From the April 1998 issue of Startups

Which would you prefer: to reach 1,000 of your top prospects all at once or to meet with them one by one over time? Advertising gives you the opportunity to communicate your own unique message to any group of prospects you choose by the hundreds, thousands or even more. Yet many entrepreneurs shy away from advertising for fear of making costly mistakes. So here's a crash course in choosing the right media to build a customer base for your new business. Just follow these three time-tested rules:

Rule 1: Select the media that reach your target audience with the least amount of waste. Define as closely as possible the characteristics of the audience you want your advertising to reach, as well as the geographic area you plan to cover. If you're marketing to businesses, for example, determine which types, where they're located and any other important criteria. Or if your advertising will target consumers, write a description of your best prospects that includes their approximate age, gender, the areas where they live and any other characteristics. Then match the description you've created with the readers, listeners or viewers of the media you're considering.

Standard Rate and Data Service directories, available online (http://srds.com) and in the reference sections of large public libraries, list publications by type and are excellent tools for identifying national magazines that reach select audiences. You can use them to find out the names, addresses and telephone numbers of publications read by bicyclists or lawyers--or even lawyers who enjoy bicycling.

For a local campaign, let's say you're trying to decide between advertising your business in the weekly neighborhood newspaper or in the larger, citywide daily. To apply Rule 1, you would contact the sales department of each publication and ask for a media kit. The media kit contains information concerning each newspaper's readership, such as the average reader's age, income and so on.

Now, let's suppose your business offers computer repair and you prefer to service homes and businesses in your local community. The media kits show both newspapers reach households and businesses with computers, but the larger, citywide daily reaches hundreds of thousands of readers outside your geographic market area. That means you should place your advertising in the neighborhood newspaper so you won't waste money reaching readers you can't serve . . . right? That depends on Rule 2.

Rule 2: Choose media your prospects use for information on your type of product or service. Sometimes Rule 2 overrides Rule 1. When a newspaper or magazine regularly carries information and advertising on a given topic, it creates what's called a search corridor. That's where readers look for information when they've made a decision to buy. If you're marketing PC repair and the large metropolitan daily carries a regular weekly section on computers, that's the search corridor where your prospects will be looking, and that's where you should advertise. The decision will be even easier if your neighborhood weekly carries no significant competitive advertising or editorial concerning your type of business.

Here's another helpful example. Suppose you're trying to decide in which local telephone directory to place your ad. It's always best to run your advertising in the directory that carries the most listings and ads because that's the one your prospects will use the most. When you run your ad where there's no competitive advertising or complementary editorial, it's the same as opening your boutique half a mile away from the mall. True, you'll have little competition there, but you'll have fewer shoppers, too.

Rule 3: Select the media in which you can afford to advertise with enough frequency to penetrate. With so much competition for your prospects' attention, you must run your ad with enough frequency to get noticed and eventually remembered. This rule helps explain why you'll see an ad run a dozen or more times in a newspaper, or month after month in your favorite magazine. Your ad, like a cold call or a brief introduction at a networking session, is simply a knock at the door. By knocking time and time again with an ad that contains the right message, you can eventually influence hundreds or even thousands of your best prospects.

Membership Has Its Privileges

Thousands of new networking clubs have been started across the country, with many costing hundreds of dollars to join. But before you break your budget to join a club, consider starting your own. That's the advice of Anne Baber, co-author with Lynne Waymon of four networking books, including Smart Networking--How to Turn Contacts into Cash, Clients & Career Success (Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., $18, 800-352-2939). "The best networking organizations are the ones you build yourself," Baber says.

Four years ago, Jenna Norwood, managing director of Norwood Public Relations Group in Washington, DC, co-founded a networking group for homebased entrepreneurs and telecommuters called HomeBase that has grown to include 350 members. If you want to start your own networking group, Norwood advises, "Decide who you want your members to be--executives or start-up entrepreneurs, for example--and in what industries. Then use the publications they read to reach them, including neighborhood and association newsletters, or even Internet newsgroups." To manage her hefty membership roster, Norwood uses broadcast e-mail, a fax machine and a voice-mail system to send monthly messages and reminders.

Take time to build relationships. "Like everything in life," says Baber, "the more help you give others, the more opportunities they'll send your way."

Contact Sources

Anne Baber, 13433 W. 80th Terrace, Lenexa, KS 66215, (913) 894-4212

Norwood Public Relations Group, (202) 667-9663, http://www.norwoodpr.com