Glossary of Media Buying Terms

Uncategorized Sep 08, 2020

The media budget for almost every campaign accounts for the lion’s share of that campaign’s budget. Yet, so many campaigns and even the media consultants they hire treat the media buy as a second thought. They focus on the creative; the glitz and glamour of the shiny ads they hope to put on the airwaves.

When it comes to traditional electronic media – TV and radio – when, where and how you spend your money has a deep impact on your campaign’s overall success.

The media buying operation helps make huge budgetary decisions: reserving airtime early to save you money; buying new airtime without losing your shorts during the heat of the campaign; and just as critically, feeding you important intel as to what the opponent, opposition party, and third-party groups are doing.

Campaigns that understand and maximize the media buying component of their campaign are likely to be more agile in a potentially rapidly changing environment at the end of an election cycle and will have the most efficient use of their hard-earned campaign cash.

Having a smart and engaged media buyer on your team is critical to getting the most out of your advertising budget. A campaign shouldn’t try to do this on their own. However, campaigns need to also be smart and engaged on this aspect of their campaign.

Following is a quick glossary of some of the more important media buying terms to help candidates and campaign managers be better informed consumers and hopefully get more bang out of their campaign budget.

While there is a lot to know and learn about media buying, I only picked the terms you will most likely encounter running a political campaign (definitions in “quotes” are pulled from my copy of “Media Planning: A Practical Guide” by Jim Surmanek):

Audience Composition

The percentage of viewers or listeners within each demographic group.


Called “Avails” for short. This is the time during a program or between programs available for purchase.

Air Date

This is the start-date for when a particular ad will start running on-air.


This is the number of households exposed to a media schedule during a given period of time.


This is the number of times people are exposed to an ad.


“The sum of all exposures”

GRPs: Gross Rating Points

You don’t need to know everything about Gross Ratings Point, just that it is a tool for measuring the impact or impressions of a given media buy to a particular audience. Simply, the hope is to get the most GRPs for the lowest cost.


These are time periods throughout a 24 hour day of television or radio in which programs are broadcast.

Designated Market Area (DMA)

This simply is the TV market or “unduplicated television area to which a county is assigned on the basis of highest share of viewing.”


This is a measure of the impact of a particular message, the number of impressions

Cost Per Rating Point (Cost Per Point, CPP, Cost Per GRP)

This is the cost of buying one rating point representing one-percent of the target audience.


“Scheduling a heavy advertising effort for a period of time, followed by a hiatus, then coming back with another schedule at the same or a higher or lower level.”

Rate Card

A document “that states the costs for advertising on or in an advertising vehicle as well as other pertinent information relating to the vehicle, e.g., circulation, mechanical requirements, etc.”

Net Cost

This is what the media vendor pays for the airtime.

Gross Cost

This is what the campaign pays the media vendor for the airtime. The industry standard for general ad agencies is a 15% commission, but savvy campaigns may be able to get media consultants to reduce their percentage for commission.


This isn’t apprehension. This is the holding or reserving of time for your specific ad buy. This locks in the cost for your buy, but you are not required to pay at the time you make the reservation.


“The percentage of individuals (or homes) exposed to a particular TV or radio program”


“The percentage of Homes Using TV (or radio) tuned to a particular program”


“Cable systems joined electronically or otherwise for the purpose of selling advertising to reach larger population groups than represented by any one system.


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