Tag : advertising

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196: Auctioneers Are Braver Than I Am

On the day this post publishes, I’ll be in Antarctica—hopefully ascending an ice-covered mountain. Right before I left home, one of my closest friends was praying aloud for my journey and declared, “This trip is so Ryan.” Not only do I think heaven already knew that, but most of you probably do, too.

What you probably don’t know, though, is that my clients are braver and more adventurous than I am. First: most of them are parents. That’s some high-stakes stuff bigger than any bungee jump or sky dive. Second, most have employees. After my wife developed a successful staffing agency years ago, she confirmed that I’m not cut out for that adventure. More to the point: all of my clients work on speculation. They take projects not knowing how big their paycheck will be or, in some cases, whether there will even be a paycheck on the other end of the deal.

That takes some serious guts, a risk-taking ability I don’t have.

Even though I’m not brave enough for that gamble, I try to grasp the weight of that, the stress of that. Frankly, I’m amazed at the grace many of these auctioneers show in the process—especially when there are two commas in the estimated gavel price.

Between you and me, I absorb some of that stress. I recognize that my clients are performing on a high wire that’s exposed to swirling, cultural winds. They have to be more efficient than ever in a marketing landscape with more media outlets, more subcultures, more competition, and more educated buyers than ever in human history. Along with that, my contribution directly impacts their livelihood. That responsibility makes me really want their advertising to work.

Sadly, though, I can’t always make their advertising work. Here are four of the reasons that sometimes happens.

What works might be something neither of us knows yet.

There are a lot of media and technologies with which I don’t have experience. Same goes for my clients. That includes options already in the marketplace and the ones that demand will soon bring to the marketplace. Some are niche outlets for unique assets. Others are entire platforms that will change how we interact with prospects. Yet others are entities in a particular asset or geographic market that our prospects know but we don’t.

Google can help some with the ignorance, as can interviewing the seller. Oftentimes, adding capability will mean adding vendors, who each specialize in their niche craft. Discovery of new techniques and new media requires experimentation, but that exploration may not help the auction at hand. That’s why almost every auction budget should include some testing of new techniques.

What works might cost more than we have budget to execute.

Sometimes, the best way to reach potential buyers isn’t feasible because of the asset value and the ensuing advertising budget. We can’t take the asset on a world tour like Christie’s can with a nine-figure painting. Maybe a mailing list and postage are out of reach, maybe high-profile billboards, maybe telemarketing, maybe the magazine or news site the right prospects read. Surprisingly enough, I’ve regularly seen where there was somehow no money in the budget even for Facebook, one of the least expensive tools in today’s advertising tool box.

To avoid all of this, the potential buyer needs to be identified before contract signing; and the media necessary to reach them needs to be determined before the budget is set. If you sell the same asset category on a regular basis, you can do that by consulting your buyer acquisition formulas.

What works often isn’t what I’m asked to create.

Regularly, I can’t help an auctioneer find motivated bidders because they aren’t asking me to do so. They’re asking me for something else. I’m not offended by that. I make a significant part of my income each year, generating media that:
• isn’t independently tracked for efficacy or efficiency,
• has little-to-no distribution plan [not even kidding],
• is a last-ditch, hail Mary pass at the end of an unsuccessful or even non-existent campaign, or
• is less likely to work because of its messaging, visual content, and/or emphasis

The tension for me is the balance between (A) submissively making money and (B) pushing back or asking questions that would cost me income. I’ve swayed often from one side of that continuum to the next, and I’m still trying to find the right balance.

The market may not want what we’re selling right now—or at least at the price we’re attempting.

Even the best advertising doesn’t work, if there isn’t a buyer in the marketplace to respond to it. Buyers drop out when the market is flooded with cheaper alternatives, when technology has moved on, when repair or maintenance makes even a free asset expensive, or when location of the asset or the likely buyer is a liability. Finally, there may be potential buyers but none who are comfortable with the terms and/or the process of an auction purchase.

So, market evaluation before signing an auction contract may be the most important part of the promotional campaign. Sometimes the best advertising for a brand is the advertising not wasted on projects that should be declined.

Thankfully, these four scenarios are more exception than rule; and we’re surprising sellers with superlative results on a regular basis. The desire to maintain that success challenges me to keep learning and adapting and passing along what I learn. The residual results provide for me to chase the smaller adventures you see in my Facebook posts—while I try to keep up with your professional example.

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177: Is the Difference Between Marketing and Advertising Costing You Money?

Our culture uses the words advertising and marketing interchangeably. So does the auction industry in which I work, even though they should know the difference more than most industries.

Most people see the Venn diagram of these two words as this:

Assumption Venn

In actuality, the Venn diagram looks something like this:

Venn Reality

Let me explain.

Marketing is the strategic pursuit of qualified prospects.
Advertising is the media through which marketing decisions are communicated.

In other words, advertising is just a part of marketing. It’s the louder, more flamboyant part; but it’s only a part.

