In even the best of times, media buying can be a challenge. In essence, media buying refers to the process of advertisers or agencies buying media to fulfil campaign obligations, like raising brand awareness, increasing sales, or launching new products.

Media buying is a critical part of advertising, but it’s often fraught with challenges. Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19 hasn’t made the process any easier, especially since economic activities are ebbing and flowing as countries continue to shift between open economies and lockdowns. Campaigns take months of preparation rather than days or weeks. Unfortunately, this kind of complication leaves many advertisers inclined to play it safe and reduce ad spend.

While COVID-19 is clearly an issue in many different ways, it’s not the only uphill battle facing the media buying business. Underlying problems with current processes and technology also play a role, creating a perfect storm of issues that have been increasingly difficult to overcome. These are the five largest challenges facing modern advertisers and agencies – and what can be expected in the future.

1. COVID-19 Uncertainty

Few events are quite as concerning and volatile as a global pandemic. With absolutely no way to know what will happen today, tomorrow, or months from now, advertisers are left wandering in the dark, hoping for the best. While some industries have opened, others have closed again, and others still are unknown. This kind of issue has affected out of home (OOH) and print advertising most significantly in the short term. However, this has left the door open for digital.

Digital advertising of all kinds, including digital out of home (DOOH), has seen a spike during COVID-19 that is expected to continue. As technological advances related to programmatic ad buying roll out, it’s likely companies currently aligning themselves digitally will be the ones to win in the end.

2. Lack of Visibility Over Inventory and Performance

Running campaigns across a number of different channels often means working through multiple disconnected systems, including various ad networks. Despite modern technology currently in use, this can lead to a startling lack of visibility.

Without a universal media buying platform, it’s very hard for advertisers to track where their ads are running, how they are performing, and whether they’re getting the exposure being paid for. While the process of media buying may now be easier than ever, disparate systems mean that the overall process still isn’t as effective as it could be. Without a good way to evaluate inventory and ad performance, advertisers aren’t getting their money’s worth.

3. Difficulties Maximizing Yield Across All Media Channels

Despite the growing presence of technology in all aspects of ad sales, there still aren’t many comprehensive options for managing cross-media activities while still connecting to all the necessary external systems to make this cost and time effective. This makes maximizing yield extremely challenging, leaving advertisers and agencies with educated guesses rather than data-driven actionable intelligence.

Due to the current limitations in the media-buying space, there are few solutions available to unify measurement across different audiences to determine the overall impact. Metrics may be available for each media type, channel, or campaign, but this requires a lot of work to aggregate data and look for patterns. If these resources were all interconnected, advertisers could easily build reporting dashboards that would provide relevant, actionable information to drive campaign creation and sales practices.

4. Siloed Media Buying Practices

Media buying has long been siloed. Even companies that offer advertising across multiple channels, such as TV, print, and digital, still often require individual orders rather than allowing advertisers to purchase a cross-media plan in one instance.

While this may have worked several decades ago, it’s no longer effective in a multi-screen world. Advertisers must market their products and services in the same manner consumers view content, efficiently across all devices and screens. Brands and agencies are now more invested in cross-media campaigns than ever before, but the current sales market still hasn’t caught up. Unfortunately, this can slow down the entire process, resulting in more expensive – and less effective – campaigns across the board. While some companies are working actively to alleviate this, like NBCUniversal’s new One Platform model, there’s still a long way to go in this space.

5. Limited Access to Media Buying Intelligence

In a world where analytics are so readily available, it’s almost shocking that advertisers and agencies are often left scrambling to collect accurate information. In fact, research has shown that bad data, the kind associated with poor access to intelligence, is costing businesses up to30% of their annual revenue.

While it’s possible to manually aggregate data, this can be very laborious, and many businesses simply don’t have the time nor money to invest. This leads to blank spots in the process of analyzing media strategies, as the intelligence needed to make informed decisions is unfortunately spread across multiple spreadsheets and disconnected systems.

Now Is the Time to Prioritise Change

The challenges in media buying may sound insurmountable, but the advertising management solutions market is currently evolving for the better to a more data-centric approach. The rise in programmatic advertising across virtually all media channels is driving greater data collection practices and easier access to comprehensive analytics and intelligence. With the ability to guide the planning process and ensure ads are placed in front of the most relevant audiences, the future will certainly be brighter for modern advertisers and agencies who get on board and prioritize the management of their data.