That question comes up quite a lot in our conversations with vendors in this industry. It’s a relatively new question. I remember a day when people were more likely asking, “can we afford to advertise … can we afford not to advertise?” Easy enough to answer.

That was the heyday of publishing, for sure, but the landscape has changed, and so have perceptions.

So, if you’re one of those who already advertises and has a consistent program going, then this blog isn’t for you. This blog is for those who aren’t sure or who are getting mixed signals from their management teams. The digital age seems to have ushered in a mindset of uncertainty and confusion about how to promote. Suddenly a lot of people think advertising isn’t worth the money. In fact, I’ve heard people say that advertising is a waste of money. And I think that this assessment is based on two things: 1) a misconception about what advertising is and the inability to measure the results of it, and 2) wishful thinking that with digital we can reach our target audience for free.

In a previous post, I talked about earned, owned, and paid media. Advertising is the paid media. That is, you pay someone to broadcast/distribute your message. You have control over the message – where, when, and how often it appears, and exactly what it says and what form it takes. Sometimes it looks like a page in a magazine, sometimes like a banner on top of a digital newsletter. But sometimes it’s an email blast to the subscribers of the magazine. Sometimes it’s the speaking slot you got because you sponsored a conference. Sometimes it’s a webinar you put on with a publication that’s delivering its subscribers as the attendees. It’s everything you pay to have your name attached to, including the sign on your building.

You might say that you think PR is better because editorial is more credible than advertising. Maybe so, but even with a crack team of PR pros working round-the-clock, you won’t get enough coverage to be everywhere all the time. With advertising — or a combination of ads and PR — you can. And it doesn’t have to be traditional ads. It can be “paid content” articles (we used to call these advertorials) and other things listed above.

You might think that doing direct blasts out to your house list two or three times a month is going to keep you on the radar … and it will, but generally only with the people you already know. Not a bad thing, but aren’t you trying to find new customers? And you can have the best content and the most beautiful creative, but if your list sucks, it’s all a waste. Better mediocre creative and a good list than great creative and a bad list. The publications have the lists; that’s their business.

You might say that you make the most contacts at trade shows, and that’s really where the action is in our industry when it comes to getting business. But how do people know to find you at the show unless you publicize in advance that you’re there? It’s a big industry, with 1,700 exhibitors at NAB, and research has shown that most people plan well in advance of a show who they are going to see. They don’t just magically show up at your booth … well, unless you already know them. But again, aren’t we trying to find new customers?

A couple of other points to ponder. There’s lots of cognitive research (search online for it) that demonstrates how fast people forget things. Your message goes out today, but by tomorrow most people have already forgotten it. By the next day, you’re the only one who remembers. Repetition is crucial. Advertising helps achieve repetition of the message.

Interestingly enough, research also shows that print ads are retained better than online ads. Print ads are stickier. But the problem is, you can’t document click-throughs with print ads … or even document that they’re read at all, for that matter. But then again, some people do still read print editions. I do. Is your target customer one of those people? You should find out. When you visit customers, see if they have print copies in their office or the lobby.

If you have doubts about advertising, what you’re doubting is whether the publications or promotional vehicles in question really reach your target audience. So, make them prove it to you. They’ve got the data. Or do some research on your own. Knowing you’re reaching the people you want to reach can help you overcome the hesitation.

So, back to the original question: Should you advertise? The answer is yes. Judiciously. Advertising campaigns that are well-reasoned and strategic are going to help build your brand in conjunction with your other marketing efforts – and will keep your name in front of the audience all the time.

Want to discuss further? Feel free to call or email me with your thoughts.

Chris Lesieutre