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How to advertise your business

When people think of marketing, they always think of ‘advertising’ first. Partly because prior to the Internet and email, traditional advertising was one of the main marketing approaches used. The problem with advertising though is that it is inherently expensive, and it’s also very hard to track results from. 

For example, if you run an ad one week in the local paper you have no real idea of whether it made a difference, unless someone calls and says ‘I saw your ad in the paper’, which many people do not. Or if the amount of inbound enquiries is dramatically different to your usual number for a given week - which brings us on to the next point. A noticeable hike like that is very unlikely. Think about it from the other side of the fence. How many times do you see a single advert and act on it immediately? ‘Almost none’ is probably the answer, which begs the question – ‘Why do companies advertise?’. Of course there positives to advertising, if done correctly.So here are some tips on how, and where, to advertise along with the though process behind it. 

Where to advertise
Before you decide on this, you first have to be absolutely sure you have defined the following: 

  • Who is your 'target consumer'?
  • What is your advertising budget?
  • What publications are most commonly used by your target customer?
  • What website's are most commonly used by your target customer?

The next step is to carry out your own research into the relevant website's and magazines, try to match their readerships as closely as possible with your target consumer. If there are many suitable ones, then look into readership statistics, or the number of website members, this can also help you determine which options are the most popular. At the same time, think about more ‘local’ advertising as well, if this is relevant to your business. That could include the local paper, but also websites like and so on.

Types of advertising
Once you have decided how to reach your potential customer, the next step is to look at what options are available with each of these ’publications’ - using that term to describe both websites and hard copy magazines or newspapers. In fact, many industry-focused hard copy magazines will also have a supporting website, so sometimes you can work with both if that’s an option.

Hard copy publications - Taking these to start with, they usually offer everything from a full page ad (with higher rates for front/back covers, inside covers etc.) down to half or quarter page, or even what are known as ‘footer strips’ which are just a 1” deep approx ad which runs along the bottom of a page. Costs then vary of course depending on how much of a page you buy. Some publications run what they call ‘classifieds’ at the back, which is more of a ‘services directory’ and is usually cheaper – as well as the ads in the main publication which are usually referred to as ‘display advertising’. Classifieds are often sold by the column width and then by the depth – you may have heard the phrase ‘column inches’.

To get an idea of costs, the best place to start looking is the publication’s website, which will probably include something called a ‘media pack’ that can be downloaded as a PDF. If you can not see this (they are usually in a section called ‘Advertisers’) then email the publication and ask for one to be sent to you. Again, there should be an advertising contact on the website. It’s also worth requesting a sample publication or two at the same time. Be aware though that the moment you show an interest in advertising space, an ad sales person will be on the phone straight away. Try not include a phone number, or specifically request that they reply by email and not call you.

Once you have the media pack it will give you details of the costs for each type of ad space they offer, often including both hard copy and Internet where relevant. Do not be put off by the prices quoted though, as these will be what is known as 'rate-card' - and no-one ever charges rate card price. As soon as you get into conversation, an ad sales person will immediately offer a reduced rate for ‘first time advertisers’ – which funnily enough is also usually available for ‘repeat advertisers’ as well. 

The key thing to note here is that one-off ads are always far more costly per unit than if you run a series, but that of course all comes down to budget. Having said that, it is a proven fact that a series of ads, over a number of weeks or months, does indeed produce better results than a one-off advert. Sometimes it takes time to build up recognition within your audiences, and after they have seen an ad a few times they are more likely to act on it – but the same concerns about response still remain. At the very least you should see this type of advertising (known as ‘off the page’) as a supporting mechanism to other forms of marketing, and more as ‘brand awareness’ than anything what will generate direct business.

Something else to think about is that publications will often publish a ‘Forward Features List’. This basically tells you what some of their main features are going to be over the coming months. As such, it’s definitely worth trying to tie in your advertising with issues where there are relevant features that your audiences is going to be interested in. At this point you can also ask if your ad can appear actually within or very near the feature.

