It's certainly no secret that you can generate local, national and even global exposure by advertising on TV. If done correctly, the results can be very rewarding--but if done incorrectly, it could cost you your investment. Since most entrepreneurs seek out "the most bang for their buck" when it comes to advertising, if you really want your TV ad campaign to be effective, it's imperative that you plan your strategy carefully.

The following six steps will help you understand the benefits of advertising on TV as well as help you avoid some common mistakes when it comes to actually making your commercial. You'll also learn how to find and hire the help you need and stay within your budget. So, without further ado, let's get started.

Step #1: Create a budget. When you're developing your advertising strategy for TV, your first step should be to determine exactly how much money you want to spend and then establish a working budget. This will help you gauge how much capital you'll really need in order to create and launch a successful TV commercial. To develop your budget, you'll need to know what it's going to cost to have the commercial made and what it'll cost to air it. These two costs comprise the majority of your budget.

The cost to have a commercial made and then aired will vary depending on several factors. Will you be making the commercial yourself? And how elaborate will the commercial need to be? When you're outsourcing the making of the commercial to a production company, these are the two main questions you'll need to know the answers to in order to help establish your baseline budget.

You can determine your production fee by first figuring out what type of commercial you want to create (complex or simple) and then how long it will take to capture video and audio, then blend it together into the final product. You can also negotiate this price with the production company you hire to produce the commercial. Prices and rates vary, but a general rule of thumb is, "The better the work, the higher the price will be."

Success Tip: It's a good idea to keep some cash in reserve to sustain your commercial during slow business times. You shouldn't stop running your commercial unless you absolutely have to and if you do have to stop, you should bring it back as soon as possible. One secret to advertising success is to consistently keep your ad in front of the public. Keeping your well-designed commercial on the air will keep you ahead of the pack.

Step #2. Find a good production company. Finding a good production company is critical to achieving your desired goals. It's likely you don't have the time, resources or experience needed to produce a professional commercial, so you'll need a production company to handle all the audio and video editing needed to prepare and master your commercial for airing. Selecting a reputable firm to produce your commercial will help you get what you want, but buyer beware! It's often not easy to find a good production team to deliver your message.

When searching for a good production company, look for one that's well established, successful and has experience creating commercials. You can start your hunt online by running a search on a search engine using keywords such as "video production" in your local area. You might also try looking through your local Yellow Pages directory to find a firm that's close by.

One word of warning: There are a lot of freelancers working out in the field who really can't develop your commercial professionally, either because they lack the high-end equipment needed to develop your product (such as expensive audio/video equipment) or the skills and experience needed to produce a quality product.

When determining which production company is right for you, have a list of questions prepared--a long list!--and specifically ask to see work that was already produced for TV. This will help you get an idea of what you can expect from the company when they produce the commercial for you. You can also ask for a "demo reel" that shows snippets of multiple commercials the company's created so you can get an idea of the level of quality the firm produces on multiple projects.

When meeting with the production company, you'll find yourself better prepared by having an idea of what you want to see, or a "vision" of what the commercial should get across to your target audience. The firm that's producing your commercial should be able to translate your vision into reality.

Do your homework and don't be afraid to ask questions. Always request a contract that bullet points the scope of the project and the start and delivery dates as well as milestones during the actual production. Request a project deadline date so you know when to expect your final product so you can review it before it airs. And be sure to get all your costs up front and in writing. Clarify exactly what you're being charged for and why, and avoid paying for anything that seems unnecessary.

It's OK to allow the production team to offer creative input, but make sure they don't lose sight of your original concept and vision. Nobody knows your business better than you, so it's up to you to guide the process so the final version of the commercial sends out the message you intended to deliver. Be sure to meet the team that will be producing your commercial. Most good production companies will assign you a project manager to act as a liaison between your company and the production team assigned to you. But you should meet and interview the producer. You'll also want to meet and interview the person handling the voiceover audio (the dialog that runs throughout the commercial while it's being aired). Make sure you listen to the voice talent provided to you, and if you don't like it, make sure you voice your concerns and opinions immediately.

