Don't advertise until you've done everything else


Have you ever had a random phone call or email offering you the chance to advertise at a bargain price? Or thought you might need to pay money and advertise your business to give it a bit of a boost?

This article could save you a lot of money!

It's never a good idea to advertise just because you think you're getting a bargain. I'll come on to when to advertise later. But first, before you pay to advertise, make sure you've really taken advertise of all the free channels and opportunities first. There's also no point in paying for ads to drive visitors to your website if your website needs updating or if you've no way to add people to a mailing list to get maximum value out of any advertising.

What is advertising? 

Just to be clear: 'advertising' is sometimes used interchangeably with the term 'marketing', which isn't correct. Advertising is paying to promote a specific message in a specific way, whether it's an ad in a newspaper or a big budget commercial before the main film at a cinema.

Advertising can be very powerful but can also be an expensive mistake. Maybe you need to consider other options first? How good is your website? Your social media? Your PR? Do you blog regularly? Use direct mail consistently?

If you're uncertain about any of these it pays to get them right before you start to advertise. When some one sees your ad they may well come to your website and if that's rubbish... And you'd ideally want to capture their details for follow up, and continue to raise awareness via social media.

Some tips to avoid wasting money

Advertising is good for creating and building 'awareness' but this is not necessarily the same as building sales. Back in 1925, Daniel Starch said ”to be successful, it must be seen, must be read, must be believed, must be remembered and must be acted upon”. The same is still true today.

Before you spend, think...

Why are you advertising? What are you main reasons? For example:

to develop a new market, and create awareness (and potentially sales) among customers/visitors who have never tried your product;
to remind previous customers to use your product or service again, or to try another aspect of it.

  • how advertising will fit with your other marketing activities
  • your target markets - will they respond to advertising?

Advertising has either tactical or strategic objectives. Strategic advertising is concerned with creating an awareness of products, of developing an organisation's identity and image. It takes a longer term view, having a wider impact than tactical advertising – but it will cost more.

Tactical advertising is aimed at specific market segments and persuading them to go to a particular place or buy a certain service, sometimes at a particular time. Tactical advertising takes a more short to medium term view.

Target markets

Target markets must be clearly defined. Don't be reactive and simply advertise where a sales person asks you. Think about your markets and what they read/see.

One strong, clear message

Most advertising works best with just one key message. This is especially important if you can only afford to buy a few lines or small space. Faced with a small budget and only a couple of centimetres to fill, it can be tempting to get the greatest value for money. Don't cram a small space with loads of detail. It won't have any impact. It's more likely to confuse.

Choosing one main message will help give even the smallest company a stronger identity. This comes back once again to selling benefits rather than features, and stressing what makes you better or different.

How to handle those random advertising sales phone calls

However much you plan your advertising in advance, there will always be occasions when an advertising sales person telephones you with a 'special offer'. Some of these might be genuine. Most are not. They are usually offered due to cancellation or because it is simply difficult to sell the space (i.e not a good opportunity).

Resist! There will always be another opportunity and your advertising will be much more effective if it is pro-active and planned rather than reliant on those last minute special offers, especially if they are for new publications which no-one has heard of and which disappear almost instantly.

Choose media depending on cost, target markets, reputation, recommendation, longevity.

Make sure the readership profile matches your markets

Before taking an advertisement in a publication, look online at their media pack and rates. You should be able to easily get hold of the profile of readers and circulation details.

Do the readers correspond to your target markets? The readership profile should detail readers in terms of age and socio-economic profile, as well as giving further details about hobbies and interests, and any research about holiday-taking habits. Tourism products are a major source of revenue for many publications so they will usually have more detailed information available if you ask for it.

Circulation or readership figures?

Most publications will give their circulation and readership figures. The readership figures show the actual number of people who will see and read the publication, not just buy it. For some publications there will be a big difference between the circulation and readership figures. Some of the more upmarket monthly magazines have relatively low circulation figures but a long shelf life and high readership figures - particularly when they are the types of publication you see in doctors' and dentists' surgeries!

