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To TV or not to TV: Should Your Biz Use the Tube to Sell?

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For some small business owners, media buying is a mystery-shrouded endeavor -- one that they have neither the experience nor the inclination to delve into. To shed some light on buying television advertising, I asked Pamela Kern, president of Kern Media, Inc., for her advice on the process.

The New Gloucester, Maine-based Kern Media plans and places newspaper, magazine, television and radio advertising from coast to coast. With experience at major ad agencies and eight years at NBC in New York, Ms. Kern launched the company in 1985 with her husband Peter. Her specialty is buying television, print and outdoor advertising.

Kimberly McCall: Many small business owners have the perception that television advertising is too expensive. They tend to spend their dollars on radio and/or print. When is television the right choice for a small business?

Pamela Kern: Television may be appropriate if there is sufficient budget to build awareness, and if the business or product is best marketed through the "sight, sound, motion & emotion" of television advertising.

Television does not have to be terribly expensive. Each program or daypart is priced to reflect the size and desirability of the audience. Daytime tends to be the least expensive, because of the absence of most people in the desirable 25-54 demographic. Primetime is the priciest because of the audience and quality programming-making it unaffordable for small advertisers. Small businesses should look to early morning news, 4 pm-9 pm "fringe," and/or weekends to affordably build frequency among the key 25-54 market.

Choose the most effective and affordable medium for your business and then dominate that medium, whether it be radio, print, or television. This will allow enough frequency to build the necessary top-of-mind awareness to generate traffic and ultimately allow your business to increase sales. A secondary medium should be added to the mix only after primary medium goals have been met.

McCall: OK, a small biz owner has decided to dedicate some of their budget to television. How do they get a spot produced without breaking the bank?

Kern: The TV or cable station may throw in production for free or at minimal cost (approximately $500) for a first-time advertiser. A production house would cost $5,000+ but the quality would likely be better. If you're spending $10,000 on TV media, you should spend no more than $2,000 in production.

McCall: What kind of television spots work most effectively? What seems to generate the most customer response?

Kern: TV spots do not have to be expensive to be effective. They should be measured not by how many awards they win, but by how many customers they bring to your business. If done right, testimonial ads can be very effective. Having the owner of the business do his/her own ads can be good or more often, disastrous. The best ads stress the benefit of the business to a potential client rather than being a vanity spot. If there is a sale or offer involved, the offer must be good ? try 30% off rather than 10% off. 2-for-1 is also a great retail pull.

McCall: Say a retail store owner has $50K to spend on advertising in one year. How would you recommend they allocate their dollars?

Kern: A $50,000 retail store ad budget can be spent most effectively on TV or radio. Many retailers are stuck on newspapers, so there is little left over to maximize the benefits of broadcast advertising. Pick your most effective medium and dominate.

McCall: Any other thoughts on getting the most mileage out of advertising on television?

Kern: Hire professionals to help you get the most from your TV dollars. They know where and how to place your ad dollars with minimal waste. They will also tell you when TV is not right for you and can steer you in the right direction.

Copyright © 2001 Kimberly L. McCall

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