Success Tip: Be on the lookout for companies that try to overcharge you for services they don't actually provide. Some firms simply act as a liaison between you and the local cable company or network and don't even produce the actual commercial you're paying them for. For instance, some of these third-party agencies will charge you a premium rate and then outsource the production work, acting as more of a middleman. This is obviously not the most cost-effective option for you.

Step #3. Work directly with the cable provider. A good way to get a better deal on the development and airing of your TV advertisement is to work directly with a cable provider and not a third-party production company. Most cable companies have in-house teams capable of developing a good commercial for you at a lower cost than a production company would normally charge. You'll find your local cable company listed in your city's Yellow Pages. When you call, try to make an appointment to meet directly with your advertising representative.

When meeting with the cable provider, you can get the best rates by gathering some simple information before you make your approach. And through careful negotiation, you may be able to do better than most when it comes to saving money. For instance, you may be able to work out deals for free airtime and additional spot frequency and rotation, turning your $10,000 budget into $15,000 worth of airtime.

When working out your airtime, you can request such things as "0 to 24 rotator spots," "direct response spots" and/or "overnight spots"--all of which will give you the most bang for your buck. If you purchase "0-24 rotator spots," your commercial will air on specified days randomly over the course of 24 hours. "Direct response" advertising means you'll be required to include a call to action within your commercial, such as a "call now" audio request that plays while a phone number is displayed on the screen. "Overnights" are spots that are aired from midnight to 6 a.m. By using these types of spots, you'll see immediate cost savings because you'll be able to avoid prime rates and run your commercial with more frequency.

To maximize ad revenue, it's a smart move to negotiate for the best rate first, then ask your representative for overnight throw-ins prior to signing any contract. (Before you negotiate for these spots, be sure you find out if your target audience is watching during the times you select.)

Success Tip: Many production companies will try to make you feel as if working with the cable provider is out of reach and that you need a connection within the cable company to get deals and/or reasonable results. This couldn't be further from the truth. So do your research and select the best fit--cable company or third-party agency--for your needs.

Step #4. Stay branded and unique. Branding is a traditional advertising method used to create increased product or company name awareness. One of the primary goals of your TV advertisement is to get deep into the consciousness of your target market--and stay there. Even though you may have good spot frequency and the ability to sustain it, without delivering a strong message, you won't be able to make much of an impression and you'll just be spinning your wheels.

To increase brand awareness, when designing your commercial, be sure to incorporate your business's logo, branded colors, symbols, trademarked insignia and other associated imagery that make up your company's brand. As the visionary, you'll need to help the production company you select focus on your the particular branding devices your business uses.

One example of a great branding campaign is the Budweiser frog commercials. The ads were very successful because they exposed the Budweiser brand to the public while creating a strong connection with two lovable frogs. If you think of the frogs, you think of Budweiser, and vice versa. The commercials were branded, unique and highly memorable which led to their success--even if you didn't like or drink beer, you might still remember the dialog between the joking frogs and what company they represented.

When developing your own TV commercial, find something unique that sticks in the minds of your viewers and tie it in with your brand. Remember, in addition to any physical aspects, such as colors or logos, your brand also directly associates your products and services in a consumer's mind with a specific set of expectations when used or purchased, so make sure all these elements make it into your ad. This branded vision can be one of the most valuable elements of your commercial.

One way to develop a unique concept for your own commercial is to research what's currently on TV. Decide just what you find appealing as well as what you don't like, then try to find something that nobody has touched upon that may draw interest to your products or services. Most times, you can incorporate elements such as humor into your commercials which may make your commercial (and your company) more memorable. You may also find that by being unique, you can generate interest in your commercial even if the viewer isn't interested in your products or services, and they could spread the word for you to people who are. Also, remember to never lose sight of your intended audience and what the objective of the commercial is. Your focus should always be your company's brand and your products or services. Try to find a good balance between incorporating all the elements needed to expose your brand while still being unique.

Success Tip: Always include your web address and other important details such as your location and telephone number in your commercial.

Step #5. Involve your customers. If you've never involved your customers in a company project, now may be the best time to begin. Customer involvement in your commercial can bring positive and successful results--if done correctly. So think about getting your target audience to participate in the development process. Involving your customers and clients in the production of a commercial breeds excitement and helps stimulate the creation of new ideas. Your customers know a thing or two about your company, and many times, they make the best critics.