3 real-world examples of this differentiation:

Marketing is my alma mater importing palm trees, lining walkways and roadways with them, and paying us grounds crew guys to insulate the non-native trunks so that they’d make it through the winter. Marketing is putting a palm tree in the college’s logo. Advertising is all the media that includes said logo and is sent to Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan—the states from which a large percentage of our student body came.

Advertising includes all the direct mail, newsprint, and signs my former employer dispersed before one of our multimillion dollar land auctions. Marketing is the multi-parcel system they used to get maximum value out of a property. Marketing is the software they wrote for that system when the personal computer was first invented. Marketing also includes all the lender luncheons they held in the new geographic markets they pursued.

Advertising got the registered bidders to an on-site auction, where one of my clients was selling his own farm. Marketing showed up when, after chatting up the attendees, he phoned a friend to get a sight-unseen starting bid by the acre.

Auctioneers make a marketing decision when they choose between live, simulcast, timed online, or sealed bid platforms. Same goes for when they choose whether to offer a buyer broker commission and, if so, at what percent.

Marketing determines who the prospects are, what they want to know about the asset or service at hand, and where to go to connect with these prospects. Advertising just executes that plan, and advertising decisions are easier once the marketing strategy has already been made.

Why do I make this distinction?

Because often, auctioneers ask me to recommend and/or execute advertising campaigns without that marketing foundation. I regularly seem to surprise auctioneers, when I ask them, “Who is your buyer for this asset?” or “Why would someone want this asset, or how would they use it?” The same goes for similar questions, when chasing auction sellers. (For the record, I also have stellar marketers as clients who start our correspondence with this information or answer these questions with dexterity.)

A marketing plan and an advertising budget are two different things. We can spend money on a standard media program that crosses a lot of t’s and dots a to of i’s. Or we can target prospects through the filters of cultural trends, asset appeal, market demand.

I gladly generate media all day. That’s how I make my money. But it behooves auctioneers to think bigger than just the box of advertising. Because marketing is how you make your money.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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161: Creative Ways to Get Past the Gatekeepers to Your Prospects

Last year, one of my clients asked me for a creative solution to attract major developers to a multimillion-dollar auction. The property in question was a large expanse of vacant land next to a huge highway and surrounded by hundreds of homes in subdivisions. It was one of those properties that could practically sell itself.

My idea? Go to the property with a trowel; scoop some of its dirt into plastic storage bags; insert an attention-grabbing, moisture-resistant postcard into the dirt; and mail the package to his top 25 prospects.

The call to action: “Here’s some free dirt from your next development project. Name your price for the rest of it now at [insert URL].”

What do you think the chances are that the recipient visits that link? 

Effective advertising is interruptive and disruptive. It stops what the recipient is doing. Then it changes their focus, even if temporarily. We stand a better chance of getting prospects to our marketplace—our website—when our advertising “interruption” shifts the prospect’s focus and attention to us, and away from their task at hand.

Having been inundated with various advertising media, savvy consumers have become adept at filtering ads—blurring them into the background and mitigating their disruption value. We’ve enlisted SPAM filters, DVRs, remote controls, station presets, banner ad blockers, and even monthly subscription fees to keep us in our ad-free safe zone.

So, what is an advertiser to do? Well, one of the best ways to circumvent that consumer defense is the element of surprise; and one of the best vehicles for that is dimensional mail. Dimensional mail typically gets past the gate keepers, even in corporate settings. It furthermore allows for a unique advertising vehicle that is quite possibly underused and unmatched by your competitors.

It’s fairly easy to connect the problems of sellers or intermediaries with inexpensive items like:

Ibuprofen
“We can alleviate your headache.”

Coffee Packet or Energy Shot
“Could your marketing use more energy?”

Empty Plate
“Let us take some of the stress off your plate.”

Toy Handcuffs
“Do you feel handcuffed by your [situation]?”

Socks
(mailed with one sock right-side-out and the other inside-out)
“Does your vendor know [asset category in question] marketing inside and out?”

Unisom
“Carrying costs keeping you up at night? We can help you sleep easier.”

Gardening Gloves
(even better: sent dirty)
“We get our hands dirty so you don’t have to.”

Oreo Cookies
“These should be the only OREOs on your desk.”

You get the idea.

This concept isn’t for mass marketing. It isn’t for everyone on your company’s mailing list. This is for a few prospects at a time. I’d recommend sending a series of these per wave of prospects before following up with a sales call and/or email.

You still won’t “win ‘em all.” I’m not promising an overnight marketing success or some guaranteed silver bullet; but I will leave you with a thought to ponder: which would you be most likely to open and read, though: a generic sales letter or an interesting package with a cleverly-written tag line?

Do you suppose your prospects are any different from you?

Special thanks to Gillian Zimmerman for her freelance editing help on this post!
Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

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133: An Advertising Lesson from a Dead Skydiver

Parachutest coverFor a combined birthday & anniversary gift, my wife bought me my first solo skydive lesson. With that came a temporary membership in the United States Parachute Association and a couple months of Parachutist, their trade magazine.

