Marketing: Can You Afford a Print Ad?

By Alexander Hiam

Ad agencies and the marketing departments of big companies have specialists who do nothing but buy media, and some brokers specialize in it for mid-sized or smaller marketers. But if you’re a smaller-scale marketer, you can easily figure out how to buy media space on your own. The following sections cover a marketing specialty called media buying, with an emphasis on buying print ad space.

Print ads can be quite expensive, so before you run out and start placing them, you need to know whether buying one is a smart financial move for your business. Make sure you acquaint yourself with all the costs before making any decision.

If you’re marketing a small business, start by collecting magazines or newspapers that you’re sure your prospective customers read. Then look for the information in them that identifies the publisher and gives a phone number for advertisers to call.

Call or visit their websites to get a rate sheet (a table listing the prices of ads by size of ad and also showing the discount rate per ad if you buy multiple ads rather than just a single one). If the publication is a magazine, also ask for the schedule, which tells you when ads for each issue need to be placed and what the topics of future issues will be.

After you’ve collected a selection of rate sheets from magazines or newspapers, take a hard look at the pricing. How expensive is the average ad (in the middle of the size range for each publication)? The answer may be a broad number.

If a single ad costs one-twentieth (5 percent) or more of your marketing budget for the entire year, throw that rate sheet away and forget about advertising in that publication. You need dozens of ad placements per year to make a good print ad campaign, so don’t begin with a publication unless you can easily afford to keep going.

In addition to finding a publication you can afford to advertise in regularly, use economical print media, such as brochures, blogs, mailings, and e-mails. If you operate on too small a scale or budget to afford print advertising, try turning your ad design into a good flier and mailing it. You can send it to 500 names and see what happens.

That’s a lot less risky and expensive than buying space in a magazine that goes to 200,000 names — some of whom may not care at all about what you’re offering. Or you can search for smaller-circulation publications with a more local or specialized readership, where the rates may be much cheaper.