Are your competitors streaking past, firmly clutching your profits and customers? Are prospects stumped about what exactly it is your product does? Do vacant stares follow the utterance of your company's name? Signs you need to start an advertising campaign are as varied as the businesses they promote. I asked Judy Katzel, APR and executive vice president for Portland, Maine-based Burgess Advertising & Associates about how a small business can take the first steps toward upping the promotion of its products and services. Launched in 1991, Burgess Advertising & Associates provides marketing, advertising, and public relations services for clients in many industries including healthcare, financial services, and insurance.

Kimberly McCall: When is it time to start an advertising campaign?

Judy Katzel: A small business will usually consider undertaking an advertising program at a pivotal point in its maturity. This point might be:

  • a desire or need to grow
  • a sense competitors are growing at a faster pace
  • research shows competitors are better known
  • a drop in business profits (or donors/donations, for the nonprofits)
  • a change in corporate direction or introduction of a new product or service
  • a misperception of product service offerings exists among potential customers

The business should consider a holistic approach that not only encompasses paid advertising, but also includes reevaluation of the corporate positioning and image, public relations, collateral materials, participation in special events, and so on. There are many, many ways to reach your target audiences beyond paid advertising, and the most successful campaigns include a combination of approaches. In this way, each message reinforces and extends the effects of the others.

McCall: How does the business owner know what media will suit her business best?

Katzel: First, you have to define the target audience. Whether it's business executives between the ages of 35-55 or teenaged boys ages 15-18, once you've defined the audience, media selection becomes easier. For example, teenagers are best reached through radio and select television programming, or posters in schools or youth centers. If you have a highly specialized product that's only used by certain industries or professionals, trade and professional journals may provide the best outlet for advertising.

McCall: Is there a calculator or formula you recommend the business owner use to determine her advertising budget? Does it vary by industry?

Katzel: It truly does vary by industry, gross sales for the company, target audiences, sales objectives, cost of the product or service you are selling, the geographic area to be covered, and the market. For example, advertising in New York and California is considerably more expensive than in Maine. If you're selling a $500,000 computer management system to the top 50 companies in the pharmaceutical industry, you may want to create 50 unique direct mail packages costing $500 apiece and have them hand delivered to 50 CEOs. If you are selling office cleaning services to businesses with 12,000 sq. feet of office space, a classified ad running 40 weeks a year might do the trick.

McCall: What's your definition of good advertising?

Katzel: Good advertising is more relevant to the audience than the advertiser! It solves a problem. It meets a need. It is eye-stopping. It's simple. It gets across one clear idea. It motivates the reader or viewer to take action.

McCall: How does a business owner evaluate whether an agency or a freelancer is her best resource?

Katzel: If you have a reasonable budget ($25,000-50,000 and up), consider using a full-service agency. Not only will they have the copywriting and graphic design talent on staff, they'll have a full-time media planner/buyer on staff as well. An experienced media buyer will know your market and be able to offer the best media recommendations including broadcast and print. They also have the best negotiating power in the marketplace and can often save you money in ad placement, along with ensuring you get the best reach and frequency with your target audience.

If you have a limited budget and you're willing to handle ad placement yourself, freelancers might be a good route. I'd suggest using both a freelance designer and a writer, even though you may be tempted to write the copy yourself. There is a true art to writing ad copy and when every word counts, it pays to have professional help!

Copyright © 2001 Kimberly L. McCall

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