January’s cover featured the recent record-setting, 135,891-foot skydive by Alan Eustace. The images of the 57-year-old Google vice president’s ascent and free fall comprised just one of multiple articles on all kinds of astounding records, acrobatic maneuvers, and unique group formations from the last month in the sport.

Before you get to the ads and drop zone directory in the back of each issue, you’ll find one or two of the few photo-less pages in the 92-page publication. Trust me, you’ll be glad there are no pictures. The big words at the top of the page read, “Incident Reports.” A short paragraph explains that these pages are for educational value.

Incident reportTo a rookie, these reports seem extremely thorough, explaining what caused each fatality, what could’ve been done (if anything) to avoid it, and even a list of the type & brand of all the gear the deceased was implementing at the time of the incident. Each report tells how many years the jumper had been skydiving and how many jumps they had successfully completed prior to their last one—both cumulatively and within the past 12 months, based on their log book. One of the recent fallen had jumped over 6,000 times, 75 of those in the past year. One exception to the disclosure transparency: only age and gender are given, as no names are divulged.

It got me thinking. In most (if not all) cases, the didactic summaries are similar to the cautionary tales that I heard in my seven hours of training before my jump. Why publish this information? Why bring the mood down and show the risks instead of just the rewards?

Nameless, this column isn’t an obituary. My guess is that the sport wants the world to know it has nothing to hide and that withholding reality only hurts those who participate in it.

The auction industry has a similar stigma to that of the sport of parachuting. Both are seen as risky business to the uninitiated and inexperienced.

I design auction advertising day in and day out. One of the most ubiquitous phrases I’m given to include spans all asset types and geography: “selling ‘as is, where is’ without warranty.” It’s how auctions are sold to sellers—that they can have “contingency-free sales” where “the seller sets the terms.” This is appealing to those who are selling distressed real estate and used machines alike; and it gives the auctioneer confidence to sell just about anything legal.

“Buyer beware” favors the seller, the one to whom my clients have fiduciary responsibility. Since that’s usually well-disclosed, everyone involved understands that the buyer takes that uncertainty into account with their bid.

To give buyers more confidence, many auctioneers take extra steps in their online content to record videos of what’s being sold. I’ve got clients who proactively snap pictures of often over-looked details and even the evidence of wear or damage. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve got other clients who have refused to disclose information like square footage or number of bathrooms, tax assessment or lot size, and miles or hours on a piece of equipment. “We don’t want to keep them from coming out to the auction,” they explain.

My response tends to sound something like, “They’re going to find out. Why force them to waste time coming out to bid on something they won’t want? They’re going to call or email you to ask this question. Why not save your time and theirs by just disclosing the facts? Honesty on the front end reduces questions and objections later.”

Parachutest recommendationWhy not be more like the editors of Parachutist? Why not just put the truth out there for what it is, and let the marketplace determine its value?

If someone is not interested in buying the item as it exists, it’s unscrupulous to push them toward purchase. That’s not a sustainably-positive brand image. “Well, maybe they’ll bid on something else in the auction.” Then advertise that something else. Otherwise, you’ve got a case of bait’n’switch on your record.

The insecurity behind this subterfuge stems from the very real fear that we won’t get stuff sold. Since most auctioneers work on straight commission, this makes each deal speculative to varying degrees. I get it. Candidly, that’s why I’ve never been successfully tempted to become an auctioneer, even though I’m confident in my ability to market assets. That said, maybe the decision of how to describe an asset could be avoided with the decision of whether to take the deal in the first place. (I make my money on an auction whether it sells or not; so, this suggestion threatens my livelihood, too.)

In December, I helped a client build a robust property and market analysis report for the seller of a multi-million-dollar asset. I’ve created few proposals with as many comparable sales—definitely not one with as many decimal places in the aggregate sale figures. I emailed the auctioneer a few weeks after the submission to see if he got the auction.

[Paraphrase] “No. The seller didn’t like our estimated value. He went with one of the other guys who promised him a higher sale price.”

I responded along the lines of, “Well, better to avoid the stress of the seller’s expectations. Let your competition handle that headache, while you spend your time on easier, profitable work.”

That pragmatic approach works if you’re trying to get buyers or sellers—or people to jump out of a plane with you.

A Lesson in GravityThis experience in every way lived up to my expectations. Wow! Huge adrenaline rush with a sense of accomplishment. I doubt that I will ever pursue my solo license, due to the expense; but I absolutely enjoyed growing in my life experiences and my appreciation for what skydivers do by well-trained instinct. A long day of ground school proved worth it for my 18 minutes (or so) off the ground. The Timmy mentioned at the beginning of the video is the one person I know would do this with me. Most importantly, he’s the one dude I’d want to do this with me, if I ever get the chance to do it again. #heartpoundsalute
For the record, the soundtrack (attributed at the end of the clip) is VSC’s rights-purchased music, which is why I couldn’t edit this shorter for you.

