ADVERTISING & PROMOTION: Choosing the best advertising medium for your business

REGION – The choices can be overwhelming: radio, cable, television, newspapers, magazines, billboards, trade journals. Where should you advertise? How often? Should you hire a marketing or public relations firm? How much should you spend? How do you know if your campaigns are working?

We interviewed those in northern Michigan’s marketing trenches to find out how they make tough advertising calls.

Ian Jones, director of marketing and corporate services for Davenport University’s northern Michigan operations, relies predominantly on newsprint, radio and direct mail.

That may sound straightforward, but in fact, Jones has to buy ads in seven newspapers to cover Davenport’s four up-north locations: Traverse City, Gaylord, Scottville and Cheboygan. He also deals directly with three to four radio markets–more than seven stations in all.

Jones prefers to do his own media buying, rather than work through the university’s Detroit-based advertising department because he feels he’s more in touch with the local market.

“Our primary target student is a very different person than in Detroit, in terms of family situation, economic background, etc. And we can react more quickly to needs as they arise.”

If Jones sees that enrollment in Gaylord is doing well two weeks before the start of classes, for example, he can reduce advertising there and redirect resources to one of the other northern Michigan locations that may need a boost.

He offers the following suggestions to area marketers:

– Determine a budget. “It forces you to make good decisions. Budget constraints will lead you to ask the questions you should be asking anyway.”

– Have a goal, be specific, and plan your message with those goals in mind. “‘Increasing awareness’ is not enough. What does that mean? By how much? How many leads do I need? How much in sales do I want to generate?”

– Measure. (More on that later.)

Jim Hills, sales manager at Grand Traverse Auto Co., relies on print advertising to build his regional center’s brand, and radio and TV to advertise specific promotions and even specific cars.

“Our advertising is generally more subtle. We want a consistent message over the long-term, not a ‘super deal; buy today’ approach,” said Hills. That means consistent advertising, like a weekly full-page newspaper ad for the past three years, and an ad that runs in the same position in The Business News each month.

But when there’s a promotion or a sale on specific vehicles, Hills likes to use radio and TV.

“There’s more of a sense of excitement and impact,” which is appropriate for the urgency of a sale or special event. “These ads are little about the dealership and more about the deal.”

Hills uses an advertising agency to buy his media placements. After determining his advertising budget at the dealership’s annual forecasting meeting, he tells the agency what he can spend. The agency then makes recommendations based on the budget and buys placements all at once for the coming year in order to lock in the best prices.

Hills reviews the original forecast quarterly and makes changes as necessary.

“We do make changes to the original plan and budget on the run at times, but at least you’ve got a guideline.”

His advice to marketers: “It’s the age-old question. Everyone that’s selling something will tell you their’s is superior. Depending on your message, that will define the medium.”

Dave Taylor, general manager of Edge Dental Inc., a dental supply company that has customers across North America, handles all marketing and sales for the organization.

Since his market is a niche of approximately 120,000 practicing dentists across a wide geographic area, he relies heavily on trade journal advertising.

“Our emphasis on direct mail is declining based on a decline in response rates,” said Taylor. For roughly the same dollars as we could send one piece of mail to each dentist, we can now advertise in one of the major publications 12 times a year. Before, that was too expensive.”

Taylor, who does his own media buying, sets an advertising budget once each year and then revisits it on a monthly basis.

“We correspond response rates with budgets and sales, and adjust our marketing if we see something that’s not working,” like he did with the direct mail campaign.

Measuring results

In order to track results, staff members ask callers how they heard about the company or promotion. The company’s proprietary database is set up to record the response and data mine it at a later point.

“Every customer and potential customer is screened for how they heard about us,” Taylor said.

His advice to marketers is simple: Communicate with customers as well as competitors to learn what publications your market is reading.

“Even though your competitors are your competitors, you’re all trying to achieve the same thing. You can often get a good idea of what’s working, what’s not, and trends in the marketplace by talking to them.”

Tracking expert advice Dee Lawton-Smith, president of the Lawton Gallagher Group, a marketing and communications consultancy, emphasizes the importance of tracking advertising efforts.

“Tracking is so very vital; knowing where your customers heard about you is a basic tenet,” she said. “Find out what’s not working and drop it. It’s good business.”

But when time and resources are scarce and customers are impatient, how do you track?

“Any way you can,” said Lawton-Smith. “Have employees ask; have a sign-in sheet; ask when taking phone orders; or face-to-face. It can be a hassle, but if you want to maximize your advertising dollars, that question has to be asked.”

After all, “There’s no rule book. Don’t be afraid to fail. Every business is different, and you will make some mistakes. What’s important is to learn from them, and decide how to do it better next time.” BN