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Add It Up

These do-it-yourself advertising tips can save you money.

The secret's out: You're probably better at promoting your business than any advertising executive. In the past, agencies seemed to have advertising production and media placement locked up, but now that's changing. Today, creating your own advertising and promotional materials means communicating more successfully than ever with your customers--at less cost.

"It's a time of great opportunity," says Tom Nickel, general manager of Adams Media Corp.'s new media division in Holbrook, Massachusetts, which sells advertising software. "Expensive production costs used to force small-business owners to use advertising agencies, but now electronic innovations let entrepreneurs create and place their own advertising."

With more varied production capabilities and media outlets available, Nickel estimates that half of small-business owners currently handle their own advertising. Adams Media Corp.'s CD-ROM software, Adams Streetwise Do-It-Yourself Advertising (for Windows or Macintosh, $29.99, 800-843-2489), makes the job easier by demonstrating, step-by-step, how to write and design print ads and other promotional pieces. "Our tutorial package teaches you how to write powerful phrases that can become headlines or taglines in ads you print and place yourself," he says.

Whether or not you use computer aids, creating your own ads and promotional materials will save time and money without sacrificing effectiveness. Consider the following arguments for creating for yourself:

  • You know your audience, business objectives and products or services best, so you needn't waste time educating a copywriter or fine-tuning off-the-mark copy from an agency. Larry Seaman, president of Vivid Publishing Inc., a publishing company that produces fishing maps and books in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, has worked with agencies in the past but now handles his own advertising. "With agencies, there can be communication problems," he says. "Getting them up to speed on your business can be tough, especially if it's a one-project deal."
  • The practicality, independence and organization that make you a good entrepreneur can make you your own best copywriter. "Managers are usually good at formulating ads and dealing with the media," observes Ray Apfelbaum, who, with his wife Judy, owns Wild Flowers Inc., two floral and gift stores in Spokane, Washington. "We're always thinking about what our customers may need or want."
  • The cost difference between handling a project in-house and hiring an agency can be considerable. Seaman figures he saved $1,500 just by writing and designing a company brochure himself. When Apfelbaum runs 30-second spots on the radio, however, he hires a local radio station to produce the ads. "If you offer them regular advertising, they'll give you a better rate," he says.

Instead of trading a fresh viewpoint for an agency's high overhead, get a friend's opinion on your copy. An outsider's opinion can be useful to add freshness or to help translate technical copy into layman's terms.

In Seaman's case, that second opinion usually comes from a former newspaper editor who is paid for his input. After Seaman writes the copy, the editor cleans it up and rearranges it--especially headlines. "The headline is the key to the ad," Seaman says. "I've tested different headlines, and it's amazing the difference in response that one generates over another." He also makes sure to proofread all materials before they're printed. "There's nothing worse than incorrect grammar and misspellings in copy that's supposed to make your business look good," he says.

Another important component of advertising is graphics. From a floral-industry wire service he's joined, Apfelbaum receives artwork to incorporate in company promotions. He also uses clip art. "I just scan line art or photos into my computer and choose a typeface," Apfelbaum says. "After Judy and I establish the basic design, the printer handles the mechanics." Although many printing houses accept only camera-ready art, the Apfelbaums pay their printer to arrange the type and create a final, camera-ready version to use in printing their promotional pieces.

Obviously, your PC is vital to composing ad copy and developing layouts. By using a desktop publishing program, you can even prepare a camera-ready product that you can duplicate at a do-it-yourself copy store or take to a printer for professional reproductions.

With the ability to go online, your computer also evolves from a production tool into a vast, multifaceted, new promotional medium. It allows for do-it-yourself marketing and puts your business on an equal footing with companies many times your size.

Ways to make promotional use of the Internet are explored in Guerrilla Marketing Online (Houghton Mifflin Co., $12.95, 800-225-3362) by Jay Conrad Levinson and Charles Rubin. "Even if you don't have a computer," Conrad and Rubin say, "you can still promote your products or services online by putting up a billboard on a Web site and directing buyers to your fax, phone number or mailing address." (See "Guerrilla Marketing" on page 70 for more information.)

Different media outlets work differently for different businesses. As a retailer, Apfelbaum relies on radio, small ads in local newspapers and fliers sent to his regular customers. "It doesn't hurt to mix media from time to time," Apfelbaum says. "Don't get too comfortable--try new things that come along."

In addition to his regular schedule of direct mailings, Seaman is trying something relatively new for his mail order business: per-inquiry newspaper ads. "Newspapers run my ad free of charge, and forward names and addresses to me when there's a response," he explains. "Then they get a percentage of my profits on all the requests that are filled."

Whatever the vehicle, several copywriting rules apply. Robert W. Bly, author of The Copywriter's Handbook (Henry Holt, $13.95, 800-488-5233), has good news for small-business-owners-turned-copywriters: "Sometimes, cheaply produced ads, written simply and directly without a lot of fluff, do the best job of selling," Bly says. Here are some of Bly's recommendations:

1. Write headlines that grab attention, address a select audience and draw the reader into complementary copy or graphics (choices include questions, commands and testimonials). "Have You Had Any of These Decorating Problems?" (Bigelow Carpets).

2. Instead of clever, pun-based headlines, offer benefits in direct sales appeals. "Lose 19 Pounds in Three Weeks!"

3. In your copy, speak directly to your prospects by inserting the word "you" and giving them practical information. "BankPlan can help you balance your books and manage your cash flow."

4. Break copy into short sections, using simple sentences and words that will be read and understood. Use "help" instead of "facilitate;" "get" instead of "procure;" "prove" instead of "substantiate."

5. Get to the point of your offer without forfeiting a friendly style. Use "The roof won't leak if it rains" instead of "Adverse weather conditions will not result in structural degradation."

6. End with a call for action and means to respond (coupons, reply cards, toll-free numbers or other devices). "Clip this coupon and bring it into the store."

"The copy should contain enough information--no more, no less--to convince the greatest number of qualified prospects to take the next step in the buying process," Bly says.

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This article was originally published in the October 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Add It Up.

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