Posted by Ryan George on Monday, October 27, 2014

Why You and I Don’t Trust Advertising

Old TV CommercialI heard a Haggar pants commercial on ESPN Radio multiple times in a short period of time. Near the end of the 30-second spot, the sultry-voiced female character tells the slovenly male character that if he buys a pair of Haggar pants, he would have a better chance of having sex with her.

Advertisers sell with sex every day, and they have been doing that since before you and I were born. What grabbed me, though, was that this was more than a hint or an implied association. Haggar’s lawyers probably kept the temptress from promising sexual favors for upgrading to their khakis, but the incentive carrot sounded pretty direct.

Sex SellsNew pants don’t guarantee sex. If they did, Haggar would have a larger cash reserve than does Google or Apple. In the vast majority of American romantic relationships, the chance that new khakis could raise your number of a sexual encounters is probably negligible.

Haggar isn’t the only advertiser to oversell the benefits of their product.  Culture at large fully expects hyperbole from advertising. On Super Bowl Sunday, we even celebrate the far-fetched scenarios by which everyday items are portrayed.

Deep down, though, we all distrust advertising to varying degrees.  We wonder what the ad isn’t telling us, what it’s exaggerating, and why so much fine print is often needed. The advertising profession is seen as convincing people they (1) need something they don’t or (2) want more than they need.  At my religious college, one of my professors even told me that the school of communications discouraged people of faith to work in ad agencies (a perspective with which I disagree).

Sadly, the auction industry oversells and over promises a lot just like everyone else.  Regularly, I’m asked to advertise “Unlimited development potential” in areas with zoning laws and building codes. I get asked to draw attention to “Something for everyone,” when there’s nothing in the auction that they or I would buy. “Great investment property!” often means “Somebody could do something with this, if they were willing to hold onto it for a while and dump a bunch of money in it.” Urgency is pushed with phrases like, “Once in a lifetime opportunity”—which might take decades to prove.  I’ve been asked not to disclose information about square footage or the quantity of bathrooms—to give the sales person a chance by phone or at an open house to schmooze the sales pitch away from the facts.

If the auction industry wants to be taken as seriously as other marketing industries, we need to set the standard for authentic advertising.  Advertisers who authentically represent their product and brand tend to earn our trust.  Why wouldn’t that be the same for our auction audiences?

Don’t take it from me. Ask the guy who bought a pair of khakis and still hasn’t gotten even a date from his Haggar gal.
[tip]

The Western church culture oversells Christianity. I’m not just talking about prosperity gospel and the popularity of Osteen positivity.

Surrendering your life to Jesus is expensive.  Candidly, living for eternity instead of the moment often makes the present more uncomfortable—sometimes even painful.  Jesus isn’t some magic elixir that cures your problems, helps you accomplish your New Year’s resolutions, and makes everyone love you.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Jesus himself lived a life where people took from him more than they gave to him, where they questioned everything he did—where he knew excruciating relational and physical pain would swallow the hours before his death and where he would have holes in his hands even in his resurrected body.

That’s why he could authentically tell us, “Take up your cross and follow me.

[footer] Stock photo purchased from iStockPhoto.com. Screen capture from Haggar TV commercial found here.[/footer]

109: When Is An Audience Too Big?

F150 AdThis coming Sunday, corporations will be spending roughly $4 million for each 30 seconds of advertising they obtain.  Even at these rates, available commercial slots for 2014’s big football game sold out in 2013.  It’s the most watched TV show in North America every year with an expected audience of 108,000,000 consumers.

If you’re doing the math at home, that’s 3.7¢ that advertisers spent per potential viewer.  Most media won’t break it down for you like that—instead going with cost per mil (CPM), which means cost per thousand viewers.  In this case, that’s $37.04.

Whenever I see expensive ads like these, I wonder three things:

(1) How many times someone has to see this ad before they decide to purchase?
(2) How many units does the advertiser need to sell just to break even on this commercial?
(3) How much of that product’s average price go to just this commercial?

Take, for instance, the Ford F150.  Ford sold 763,402 F150’s in 2013—the most of any vehicle sold in the US by far. If Ford Motor Company purchased only one 30-second Super Bowl spot and if this were the only ad that they ran all year, every truck’s price would include $5.24 for just this ad.  Based on the number of TV and magazine ads for the F series that I see in my limited broadcast media interaction every year, I wouldn’t be surprised if owners of new F150’s are paying for more than $1,000 in advertising.

Whatever the number is, Ford & Chevy, Verizon & AT&T, and Budweiser & Coors have found it reasonable, if not necessary, to spend so much on mass marketing.  For my clientele, too, a CPM of $37.04 would seem a good deal for their small business marketing, especially their event marketing.

That $37.04 can be deceiving, if not expensive, though.

Half a decade ago, one of my former clients—no longer in business—asked me to advertise a New Jersey construction equipment auction in the Philadelphia Enquirer and the New York Times.  I asked him, “How many people looking for an excavator look in the Sunday classifieds of a metro paper?”  If every one of the combined 2,342,631 subscribers of those papers on Sunday happened to turn to that ad’s page and also perused until they found that tiny ad—still probably only a fraction of 1% of the audience would care about its content.  And that’s the best-case scenario.

