Economic Downturn Means Fire Sale Prices on Advertising

by Chris Lydle

You can't see Europe on $5 a day anymore, but you can still see Chris Lydle's smiling face for only $10 a day on 
U. S. Highway 1.

When sales slide, one of the first places businesses cut costs is by cutting advertising. It's short-sighted, because that's probably the time when you need advertising most of all, but it's a normal human reaction to tighten your belt.

When Joe's Photo Shop isn't selling much, Joe has a sale. When the advertising media aren't selling much, they run sales too. That's when Joe's Photo Shop - or let's call it Chris' Camera Center - has a super opportunity.

Lamar Outdoor Advertising offered me a great deal on billboards. I've never used them in the past, because it was expensive and a long-term commitment was needed. But they needed cash and I'm still trying to build the brand name Chris' Camera Center.

How good was the great deal? After a little back-and-forth negotiating, we settled on $300 for one month, per 12' x 25' illuminated billboard. That included production of the board and posting. I thought the locations were excellent - the one shown in on U. S. Route 1, our oldest national highway and still one of the busiest - but Lamar didn't regard them as their most desirable. The minimum order I could negotiate was for 2 locations.

My salesman mentioned that if they didn't find another advertiser at the end of the first month, they wouldn't take my ad down until they had something to replace it. The boards went up about November 5th. The general elections were November 7th, so it seems reasonable that they'll have a glut of available space in December and January. The outdoor advertising companies placed a lot of boards for the candidates and they'll probably have a tough time selling that space again.

 I'll report back on how long the signs stay up. Even if they're replaced after exactly 30 days the exposure is phenomenal for $10 a day.

I e-mailed Lamar's production department a photo of myself wearing a Pentax shirt, holding a Pentax film camera toward the viewer. On the other side of my layout is a Pentax digital camera. Pentax is pretty good about approving co-op claims.

Other ways to advertise for less:

Newspapers often have a sale near the end of a slow month or a slow quarter, where you can buy ad space for as low as 25% of the open rate.

Watch for charity silent auctions. Both the newspapers and our local cable TV companies have donated advertising space or commercial time. Because many of the people attending those charity events don't use advertising, the number of bidders may be small. On two occasions I've bought cable TV advertising - which is a great way to build brand awareness of your business - for less than half the usual discount rate. This month I bought $500 of cable TV spots, plus 15 hours consultation from one of our best local agencies, for $250 - and the money went to a worthy cause! The savings will cover the dry cleaners bill for the tux and then some!

One of my favorite ways to stretch the advertising budget is promotions where you can "run the same ad for half-price." Sometimes, you can run the "same" ad for free or 25% of the original price. Why is the word "same" in quotation marks? Because if you give the newspaper camera-ready art, all they really care about is that the second ad is the same size as the first one. When I plan my advertising I make sure that the first ad - the full-price ad - qualifies for a manufacturer's co-op program. Then the cheaper second ad can advertise what I really want to advertise.