Q: When is the best time for a small business to spend money on advertising?

A: No matter what size your business is, the best time to buy advertising is in the first quarter-always. The next best time is the third quarter. These are the months when most radio and TV stations are hungry and offer low rates and special packages to lure advertisers who may not otherwise bother to advertise (see Negotiating Radio Ratesfor special package information), and that spills over to print media.

Inventory needs to be filled to make budgets, and the buyer is really in the driver's seat. Rates can drop by half in the first quarter, so look at your budget, and hunker down with the reps from your chosen forms of media. Always be willing to politely leave a deal on the table, and don't be discouraged by the word "no." Nine times out of 10, they'll call you back and say OK.

Some possible reasons why you'll get a no:

  • Your rep is under pressure to make his or her own personal budget. That's not your problem.
  • They don't want you to turn into one of those clients who insist on a lower rate every time, knowing it's possible to negotiate.
  • If it's an election year, political commercials receive (by law) the lowest rate that's been given to any client for the previous 12 months. And political campaigns can run as many ads for that low price as they want. So stations have to be careful about what rates they show.

But there's another way-it's called "free spins." Say you have a budget of $1,000 and you want to buy 20 commercials, normally $100 each, for $50 each. On paper, you pay $100 each for the first 10 commercials and get the remaining 10 as "free spins." That lets the rep show a rate of $100 per paid spot on the contract, while you come away having paid $1,000 for your 20 commercials.

More reasons to buy in the first quarter:

  • You can enjoy an additional 5 percent discount if you sign on for 26 consecutive weeks and 10 percent if you sign on for 52 consecutive weeks. You don't have to run the same number of commercials each week to qualify-just something each week.
  • Buy "remnant advertising" and agree to purchase "up to" a certain number of commercials, or space, each week or month. For example, if a radio or TV station has unsold inventory in time slots that would benefit you, they can pop your commercial in at the last minute for a fraction of the normal spot cost. Once inventory is gone, it's gone, and they'd rather sell it at a lowball price than get nothing at all for it. Just be sure to specify the top dollar amount you're willing to spend per week or month and the time slots you'll accept in the contract.

It's the first quarter...so what are you waiting for? Higher rates?

Kathy Kobliski is the founder and president of Silent Partner Advertising, where she oversees multimedia advertising budgets for retail and service clients. Her book,Advertising Without an Agency, was written for businesses owners who are working with small advertising budgets and can't afford professional help. You can reach Kathy via her website at http://www.silentpartneradvertising.com.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.