For the same amount of advertising spend, he could’ve bought sizable ads in construction equipment publications and on related websites—where the percentage of audience being qualified prospects would be exponentially higher.  Or he could’ve spent less overall for more conservative advertisements across all of the targeted media.  Sure, the CPM would’ve been significantly higher; but the value would be exponentially higher.

Be careful when an ad agency tries to sell you national ads for a campaign that only needs local/regional media or regional/national asset media.  Most ad agencies in the States make a commission—usually around 15%—back from the media for the advertising you buy.  Commissioned sales reps from both agencies and media alike will sell you on audience size (sometimes called “total reach”); but look, instead, at percentage of likely buyers from that audience.

Instead of CPM, I recommend evaluating media use based on cost per qualified prospect (CPQP).  It’s better to pay a lot to reach people who are likely to pay you a lot.

One of my auctioneer friend’s campaign came at a cost of roughly $65 CPQP, but he only mailed to between 75 and 80 people.  From that very small audience, though, he made over $100,000 in one year. That’s an average of almost $1,300 in revenue per prospect.  Not per sale.  Per prospect.  That’s a number that no Super Bowl advertiser can match and that no ad agency can promise.  While this might be on the high end of expectations, the principle it illustrates holds true.

On a related note, I recommend polling your bidders per media outlay to determine what your cost per bidder is from each. Tim Narhi Auctioneer & Associates do a great job of this and can show a seller what they spent per bidder per media for several years’ worth of auction advertising—including almost any one specific auction.  Those numbers trump any statistic an agency or media rep will tout.

The feather-in-your cap ads like those in the Broncos/Seahawks game might appeal to your ego, but targeted marketing will make that net proceeds check appeal to your wallet.
[tip]

We live in a big world, and the religious affiliation of that population is quite diverse—so much so that I don’t know that any one faith system (or lack thereof) includes a majority of the global population.  For those of us who think the eternal stakes of believing an errant way are high, the temptation is to evangelize to the largest audiences possible.

God uses crusades and impersonal pamphlets.  I’ve met people whose life trajectory has changed from them.  He might even use television and radio programs, in spite of the characters that populate most of them.

From my own experience, though, I’ve seen the most efficient sharing to come on an interpersonal level.  Conversations in a coffee shop, book clubs in a cafe, table talk at a church environment.  Life change happens deepest when lives are rubbing against changed lives—when someone can say what the Apostle Paul did, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.”

[footer]Stock photo purchased from iStockPhoto.com.
F150 image screen captured from online commercial.
Volkswagen ad frame downloaded from Google Images.[/footer]

105: Working With a Changing Newspaper Landscape

Image purchased from iStockPhoto.com, cropped, and blurredThe death knell of the newspaper business has been ringing for a decade now.

Newspaper syndicates are laying off literally hundreds of staff. Across the industry, the workforce has plummeted almost 30% in the past five years. [ref]”LinkedIn: Newspaper Industry Shrinks at Fastest Rate” by BtoBOnline.com. March 19, 2012.[/ref]  Some publications are closing their doors entirely, their company obituaries listed here. Others are selling out to conglomerate ownership groups and sharing editorial and advertising content, hoping efficiencies of scale keep them in the black.

Most of the advertising money draining from newsprint is flooding to Internet advertising outlets like Google, whose 2011 revenues totaled $4 billion more than the cumulative revenues of all newspapers in the country. [ref] “6 Trends for Newspapers in 2012, from a Sunday Boom to an Executive Bust” by Rick Edmonds, Poynter.org. March 19, 2012.[/ref] While large-circulation newspapers are developing traffic and advertising revenue from their websites, smaller newspapers are relying on home town news and photos of local citizens to keep the presses rolling.

These changes directly impact the businesses whose analytic measurement shows buyers still responding to their newsprint advertising. [You are measuring where your customers heard about your sale items or events, right?] Knowing a few of the new realities will help you better adapt to them.

Multi-Paper Conglomerates

The newspapers that have survived thus far are owned by fewer and fewer companies. Some of the syndicates are national entities that cherry pick seemingly-random cities to cover. Most, though, are regional corporations that start or buy publications in the same county or part of a state.

When I research publications in an area new to me, I regularly ask the salesperson if their company publishes other papers. That question has saved me a lot of time by not having to research other papers individually. It also puts asset-based publications like real estate inserts on my radar, as these subsidiary media aren’t typically listed in newspaper directories (even online ones).

Conglomerates organize their multiple advertising sections three ways:

  1.  Each publication has its own classifieds section but dollar amounts or percentages are deducted from the unit costs of the second, third, etc. paper you add to the mix.
  2.  Publications are grouped by geographic zones. If you want one paper, you have to pay for that ad to appear in multiple newspapers in a region (usually several suburbs or areas in a county) but not all the publications owned by the corporation.
  3.  All papers share the same classifieds. If you want one paper, you have to pay for all of them. The bigger the group, the scarier this can be. If you were planning to hit all of the publications anyway, though, the unit price value can be good.