When considering readership figures, look also at the distribution method for the publication. Is it one which people really demand, by buying it at a newsagents or subscribing to it? Or one which arrives un-requested through the letterbox? Most tourist boards offer advertising opportunities in their publications. Ask probing questions about their distribution. I've seen far too many boxes of publications lingering in distribution warehouses and then thrown out at the end of the season, or in backs of tourist board employees' cars as they drive around with boxes of undistributed publications.

Publication date

You will need to plan ahead and choose publications whose copy dates you can meet. Even more important are publication dates. If most people plan and book their holiday with you in November, there is little point advertising in a publication which appears in May, unless it is tactical advertising and you are looking for top-up business.

The media pack will probably include details of forthcoming features which might be relevant to you. Sometimes it is a good idea to advertise within a relevant feature but remember that competitors will probably be doing the same. It can be useful to stand alone and make a bigger impact at another time, if the timing is right for you.

Advertising rates - how to negotiate, negotiate, negotiate!

The deciding factor will inevitably be whether or not you can afford to advertise in your chosen publications and if it is cost-effective.

Set your budget in advance and stick to it. Always try to negotiate a discount.

If you've never advertised in that publication before, ask for a first-timers discount.
If you've advertised before, ask for a loyalty discount.
If your ad includes fantastic imagery or you have a strong reputation, tell the sales person you'll make their publication look better - sounds mad but I've done this successfully numerous times for clients!

Always ask what date is the deadline for advertising. Then say you need to think about advertising first. Call back closer to the deadline and try to negotiate again. At that point they're more likely to offer a reduction. You run the risk of them running out of space, but that doesn't happen very often. If it does, then you'll know that publication is probably worth advertising in in future.
Regard advertising rate cards as guidelines only. You should expect to negotiate discounts of as much as 50 per cent.

Make sure you're clear exactly where the ad will appear and that you'll be happy with that position. This is something you should be able to negotiate on as well.

When placing advertisements always ask if there's any chance of editorial coverage and the name of the person you should contact.

If you're advertising in a print publication, find out what the associated online benefits are.

Be pro-active, not responsive, especially when called out of the blue

If someone calls you out of the blue with a special offer to advertise in a particular publication, ask yourself:

  • Have you ever heard or it, or seen it?
  • Do you know if your customers/visitors have heard of it/seen it?
  • Why are they calling - is it last minute? If they have a last minute special offer, what does that mean? No-one else wanted that spot at that price. So don't say 'yes', get more details, consider it carefully and then decided if you want to be in that publication.
  • And then negotiate.
  • Where will your ad appear? If it's going to be crammed in with many others, the impact will be diminished.

If you spend money on booking ad space what are you going to do about the ad design? It's worth spending on decent design to make an impact otherwise the cost of the space will be wasted.

You need a call to action

What do you want people to do when they see your ad? Vaguely think, "that sounds nice" or pick up the phone? Make sure you include a strong call to action - get people to do something.

Evaluating advertising campaigns

You will never find out which half of your advertising budget was a good investment unless you monitor it. Keep a record of the media in which you advertised, when and the cost. Make sure that all staff are aware of the need to monitor advertising expenditure and ask them to make a point of asking people who book with you where they heard about you, and to make a note of this.

You can monitor which publications work for you by using different types of advertisement, such as specific packages or codes.

However, bear in mind that it's notoriously difficult to monitor the effectiveness of ads. Many people will see an ad and then be prompted to do more research. I might see an ad, look at their website, follow them on social media before I actually make a booking - so you'll never be 100% clear how effective your ads are. If the result of your ad is that someone looks at your website and social media, and see a mess - you've wasted your money!

Eight important points to remember

  1. Be pro-active, not responsive. Work out whether a) you want to advertise and b) where and when before responding to pressure sales calls
  2. Be clear about your target markets and what you're trying to achieve
  3. Have one strong message you're trying to convey
  4. Invest in good design for impact
  5. Have a very clear call to action
  6. Consider whether advertising is the best promotional method for you right now
  7. Are you really ready to advertise? Are you totally happy with your website, your email data capture, blog, social media and will they all slot seamlessly together with advertising activity?
  8. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate!


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