As you may begin to see, the more sources of funding you employ, the more complex it becomes to track, report and collect your share of the co-op pool.
Steve Fales, owner of AdServices, an advertising firm in Hollywood, Florida, says, "I've spent millions of dollars in co-op. It's pretty simple. You run the advertising according to the co-op guidelines and submit the claim, the proof of performance and a copy of the media invoice. Then the vendor pays their share. Some vendors send a check, others send a credit memo, others deduct from an invoice and some credit another part of the relationship."
It's the variations Fales refers to that can create record-keeping nightmares for small-business owners who want to make use of co-op funding.
How can you ease the frustration? First, be sure the value of any funds you apply for will exceed the time and effort necessary to qualify for them. Never apply for funds simply because they're available. If you would not advertise a particular product without the co-op funding, carefully consider whether it makes sense to spend even 50 percent of the advertising cost just to get "free money."
Second, carefully read and be sure you understand all the requirements of each co-op program you participate in. Set up a simple filing system for each program and consider developing a form that will let you "see at a glance" what the regulations are for each account.
Some of the items you may want to include on the form are the funding percentage offered, the total allocation, the method of reimbursement, which media qualify for reimbursement, any elements that must be included in the ad (e.g. manufacturer's logo, specific wording, etc.), and whether preapproval or proof of your compliance are required.
Third, put a reliable individual, such as yourself or a trusted employee, in charge of your participation in co-op programs.
Fourth, be meticulous in maintaining your records. Keep track of all correspondence, approvals, copies of ads, invoices, and so on. The time you spend here will save you frustration later.
Finally, know when the job has gotten too big for you. Many companies turn to outside agencies or service bureaus to coordinate their co-op advertising. That may be cost-effective for you, as well.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a writer in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.