Advertising: To buy or not to buy? That is the question…

The world would be a dull place without advertising. They brighten up the urban landscape and make us laugh. We all have our favourites that we love or hate but many small business owners think it’s not for them. You may well agree that effective advertising campaigns are all very well for the big players, with the big budgets, but out-of-range for the rest of us. The good news is that it’s not about the size of the budget but how you use it to maximise the effects.

When done properly advertising has its place in the marketing and communication mix. It’s true that it’s always better to get someone else to say how great your business is – as in PR – but sometimes you just have to shout it from the rooftops yourself. By advertising you get to control the message, in terms of what is said and how it looks, and you know exactly when it will appear. That is something that you can’t always guarantee with PR.

That said advertising is not necessarily the answer for every business – whatever its size. As with everything in marketing there needs to be a plan and it needs to be part of a wider strategy to take the business forward. You should ask yourself how advertising is going to work with all your other marketing activities, from direct mail, telemarketing, and social media to the shop front, and then consider the best way to do it.

Give it careful consideration

Don’t just buy a one-off space in a magazine or local paper because someone has made you ‘an unmissable offer’. There are a surprising number of those offers out there and they come around on a regular basis. If you’re going to advertise in a particular media (whether print, online or broadcast) make sure you know who your target markets are, and that it’s the right media for them. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do my target markets regularly see the magazine/website/programme?
  • Do they value and trust its content?
  • How many of my target markets does the media regularly reach and will it be enough to warrant the costs?
  • How much will it cost to reach them this way, is it the right time for a campaign, and how will it work with everything else that I’m doing to reach them?
  • Will there be a strong link to the target markets’ buying cycles/season and will the ad be placed near a special/relevant feature that will help to strengthen the message?
  • What do I realistically expect the advertising to achieve (e.g. raise profile/generate sales/generate enquiries…) and will one ad be enough?

There’s much to think about before you even start but if the answers to that lot is yes, and you know why you want to do it, you should certainly consider investing in advertising. In which case, it would also be worth looking at a series of ads rather than a one-off to give the message a chance to sink in. If you go for the series then it will be cheaper per advert if you buy them as a series, rather than buying them one-at-a-time, so plan ahead to get the best price.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate

Don’t pay rate card prices if you can avoid it. The rate card is the price quoted in the media pack or by the advertising sales person when they call. There is usually some room for negotiation. At the very least an advertising agency would expect a discount of at least 10 or 15%, for their trouble, if they were buying advertising on your behalf. The fact that you are going direct shouldn’t mean that you can’t ask for the discount yourself – they may say no but more often than not they will say yes. Don’t forget that times are hard for the advertising business too and if they are struggling to sell the space they would rather sell at a discount than not at all. One sign to look out for is if a magazine is running lots of its own filler ads. Filler ads generate no direct revenue for the media and the advertising sales people would much rather have the income.

Share and enjoy

You can cut the costs of your advertising by sharing space with complementary businesses and partners. Why buy a quarter page ad when you could buy a half page and share it with another business. It costs less to contribute to a half page than to pay for a quarter page. If for example you have a building business you could share the costs with an interior designer or landscape gardener. Similarly, a wedding planner might consider sharing with a wedding dress maker or florist.

Whatever you pay for the advertising space in the end you will want to make sure that you make the most of it and that will be down to content. We’ll look at advertising content another time but it’s worth saying now that it should include a call to action, to help generate a response, and possibly a reply code, to help you track and measure its effectiveness. If it’s online including links to relevant pages on your website will allow you to directly track the traffic.

Although advertising isn’t a cheap solution it can be inexpensive if planned and executed properly. It’s also worth remembering that it’s not always about generating direct sales. Sometimes it may just be about raising profile with stakeholders as part of a wider marketing campaign. Whatever the reason for advertising it is the content that will be key…


Deborah Rowe
Deborah Rowe

Deborah is a chartered marketer, member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and fellow of both the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing and the RSA. She has more than 20 years of solid marketing and communications experience which she puts to good use as principal consultant of Sheba Marketing. Sheba Marketing provides no-nonsense business-to-business marketing support to small and medium-sized organisations that want to achieve great things.

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