As the holiday season is beginning to wrap up, so are the holiday parties!  Every December, weekend calendars fill up across the country.  From company dinners, to neighborhood gatherings, to fancy New Year’s Eve soirees, your mingling shoes have been polished up and put to good use.  Regardless of location or occasion, the inevitable favorite small-talk question comes up: “So…what do you do for a living?”  As media buyers and planners, we prep for the follow ups to our answer, as people try to simplify our response.  “Oh, what’s that?” or “So, advertising? How cool.” or “How much does it really cost to run a spot during the Superbowl?” If only it were that easy.

In my years of answering these questions, I’ve come to find that most people are fascinated by the idea of advertising agencies and what it is like to work in one. We can thank the creators of Mad Men or movies that feature ad agency employees like What Women Want or How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days.  The general population seems to think that advertising agencies are all fancy loft-style offices residing in skyscrapers that only exist in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

The truth we know, is that advertising agencies and media buyers pop up in the darndest of places.  Small office buildings with awkward layouts surrounded by printer paper boxes, strip mall office buildings with desks pushed up against the walls and a random table parked in the middle, or an antique desk at a home in Anywhere, USA where a former media sales rep or disgruntled corporate employee has gone off on their own to start taking their clients’ matters in their own hands.

Once you get past the idea of an ad agency and the talk that goes along with it, you have the task of explaining what a buyer/planner actually does.  Here’s a few ways I personally have described it or heard it described in layman’s terms:

  • Liaison between client and TV/Radio/Print/Outdoor/Digital medias
  • Advertising Rate Negotiator
  • Budget Planner & Spender
  • Professional Excel User & Emailer (before discovering BluHorn, of course!)
  • Multi-Tasking Ninja

No matter how you slice it, media buyers/planners know that we wear many hats and these hats are impossible to quantify quickly.  We do so much more than just plan and place buys.  Our day to day jobs are never the same. There are many ways we spend our days. We spend time on the phone fostering relationships with representatives. We pour over demographic research and local market data to ensure our plans are accurate and effective. We sit in meetings with account executives and teams to discuss client goals and establish budgets. We talk clients off the ledge when they want to pull-the-plug-on-advertising-in-general-because-it-didn’t-work-after-2-days. We bridge the gap between sales and creative to ensure that what we have worked so hard to place actually has a message to move the meter. We read newsletters, data-feeds and emails that keep us up to date on national trends. We monitor our client’s competitor data to stay sharp. We survive office politics. And that’s just scraping the surface!  As a result of ALL this, I think my favorite description is multi-tasking ninja.

However, I saw this T-shirt in an ad recently…and now more than ever I think I would like to buy it.  I’d wear it to the next holiday party I attend, with a red and green cardigan just to keep it festive.