client relationships. The success of their clients is intrinsically tied to their own.

Such agencies leverage a suite of performance analytics and data-driven technologies to provide authentic insights into campaign performance. Should a campaign not meet the set marketing goals or expectations, these agencies commit to exhaustively addressing the shortfall, encapsulating a new standard in agency accountability and client service.

Creative digital development agency.

Navigating the Path Forward: Making the Right Choice

The choice between partnering with an independent media agency and adopting a self-service strategy isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. It’s a critical consideration that can significantly influence a business’s trajectory in the increasingly complex advertising landscape.

The Value Proposition of an Independent Media Agency

An independent media agency can bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and resources to the table. With a foot firmly in the diverse media landscape – both within the United Kingdom and across the world – such agencies offer an invaluable blend of local insight and global perspective.

They offer tailored media planning and buying strategies that aim to secure maximum exposure for a business’s advertising efforts.

These agencies often excel at strategic product placement, ensuring that a business’s message is positioned in the right place, at the right time, and crucially, at the right price. With their industry contacts and negotiation skills, they can often secure media spaces that might be difficult for a business to obtain independently.

Harnessing Technology for Independent Media Planning

In the era of digital transformation, tech plays an essential role in reshaping the media planning and buying landscape. Agency teams that have embraced this shift are leveraging sophisticated analytics tools and data-driven strategies to optimise campaign performance.

These agencies aren’t just about buying media space; they’re about creating meaningful, impactful advertising strategies that resonate with consumers. Through in-depth insights and actionable recommendations, they effectively aid businesses in making informed decisions about their advertising investments.

Self-Service Strategy: A Viable Alternative?

Meanwhile, a self-service media strategy empowers businesses to have direct control over their advertising campaigns. This route can offer a certain level of flexibility and immediacy, allowing businesses to adjust their strategies in real time.

However, it requires a significant investment of time and resources. Without the expert knowledge and industry connections of a dedicated team, businesses may find it challenging to secure the exposure they desire. Navigating the nuances of product placement, understanding the ins and outs of pricing negotiations, and staying abreast of digital advancements can become overwhelming tasks for a brand to manage independently.

In Conclusion

In the end, the decision between a planning and buying agency and a self-service strategy boils down to a business’s unique needs, resources, and ambitions. Both approaches have their merits and potential challenges.

While this article has provided an overview of these considerations, the next step is yours to take. Whether you choose to collaborate with a media agency or go it alone, remember: the goal is to create advertising strategies that not only reach but resonate with your target audience, ultimately driving your business – not someone else’s – to new heights.


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