Typically, you don’t have a choice in which of these models are available. So, it’s important to know which one you’re facing before submitting a marketing plan to your seller. Because these groups regularly acquire and sometimes close newspapers, it’s good to keep your rate cards up to date.

Column Size Shell Game


In addition to cutting costs, newspapers are looking for ways to increase revenues from the same advertiser base. One method they use is changing their column format. This works two ways.

  1.   They add a column or two to the page, which shrinks each column; but they charge the same price for that column. Example A (below) illustrates this. The advertiser gets 11% less square inch area for the same price. In other words, the newspaper raises their rates 11% without changing the price they quote you per column inch.Column Sizes: Narrower
  2. Or, as I’ve seen in the past year, they drastically drop the quantity of columns as in example B below. The publication then raises the price per column inch, justifying it as paying for the additional space. If you measure the actual cost per square inch—as opposed to cost per column inch—you might be surprised to find the rate increase is not proportional to size increase.Column Sizes: Wider

Not only does this tactic jack with your newspaper ad templates [You do have print ad templates, right?], it can cause embarrassing situations after the marketing plan has been approved. Sadly, I know this from experience. The ad size and/or price you had in the budget ends up looking very different than expected during the marketing period. This newspaper ploy gives another reason to verify advertising costs and sizes in the proposal stage—at least if you haven’t used a publication in more than six months.

High Staff Turnover Rates


With tight margins, most newspapers are paying their sales representatives somewhere between burger flipper and day laborer rates. Okay, it’s more than that but not much more. And with all the stress of coordinating literally hundreds of advertisers each week, it’s understandable that classified departments burn through employees as fast as NASCAR drivers burn through tires.

This means that if you pull up an email address from your contacts list or an old email to copy, it might not get answered. Sadly, it’s not enough any more to email before the space reservation deadline to make it into the issue. Combat this by emailing the advertising representative as soon as you know you’ll have some kind of advertising—even if you don’t know the size or all run dates yet. If you don’t get a quick answer, call the department. What I like even better is asking the paper for a generic department email address to which I can carbon copy advertising emails, something I regularly do here in Virginia.

As backup, I’ve built an Excel spreadsheet of my most regularly-used newspapers that shows the best day of the week to run, deadline days & times, column or unit sizes, pricing, and contact information. One of the information fields shows the last date I updated the record. If that date is more than six months old, I know to inquire about price changes, sales representative updates, etc.

Statewide Classified Networks


Most states have newspaper associations, and most of those associations offer distribution of classified advertising in all of their member publications for a nominal fee.  All states with this service offer in-column line ads; most also offer two-column by two-inch displays ads; and some even offer two-column by four-inch display ads. You can tell your sellers that you canvased the state for about the cost of one metro print ad.  The rep from your home state can place ads in any of the other state association networks as well.

The major drawback to this product is not knowing where that ad will appear in those publications. When you deal individually with publications, you can request specific sections or classified categories. While many network papers might go to the work of putting your ad in the appropriate column, your ad might also end up in a grouped statewide section with erectile dysfunction and “make thousands working from home” ads.

Also, if you skip an online distribution service for press release submission and want to focus on media within a particular state, many of these state networks offer press release distribution not only to their print media members but also to the broadcast news media members (for an extra fee).

All media is adapting to technological advancements and changing audience habits, but the newspaper industry seems to have the toughest road to relevance. An observant eye will help us as advertisers take advantage of the deals and restrictions that stem from this newspaper landscape to best serve our customers.
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My first published piece of writing that I can remember came in my dad’s weekly column in the Queen Anne’s County Record Observer, now part of an 18-publication media group. Dad kindly and generously ran two or three of my didactic pieces. The quality of the writing proves less embarrassing than the clichéd content. It’s been years since I perused those, but I have little doubt the paragraphs proved that they poured from an unrehabilitated fundamentalist—an extremest regurgitating talking points between Bible verses.

Every year or so, I reread parts of the book I wrote a decade ago and feel similar embarrassment at some of the things I stated or asked—even though written with prayer and intention for God’s use. While part of me wants people to know I wrote a book, a large part of me hopes they never read it. In fact, I’ve got three free copies sitting on my desk awaiting shipment to Facebook connections; and what’s been keeping me from shipping them are those sections that no longer ring true inside of me.

That old ignorance is why I don’t plan on writing another faith-premised book in my lifetime. I hope I will constantly be growing, constantly seeing Christ’s heart more clearly. I hope that, even next year, I look back with gratitude at the ignorance shed from my August 2, 2012, self.

[footer]Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com (cropped and selectively blurred)[/footer]

100: The Pinterest Effect

My Current Pinterest BoardsI take notice, when I hear a question over and over again.  And one question I’ve heard a lot lately is, “What is ‘Pinterest’?”

