Can you give me some tips on paid advertising?
by Gary Cole


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Over the 20 years of our face painting business the world of advertising has changed quite a bit just like the competitiveness of face painting and family entertainment services. What used to work no longer works. Here are my thoughts on paid advertising.

1)      Many years ago Yellow Pages and the like were the way to get the calls rolling in. These days I personally think you get more attention for your company by lighting a hundred dollar bill on fire in your front yard. Add to that there is not just one “yellow pages”. Now that the phone system is broken up you might have 4 or 5 valid yellow page type directories in your area. They ding you for every book, they ding you generally by the postal code and you sign your life away for a minimum of one year. Add to that I think AT&T is THE most unethical company in the WORLD. That is my beef. I cancelled my subscription and still got strong armed into paying for another year. DO NOT DO IT!!! Think about it? When you need a plumber or someone to mow your lawn you no longer go to the yellow pages. You go for a referral from a friend or to the internet. The same is for face painters. At the Cole home they drop the yellow page books on the front porch and they don’t even make it inside. That is true for all three different such companies in our area. They go straight to the recycle bin. I bet most of you do the same.

2)      We are lucky enough to be in a high populated area with easy highway access and a wide range of opportunities at every economic level and a broad range from private parties, corporate events and festivals. With that said, it is also highly competitive. We are moderately priced for our area. In our area you have some less than par folks charging $30 per hour. We have many that start out at $125 an hour. The real going rate is closer to $60-$100 per hour depending on where the event is held and how long the event is. We use to advertise in a free family publication (the ads were not free) that is readily available at grocery stores, move rental locations and more. Ten years ago it was great and we got lots of calls for our money. You might have had 7 to 10 people advertising there. Now the price is higher and you will have easily 20 or 30 face painters advertising. Toss that another 30 or so that offer face painting along with their clowning, ballooning and the like so it is still direct competition. When you have that many people advertising it means you will get lost in the jumble. Also on one month you are on page two and the next page five. If you are on page five you simply are not going to get a call. Our return on investment is lacking. Also consider that a lot of people are price shipping those magazine ads. They call the first six and they are done. Forget page five as they rarely make it to page two.

3)      T-R-A-C-K is the single best thing you can do. Marketing is supposed to be adding to the bottom line and not just building business. When you get a booking, always ask “how did you find out about us”. Do not do this when they phone in to get a quote (price shopping) but when they book. Price-shopping waste your time, it is not making you money. It only counts as a positive when they actually book you.

4)      E-V-A-L-U-A-T-E your costs. Do the math. Let’s say just for argument sakes you charge $100 per hour and you pay your workers $50 per hour. If you ran a $200 ad and during the month you booked two one hour parties from the ad it means you lost $100. $100 per hour times two hours equals $200 in gross revenue. You then in turned paid your workers $100. That leaves you with $100 in net gain. Subtract from that the $200 for the ad and you lost $100. How long can you last losing money?

5)      IF IT IS BROKE, THROW IT AWAY. I think marketing is one of those things where you have to be constantly evaluating. If you do your job in evaluation, you SHOULD be able to clearly see what is working and what is not working. I can even handle a zero net gain on marketing dollars. This means if you paid $200 for the ad and you got $400 in bookings and then you paid your staff $200 you broke even. Then again, if your workers do a good job they will be passing out cards and you should be able to get more gigs. What I am unwilling to do is lose money on advertising. If I lose money drop any of those marketing costs. Put your marketing dollars to a better option.

6)      My joke is “do you know how to know if a salesperson is lying to you? Their lips are moving.” While I openly admit that is not totally fair to the sales person one needs to have a buyer beware mentality. The sales person is paid for selling ad space. Almost all of them are on straight commission so if they do not sell, they make no money. That is why you need to try before you make any long term commitment.

7)      Try-before-you-buy. I tell you most of these folks will quote you a one month fee, a fee for four ads during the year and then the 12 month rate. Tell them you want the one year price for one month just to try them out. DO IT, it will work. Tell them if the ad pays for itself you will sign up for more months. If you do not get bookings, then run the other way. If they know you are going to be measuring results you might also get better placement in the ad space area.

8)      They will tell you that you need to keep your logo and ad out in front of the customer just like Coke, Apple and Ford. You only can do this with repeat exposure. I hate to break it to you dear but you ain’t no Coke, Apple or Ford. Sometimes you instead get the choice of paying for an ad or getting to take your family out for a burger at the end of the month. Don’t not fall for the “exposure” pitch. I go back to the cliché “you can die from exposure”. Your ad has to pay for itself. Do not let them arm twist you.

9)      If you place an ad try to get it at the top of the right page in the book. Your eye is drawn to that area. In this magazine that I used to do so well with, well it isn’t so good any more. Despite being a long time customer they claim that ads are “systematically rotated” so that it is fair to all. There is no priority for loyalty, the size of the ad or dollar paid. That is bull-crap. I stopped posting my ad after a while because I got put on page five time after time. When asked why, I dropped my ad, I told them why and I started to get better placement. Most people that look there in the first place will most likely book with the first person that can answer the phone. Yes, some of them are price shopping but you should be offering a rate equal to your skills and target market. If you are doing that AND answer the phone, you get the booking. That however is only if you are in the top five to seven locations. If you are on page three, you will not get a call. The booking has already been taken.

10)   Don’t fall for the 12 month price if your business has clear ups and downs. If you already are booked solid every April (because of all the good weather) and October (because of Halloween events) it makes no sense in paying for an ad for those months as you can’t accept the event anyway. Likewise, if you like to personally go visit grandkids in December and it is hotter than blazes for face painting in August. So you might as well not pay for advertising on those months.

11)   Don’t fall for “if you double the size of your ad your visibility will double and you will get more gigs.” One year, just for analysis sake I ran one size ad on odd months and I doubled the size of ad on the even months. I tracked results religiously. I was systematic as possible as  I know there are ebbs and flows to the business. Guess what was the difference? NOTHING! So I cut back to my smaller ad.

12)   Look at the most economical rate. For us it was the six times per year plan. I select those months where I think I can get the greatest bang for my buck and chose those six months.

13)   Ask them if you pay for all six months at one time at the beginning of the year or even better in December so you can write it off in the current tax year if you can get one free month or some other discount for paying in advance. You should be rewarded for that over paying monthly. You do not get what you deserve in life, you get what you negotiate.

14)   Ask yourself if you are trying to grow your business? Some people want to remain small. If you already are turning away events then you might as well keep those advertising dollars in your pocket.

15)   If you really want to do it right set some goals. For example say that you want to put 10% of your gross into advertising. Then diligently use those dollars for marketing. Set a realistic goal for increased business and see if it is paying off.

16)   Get creative… if you have a few dollars left over in your budget sling some of it into a new marketing idea and see if it pays off. Try a one month ad in the local paper, try it in the Jewish newsletter if you want to expand your Bar Mitzvahs events, pay $200 for the booth at an upcoming festival and the like. If you get out of your normal path you might find some great success. If you do the same, expect the same.

17)   Time is money. People think that they need money for marketing. Not always so. For example if you have some open time in your schedule do one or two hours at a local school or church carnival. Do a charity event for a cause that tugs at your heart and pass out cards. Maybe Karma will work for your business.  Track that also. Focus on fast good faces and focus on passing a card out to every parent. If you don’t get bookings then do not do that carnival again. Your time did not pay off.

18)   Your best marketing will always be your good work and your ability you get your nice looking professional business card in other’s hands.

So what is your idea? What needs to be added to the list of 18?

Gary Cole

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