Lessons from a Media Buyer for New Startups

By: Jordan Whelan

So many of the headaches surrounding a start-up exist with regards to communicating your value proposition to your customers. The more disruptive your idea is, the harder it is shake the status quo to its very core.

As a media buyer in Toronto, I’ve learned it is crucial to note that there is never a one size fits all strategy which can be applied across the board

There are however, industry tricks that you can pull out of your sleeve in order to get maximum ROI on your dollar.


In terms of vastness of reach and low cost, there is often nothing that can top radio ads. I’ve long argued that FM radio ads are a game of Russian roulette. Consumers punch in and out often missing anything past the first commercial into a break. If you’re going to invest in this area look into talk radio, which often has both a longer TSL (time spent listening) and listeners with higher incomes.

Each radio buy also brings with it bonus spots, which in laymens terms means extra commercials that run at no charge. Even the smallest buys come with these especially during times when inventory is plentiful.

In terms of stretching your dollar ask for a cost per rating point, which is “the cost of buying one Rating Point, or one percent of the target population.” Next, compare it across the board.


Television is an arena which tends to have higher impact but which is quickly being lessened with the advent of PVR, Netflix or any streaming for that matter.

If you have a product which is very visual this is your best bet. There is a sexiness to TV which has proven can capture and hold a consumers attention.

To lower your budget, move outside primetime and try to pay upfront on a multi-week schedule.

Strategically, look to advertise during certain programming that might compliment your product offering well, both in terms of demographic and psychographic.

Finally, determine what your “value add” is. Every TV buy should include some sugar in the form of bonus spots, a PSA or incorporation with their digital efforts. Nowadays, many companies will throw in video pre-roll on their site but whatever you do, don’t settle for the banner ad.


Digital media buys are transforming at such a rapid rate that many operate on a sort of fake it till you make it model.

When it comes to what works, you may have to try a lot of AB testing within your website analytics.

Google Pay Per Click Ads or Adwords are still king in the digital space in that they capture someone in a state of hyper focused search. Unfortunately, they’re pricey unless you can get your keywords down to something very niche. Play around with Google’s Keywords planner to get the estimated bid per click to less than $2.

Reddit is also incredibly underrated in the digital space in that it is largely untested waters. I’ve tested it and if post copy is constructed to feel organic, cost per click rates can drop as low as $0.20.

Finally, with a comprehensive Ad Buy, always negotiate for some sort of bonus in the form of integrated PR.

If your product is a tech gadget, they may agree to have you on to provide insight on developing tech news. Get creative and think like a media producer to seamlessly integrate. Remember, they have hours of content to fill.

Media buying is a shifting game that is always negotiable. Don’t be afraid to ask for whats possible including custom solutions. Packaging and promoting your message is the backbone of your business.

Bio: Jordan Whelan is an entrepreneur who heads up Grey Smoke Media, a Toronto media planning and strategy firm. His other ventures include cardboard design firm, Our Paper Life as well as social commerce platform Framestr.

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