what it is i do for a living

I’m at the Agency, on a Sunday, catching up on work that didn’t get done on Friday because I just wasn’t feeling all that good. I was coming down with the DEATH FLU that I still have, of course, but I didn’t really realize that at the time.

But as I came in, and looked at my tasklist for today, I realized – how many people actually know what it is I do for a living? It’s not easy to explain, after all. I’m an online media buyer, but most people immediately equate that to pop-ups and spam mail. Which, granted, is what I used to specialize in at my last job, and OK, at this one too, for a while.

So instead, I try to define my job as such: “I’m a media buyer. Twenty years ago, I’d’ve been buying TV ad space, but now, I buy Internet.”

I don’t just do pop-ups and spam mail, after all – I do bigger networks, portals, websites. The goal of a good media planner is to get the ad in front of the right person at the right time, and that’s my challenge. Sometimes that means buying space on sites dedicated to specific subject material (like poker, for my online poker client) or using contextual advertising like Gator (now Claria) to get ads in front of people researching mortgages (for our mortgage/refi client) or negotiating deals with demographically compatible sites so that we get the ads in front of a group of people most likely to buy the product (like getting bottled water in front of health-conscious females)

Being a media planner at the Agency isn’t all glamour and free lunches though. There’s a lot of gruntwork involved. Most of it involves working with our adserving software. This is a web based program that serves and tracks every single banner, pop-up and clickthrough for all our campaigns. We use it to traffic the ads, and then run reports to analyze those traffic levels. It wasn’t easy to learn at all, because I’ve never had to work with anything like it.

And then there’s the paperwork side of things. Oh, lord. Working for a major company means that I have to track and file a million pieces of paper and information. Bills from advertisers, contracts from clients, media authorization forms. If accounting needs, say, a piece of paper signed by the client, saying it’s OK for us to spend $50K/month with a certain website on their behalf, I’d better have copies of it filed on my desk, in the shared file cabinet, and on the server, because when my boss asks for it, I’d better be able to pull it out.

For example, my tasklist today:

  • finish the media plan for a client’s new initiative. This means completing a Powerpoint presentation detailing the sites involved (screenshots, traffic levels, unique users, subject matter) and finishing an Excel sheet with projected results
  • analyze the differences between a vendor’s reports and my reports, because they show they’ve delivered more traffic than my tracking software shows. And unlike widgets, you can’t just misplace a pallet of pop-ups.
  • send over the media authorization forms for April advertising for a client, so they can sign off and I can bill them
  • determine how we managed to charge one of my clients for media before I even started here, which means checking EVERY SINGLE INVOICE from the media vendors for the past nine months to make sure they’re all paid
  • clear up some outstanding invoices for a client – which means running reports on the adserving software and then comparing them to the invoices

    That’s about the half of it, anyways. It isn’t necessarily what I want to do for the rest of my life though. It’s a great day job, but I don’t consider media planning a vocational calling. But I’ve made a living off the Internet, in one way or another, for the better part of the last eight years, since I started selling computers and writing HTML code on the side in 1997 in Victoria. Since then, most of my jobs wouldn’t exist if ARPA hadn’t been created. I am totally entwined with online, and really, with a liberal arts degree, what else is there for me?

    Besides, I’m absolutely in love with the Agency – most people know that. This is the best, happiest place I could possibly be. It’s crazy and creative and chaotic, it’s full of dozens of vivid, intelligent, intellectual people. The way I described it to my mom was that, “everyone here was the smartest kid in high school.” Even working as a lowly media planner, a cog in the wheels and the machine, means more to me than being a manager a lot of other places would.

    There’s only one problem with doing what I do – it’s almost impossible to explain to my parents how I make a living. I’ve tried, and failed, and now, they just figure…at least I’m not working in online gambling like I was last year. At least I’m not working for a company where they replace the microwave with a breadbox in order to hide assets. At least now, I have a real job…albeit one that occasionally involves software-based pop-ups.

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