In short, it’s a social media environment that pulls inspiration from the bulletin board at your local coffee shop or the pin board in your college dorm room.  It’s a live stream of images—called “pins”— pulled from other websites and categorized topically both by the website administrators and again separately by its users.  Each image comes with three optional interactions: like, comment, and re-pin (to your board of pins).

Whereas other social media are based on users generating their own content, Pinterest‘s ease of use and popularity is mostly because its users don’t create the original content.  In fact, approximately 80% of posts are re-pins.†  To avoid copyright violation, the pictures are almost all linked back to their originating sites—be they travel, lifestyle, or entertainment websites.

One of my (4) Sisters' Pinterest Boards

One of my (4) Sisters' Pinterest Boards

Women typically account for a higher percentage of users than men do on social media*, and they account for anywhere from 68% to 90% of the activity on Pinterest—depending on where you get your stats.  Most posts are often associated with fashion, decor, cooking, crafts, and inventive solutions for household organization.

Pinterest Board: Inspiration for Biplane's New OfficeUnlike Facebook, it’s not intended for conversations.  Pinterest has grown so much and so quickly that Friendsheet.com, a site that makes your Facebook stream look like Pinterest, has garnered the favor of Mark Zuckerburg††—and might someday be a native Facebook option.  Unlike Twitter, it’s not intended to keep users updated on current events.  Unlike YouTube, it’s exclusive.  You can curate your own pin boards and list of followers only if you are invited by someone who is already a Pinterest member.  Unlike Google+, it’s growing like a weed both in number of users and the amount of time those users spend on the site (more than four times longer than Twitter users per month and almost 30 times as long as Google+ users average per month***)—exponentially expanding to over a million average daily visitors.*

So, why do we need yet another social media site?  And what does Pinterest have that we can’t get anywhere else?

Visual simplicity.

Facebook has images.  Twitter is succinct and sortable, too.  Pinterest, though, simplifies everything to one thing: pictures.  No profiles to manage for its content creators and little, if any, reading required by its consumers.  It lets our short attention spans be satiated quickly—or drawn into the bowels of online daydreaming.

If Pinterest were running for president, it’s campaign supervisor would be explaining its surge in the polls emphatically: “It’s the photos, stupid!”

Facebook, the major social media player with more average minutes of use per month than Pinterest understands our culture’s draw to images, as it sees 70% of its users’ activity centers around its photos.**  But that pales to the photo-centricity of Pinterest, which by default, has pictures at just under 100% of activity.

There’s a lesson there for every marketer.  What makes content quickly absorbable is compelling imagery, imagery which Pinterest users tend to pull from predominantly-commercial websites.  Words—even headlines—are secondary.  As a culture, we don’t’ care about explanations and slogans, if we aren’t drawn to them through the picture(s) they accompany.  As a marketer who helps other marketers, I can tell you that if the design of our marketing media centers around large, singular imagery—and those images are professionally staged and captured—our advertising will be far more effective than the current average of small business advertising media.  That goes for small business at large and the auction industry, which I serve, in particular.

Message is important.  And honing your message is crucial.  But Andre Aggassi was right: image is everything.  And, last time I checked, advertising is part of everything.  If the first thing your media recipients and viewers sees is text—no matter how large or bold or colorful—chances are good that you’re doing advertising wrong.  If they see a solid background with a collage of pictures, we are making them work harder (than if we had used one big, full-bleed image) and, in many cases, watering down the primary draw.  Look at advertising for Apple, Nike, Ford, TNT, and BOSE.  They get it.  So should we.

If potential buyers don’t like what they see in the primary image, what makes any retailer, wholesaler, or auctioneer think potential buyers would care what other pictures we have or what the advertisement has to say?
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The Bible says we humans were created in God’s image (one of the ways homo sapiens were differentiated from the rest of creation).  As believers of The Way, we are to be pictures of Jesus in our culture.  While we are wrapped in individual personalities and exclusive physical containers, the essence from the new core of our souls should shine through those translucent shells.

In contrast, the entropy and temptation for us all is to talk religious words, add Jesus stickers or fabric on the outside, and gather with those who codify and police exterior criteria the way we do.  That’s lazy and destructive.  Jesus didn’t come so that we could shine through the filter of him—or worse: the filters of religion, church, and spirituality.  He came to give us life, to change our core, to change the lightbulb—not the lamp shade—in the fixture.  He wants his truth and love and other attributes to radiate from us.

If today were a snapshot of who you are, and you handed that snapshot to a stranger, what would they see?  If you had to hand it to Jesus as a photo illustration of him, what would you have changed about your day before taking that picture?

