How to use print advertising successfully to establish your business

It's popular with small businesses but how do you do it successfully?

Print advertising is the most common medium for small businesses that generally use:

  • Local/regional/national newspapers
  • Trade journals
  • Trade directories
  • Telephone directories e.g. Yellow Pages
  • Miscellaneous items such as calendars, local tourist information
  • Buying the space

Which publication?

Newspapers and magazines should provide an audited readership profile, which can be matched to the customer profile to identify relevant media.

  • Avoid publications without audited data
  • Free newspapers and magazines may have a readership lower than the official circulation
  • Those with a cover price usually have a readership larger than circulation
  • Look for a strong ratio of news-stand to subscription sales – those who make an effort to buy a publication tend to read it

The size and position of the advertisement

Size depends on how much information is included and how big a splash is needed. Generally, the bigger the better if budget permits, although allowing editorial onto the page either at the bottom or the left-hand side can actually help.

Bear in mind that as print ads are repeated the impact lessens. It can, therefore, be better to spend the budget on a few high impact ads than a lot of small ones. But check that they are working before blowing the budget.

Publishers quote rates for different positions and sizes. Prime spots such as:

  • Near the front (news sections)
  • Right hand pages
  • Top right of those pages

All these cost about 20% more than other areas and are worth the extra investment because they are seen by the majority of the readers.

Specialist sections within a publication, such as the entertainment page for cinema advertising, can be worthwhile, but generally only if they are highly relevant and much cheaper. Mail order may have its own section but it rarely works well – check for repeat copy from competitors to see what they thought of it.

Negotiation for good positions at the standard rate card level, for heavy discounts for first time advertisers and deals close to the copy date, is worthwhile and can generate big savings. There are also a few publications that offer direct response advertisers a price per inquiry (P.I) rate, which effectively means that the cost is based on success.

Designing the advertisement

Most print advertising is badly designed and makes no direct offer to the reader. Large corporations tend to focus on ‘brand building’ – or so their agencies claim. Smaller businesses generally employ a direct appeal to action because they need to elicit an immediate response.

The best way to achieve this is through a strong, positive headline that, ideally, appeals to the emotion. Instead of saying: ‘Learn information technology in this five step course’, say: ‘Five steps to job promotion through the latest information technology course’.

Instead of claiming a beauty cream ‘reduces wrinkles’ say ‘look twenty years younger’. Obviously the claim should be truthful as well as powerful.

Most customers need the benefit pointing out for them and the more benefits the better so long as the copy remains relevant to the target audience. Length of copy is not a major issue. Indeed research has suggested that long headlines are actually more successful than short ones but the typeface should be plain, large and bold.

Never use white text on a black background, it does not stand out.

A trick used by some advertisers is to ask the publication to typeset the copy, this can save money and result in copy that looks like editorial, thus increasing its chances of being read. The method should be used with care because, for example, those wishing to develop a brand image, will get the image of the newspaper.

Don’t use illustrations or photographs unless they demonstrate the product in a dynamic manner. They just waste space and can actually put the reader off.

Fill the space with your message – not large areas of white space.

When using coupons, don’t use a P.O Box number. People are less suspicious of real addresses.

Bear in mind that as print ads are repeated the impact lessens.


(will not be published)