Which brings us to another point – as well as deciding on what size ad to run, also think about position. The earlier in the publication the better – and one on the right hand side of a double page spread always stands more chance of getting read than one on the left hand side. When you are close to booking, sometimes you can ask for these options (known as ‘early position’ and ‘right hand facing’) to be guaranteed as part of the negotiation.

One final thing to note, when budgeting for an advertising campaign, remember that you will also have to pay to have an ad designed and created as artwork, in a format that the publication requests.

Online advertising – In terms of finding the right websites to advertise on, and then gathering costs and options, this is very similar to off the page advertising. But that’s about where the similarity ends. With online ads there are usually far more options open to you – and they are almost always far more cost-effective as well. And more ‘trackable’.

The best known ad options are the horizontal ‘banner’ along the top of the website or a vertical ad down the right hand side. These are known as banners and towers respectively. Some websites will also offer panels of advertising at various other locations on a page, and these come under a variety of different names. The key thing is that, when talking through the options with an ad sales person, don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for clarification if they are using ‘jargon’ or talking about things which you do not understand. 

Having decided on the type of ad, the next thing is whether you want it on the Home page, or whether a different page or section is better. For example, the whole site might not be 100% relevant to your target customer, but a particular section on it may be – in which case, this is where you want your ads to appear! This is sometime also cheaper as well. Following this, you then want to think about how long you will run an ad for, and this is usually down to budget. Most websites request a minimum of 2 weeks as this makes it easier to manage updates.

The other thing to note is that usually the space is not sold 100% to one advertiser. For example, of you buy a banner on a Home page, they will probably sell this to four or five advertisers, and the ads will then ‘rotate’ so each one is seen while a visitor is on that page. It’s quite normal though, so not something you should be concerned about. Do check though what their maximum number of advertisers is at any one time. It really shouldn’t be any more than five.

At the same time as looking for advertising on the main website, many sites will also try to offer ads on any newsletters or other communications that they send out to their membership. These can be a really good way of generating extra interest as it is not reliant on that person visiting the website. Instead, they will usually have ‘opted in’ to receive a weekly or monthly newsletter, and then you could have your banner ad at the top of that – delivered directly into the recipient’s Inbox. This is definitely worth looking at as it can include links to your site, and click-throughs can be fully tracked. Likewise with normal tower and banner ads, these can also track numbers of click throughs to your site, making this form of advertising far more trackable.

Creating your advert
As we are all aware, the big London ad agencies will charge millions to create ads for top name brands which they think will generate the most response, and/or ‘retention’ as they call it. Which basically means, when asked, do people remember seeing the advert? Of course, not everyone has a massive budget for developing these types of ads, so we have to think a little smaller. But many of the golden rules apply:

  • Make it memorable – humour works well here, as long as it’s not politically incorrect.
  • Keep it short and sweet – entice them to find out more, don’t write War and Peace.
  • Include a ‘call to action’ - make sure they know what to do next if they are interested, and make it easy to find and as memorable as possible.
  • Don’t make statements which are not true – no point gaining their interest with something that you then cannot deliver.
  • Include an offer or a discount if you possibly can - make this ‘time limited’ so they act sooner rather than later. The ad guys call it a ‘compelling event’ – what can I do to make someone act NOW?

If you follow these rules you will not go too far wrong – whether you end up designing and writing your ad yourself, or working with an agency to do it for you. Not all agencies are expensive, and there is always the option to find a design student just out of college who may be brilliant and is looking for work to develop their portfolio.

Off the page ads are just a case of creating artwork to the advertiser’s specifications. Once you have booked some ad space they will normally send you what are known as Technical Specifications or ‘Tech Specs’ and you’ll just need to pass these on to the person that is creating the artwork. For online, the publication will want a Gif file and with ask for it to be created at a specific number of pixels wide and deep. This can usually be either ‘static’ or ‘animated’, in which case you have the option to change the message or the images two or three times while the ad is visible. All sorts of fun options are possible here, and there is usually no more cost for space when you’re running this type of ad – although it will cost a bit more to produce.

We hope the above information has been useful. For more information or a general chat about business plans call us on 0500 234111 / 01442 275767.

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