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†” Why Is Pinterest So Addictive?” by Stephanie Buck, Mashable.com. March 24, 2012.
http://mashable.com/2012/03/20/why-is-pinterest-so-addictive/

†† “Friendsheet: The Zuck-Approved Pinterest-Style Facebook Photo Browser” by Josh Constine, Techcrunch.com.
http://techcrunch.com/2012/03/07/friendsheet-the-zuck-approved-pinterest-style-facebook-photo-browser/

* “A Very (P)interesting [infographic]” by Tim, DailyInfographic.com. March 9, 2012.
http://dailyinfographic.com/a-very-pinteresting-infographic

** “In Age of Pinterest, Instagram, Marketers Need An Image Strategy” by Chas Edwards, Adage.com. March 15, 2012.
http://adage.com/article/digitalnext/age-pinterest-instagram-marketers-image-strategy/233270/?utm_source=digital_email&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=adage

*** “The Mounting Minuses at Google+” by Amir Efrati, Wall Street Journal. February 28, 2012.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204653604577249341403742390.html?mod=dist_smartbrief
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83: The Ads of Summer

Baseball on the US FlagRadio is such an efficient way to follow sports.  You can actually accomplish something constructive while being a fan.

In high school, I spent many nights listening to John Miller and Joe Angel call Orioles games on WBAL, while I worked on my shoebox portfolio of car drawings.  I’ve had a bit of a flashback during the past several weeks, listening to the NBA playoffs on ESPN.com while cranking out auction ads and brochures.

Jumping back into radio listening has made me aware of a common temptation to advertisers: wrapping advertising in cliches.  Whether it’s “Hit a home run with your clients,” or “Score big every time you purchase,” or whatever sports cliche is used, somewhere an advertiser got off track.  How?  By getting off message, by forcing their advertising text around something other than their core value proposition.

With few exceptions, if your advertising message is different during a sports season than outside of it, your message is diluted.  People don’t buy cliches; they buy what you’re selling.  And when they’re in need of your product or service—no matter the sports schedule—they’ll be swayed more by your value proposition than your fancy syntax work.  And if they don’t want or need your wares, they’re not going to buy from you because your copy writer knows sports terminology.

This time of year, you also need to be careful about wrapping your advertising message in the American flag.  It’s tricky, but there’s a line between celebrating our unique heritage and taking advantage of it.  I’m not talking about whether you fly an U.S. flag at your office or have a float in the Fourth of July parade—or whatever way you support and celebrate our culture, freedom, and history.  I’m talking about pushing the text or graphics of your advertising—or even your sales proposition—to fit into a patriotic motif.

I’m not alone in feeling icky when American troops, like my brother in the Air Force, are used against their will.  Here are some tweets from Memorial Day:

@Joelmchale
“Yes businesses of America, our brave men & women of the armed forces who have fallen in battle want to be remembered with a 3 Day Only Sale”

@marisa_cole
“Why do retail stores honor our fallen soldiers by putting items on sale? It should be about the people that have fought for our freedom….”

@McDana_
“Memorial day is NOT for retail sales & new car deals. It’s to REMEMBER our fallen military personnel who gave their lives for our country”

As a policy, I think sales are a bit disingenuous.  [Aren’t they really telling the consumer, “We get the significantly-better end of this deal the rest of the year”?]  And auction marketers don’t really have mark-down sales.  But any of us can use something bigger than ourselves to sell our wares.

If you’re like me, you see a difference between the Miller “Give a Veteran a Piece of the High Life!” promotion and the Anheuser Busch “Here’s to the Heroes!” campaign.  And so does much of your audience.

Does that mean we avoid having auctions on holidays?  No.  Many auctioneers have created annual events, where people enjoy spending their vacation days bidding on interesting items.  Does that mean we shy from showing our gratitude to those who risked or lost their lives for our freedoms?  Definitely not.  We just need to ask ourselves if we’re using our advertising to advance their cause or their bravery to advance our branding.

You’ve got a summer of sports to sponsor—whether on Little League jerseys or on your nearest stadium’s JumboTron.  Independence Day and Veteran’s Day are still left on the 2011 calendar, and soldiers are wearing camouflage or dress blues every minute from now until the ball drops.  Show your support of these American institutions, pastimes, and heroes as you feel led.  Just make sure your message is not diluted and your respect is not in question.
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If you’re like me, the primary challenge of your prayer life and spiritual journey is correctly answering the question, “Am I asking God to help me build my kingdom or offering to help further his?”  One answer to this question is idolatry; the other is true worship.

While that’s a constant struggle on the personal level, in America it seems equally difficult on the macro level.  The evangelical church has tried to claim God’s blessing on specific political agendas.  We’ve structured church meetings after Roberts Rules of Order and patterned our assembly decision making after the U.S. Constitution instead of the New Testament.  We’ve tried to control the morality of our culture—not through the church and the life-changing power of the gospel but through government—while claiming God’s will and praying for his blessing along the way.

We’ve wrapped our plans with his name.

Just like consumers turned off by cliches and numbed to flag clip art, the secular world is looking at Christianity for something authentic and valuable amidst the jargon and agenda.  I’m pretty sure they are interested less in our denominations and political alignments than in finding the life for which they’ve hoped, a life we should be living.

The question for those of us who follow Christ is tough: “Are my words and actions pointing people to Jesus or to my agenda(s)?”

 

[footer] Stock photo used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

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