Local advertising, always important in the home improvement industry, has become a lot more important as telemarketing wanes. Advertising budgets are getting bigger and efficient management of that investment is critical to success — or survival. Yet at too many home improvement companies, pivotal advertising decisions are more often shaped by media reps than by sweet reason.

Don't get me wrong. Media reps can be a valuable resource. In a fully departmentalized advertising agency, media reps answer to a flint-hearted media buyer, armed with sophisticated tools for evaluating the relative power and value of each medium.

The best find ways to deliver acceptable numbers based on those tools, then add value. But a professional agency media buyer insists that the numbers make sense before a rep gets her station or publication on the schedule.

Good Ol' Boy Ad Buys When I came from a large agency to a home improvement company, I was stunned at how media decisions were made. The company I'd joined was already large and growing out of cash flow at a breathless pace. As a consequence, realistic revenue projections were difficult and advertising expenditures were a function of the monthly bank balance rather than any kind of plan.

The owners had long-standing relationships with a passel of media reps and I, busy with creative issues that first year, was reluctant to chill those associations with a too-clinical approach to media-buying. Fact is, I would have served them better with a flintier attitude toward their media pals.

Our Yellow Pages rep was a professional woman who'd served the company for a decade. As we entered markets and expanded product offerings, the monthly Yellow Pages contracts and closings became Byzantine.

When we finally did the annualized accounting across all offices, we found that the original program the owners had put in place had developed the price tag of an advanced weapons system. Our Yellow Pages expenditure had grown to more than a million dollars a year even while the medium was losing audience share to the Internet and fragmenting with new directories.