By asking your customers for their input or advice, not only will you make them feel involved, you'll also get valuable information from the people who've used your services and products before. For instance, if you ask your restaurant customers what they most like about your food and they say "Because it's so spicy," then you might want to make the spicyness the focal point of your commercial.

By knowing your audience and customer base and interacting with them, you will know better when and how often to run your commercial to achieve the most effective results. If you sell toys, for instance, you may want to make sure you advertise on Saturday mornings, a time slot notoriously associated with children watching their favorite cartoons.

To get your customers involved, you can either create an e-mail list and correspond by using an online poll or approach them when they come in to your brick-and-mortar location. Let's say you have a customer you work with on a daily basis who likes to offer insight into your company. Ask them what would make the most impact on them if they saw a new commercial about your business on TV.

Success Tip: You can also gauge the success of your commercial through feedback from your current customers. When running a new commercial, you'll inevitably start to hear comments from those who've seen it. Try to get more details. This way, by digging for information, if you need to make alterations to the commercial, you'll have an idea about what made an impact and what didn't, and you'll be able to adjust the commercial accordingly.

Step #6. Build a strategic partnership. When it comes to creating and airing TV commercials, partnering with another business can be a very smart move. You can align your business with another business that will help share the cost of creating and airing your commercial, a move that will be beneficial to both parties involved. By combining a partnership with a great marketing strategy, you'll also achieve a greater reach to more prospective customers.

When building a strategic partnership, you might want to consider joining forces with a company you've partnered with in the past for some other project, a company you do business with on a regular basis, or a business whose products or services complement your own. If you have vendors, for instance, whose products will be exposed in the commercial, you should think about approaching them to partner with so you can cross-market both companies' products and services.

A good example of an effective strategic partnership is one between a company that offers a recording service and a company that provides audio recording equipment and software. Both companies offer audio recording products and services, so by creating a strategic partnership that targets the same prospects, both companies will benefit.

All in all, your marketing efforts can go as far as your imagination will take you and you shouldn't feel as if your ideas are limited to a small budget. Your attempts to seek out and foster successful strategic partnerships mixed with your ability to negotiate can help provide you (and your partner) with a low-cost, high-reach campaign that affords multiple opportunities to make impressions on a large scale of potential customers and clients.

Success Tip: You might want to consider featuring a contest or giveaway in the commercial and offer a grand prize that takes advantage of both companies' offerings, such as free dry cleaning and tailoring services, or two free hours of home decorating and organizing services. This idea incorporates both companies' offerings into one contest so the winner benefits from both.

Step #7. Transfer your commercial to the web. Another tip to help get your commercial seen by more viewers is to digitally add it to your website for viewing. If your site is attracting visitors from mediums other than television, you can use the site to "air" your commercial. With the growth of available information on the internet and the frequency in which it's visited daily, you can target more of your audience with the same ad. And because the Internet spans the globe, you can target those pockets of your target market scattered around the world all at once, rather than trying to find different publications, radio stations and TV stations that cater to a particular geographical area, group or interest.

Some of the largest companies in the world have made sure they get a piece of the internet marketing pie, and for a good reason. Internet advertising is extremely targeted, so as companies look for advertising opportunities, they don't need to look far--companies such as Google will do it for you. Google's AdWords and AdSense match up advertisers with content that their target market searches for on a regular basis.

Success Tip: You must ensure that your TV commercial points to your website, so your customers and prospects have somewhere to go after viewing your commercial. To get them to visit your site, offer a free service or product or a special discount to TV viewers who purchase from your site.

Unless you have international demand for a product that sells itself, advertising is something that is unavoidable. And no other type of advertising will bring you the exposure that a commercial airing regularly on TV will do. If done right, your business will be the talk of the town and, hopefully one day, the world.

Robert J. Shimonski and Thomas J. Romano are entrepreneurs, writers, and experts in technology, marketing and advertising, as well as avid audio and video producers and engineers. Together they own and operate Sound Room Studios Inc. and Artworx Media and Marketing Concepts.