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The smartest four letter-word in advertising: H-E-L-P.

The Smartest Four-Letter Word In Advertising: H-E-L-P!

How many times have you sat down at your desk to put together a newspaper ad or flier, then just stared at the paper in front of you because you hadn't the foggiest where to start? Or fought with a pile of media rate cards, a calculator and several pounds of scratch paper trying to figure the best way to spend the few dollars of advertising money you had left?

You're not necessarily suffering a brain drain or senility. More likely than not, you're simply in over your head, and you're probably just trying to assume more responsibilities and master more skill areas than the good Lord ever intended for one person to handle. When a smart retailer realizes he's stretching himself too thin, that's when he looks for help. And, just like a smart business person will hire sales clerks when he needs in store help or an accountant or lawyer when he needs specialized professional assistance, he should be willing to hire professional advertising help when he needs that, too!

It's pretty typical for most small business operators to try to mastermind their own advertising and promotion. As long as the business remains relatively small and the other demands on his time are minimal, he can usually handle it satisfactorily. Particularly if he's an astute sort of fellow who understands that even at a bare subsistence level, effective advertising requires constant learning and a wholehearted effort. But, as soon as the business starts to grow, the time available to devote to advertising becomes less and less. And, instead of maintaining the tight control over his advertising he thinks he has and saving all the money he thinks he is by doing all the work himself, he's actually losing control and wasting money by making poor decisions and by gambling his business on hastily assembled ads and other materials that look like the devil and don't mean beans.

It might surprise you to know that there are people out there who actually earn their living by helping others with their advertising, and some of those folks are pretty damned good at it. There's really no shame in admitting that the advertising function has become just too much for you to handle. Advertising is a sophisticated selling tool that needs to be carefully and thoughtfully planned in order to be truly effective. Half an effort usually produces half the results. Many times, paying for professional input can not only make your advertising more effective, it can actually save you money by eliminating wasted expenditures that a trained professional will spot in a heartbeat.

There are several sources of advertising help available within your community. If your business is located in a really tiny town, you might have to expand your search radius into a slightly wider area. But the help is there if you just look for it. Before you start your search, remember two things:

1) Interview extensively and thoroughly before you make your hiring decision. Recommendations from others are a good starting point, but don't hire anyone with whom you do not feel comfortable. How well you're able to communicate with your advertising counselor will go far towards determining just how good a job he'll be able to do for you.

2) Although it's a definite plus if the person or company you hire has some practical experience in your field of endeavor or some personal knowledge of your product line, don't make that an absolute prerequisite for hiring. A real pro will be able to learn about virtually any new market or product line...if you're able to communicate with him to explain your needs, your experiences, what has worked and what hasn't, and the idiosyncrasies of your business (see #1 above). Over the years I've successfully promoted everything from guns and tractors to ladies lingerie and dental services. I promise you, if the person or company you hire is worth a damn and otherwise qualified, promoting shooting sports equipment should be a piece of cake.

Advertising help comes in all types, descriptions, sizes and flavors...and all price ranges. Depending on your own personal requirements, here are a few traditional avenues you might pursue:

Advertising Agencies

Movies and television are primarily responsible for creating a lot of false impressions about ad agencies. To most people, the stereo-typical agency type is either a slick Wall Street dude in a three-piece suit, who's always wheeling and dealing to steal competitor's accounts, or a slightly off-the-wall creative cat, who wears floral ties with bright plaid shirts and blue jeans as he creates spectacularly successful ad campaigns over a bottle of vintage wine in his artsy-fartsy [sic] loft studio.

Wrong-O, tilt, and negative to that. There are as many different kinds of ad agencies and agency people as there are gun shops and gunshop owners. There are big ones and small ones, specialists and generalists, cheap ones and expensive ones, good ones and bad ones. You can start your selection process by flipping to "Advertising Agencies" in your Yellow Pages. Start calling, and eliminate out of hand any agency that does not work with local retail advertisers. They've got to know your local market to really be of service to you. And it's best if they have experience in all media -- print, broadcast, everything--instead of specializing in just one. Then they can be a lot more objective and authoritative when they make recommendations. You'll also have to decide just how much help and what kind of help you expect from your new agency. Do you expect everything from full research, media buying and planning services in addition to professional ad creation? Or are you more interested in help with individual projects? You'll have to ask about the range of services each agency offers and how they prefer to work.

A word about agencies that claim to be "full service": That's a real convenient buzz word that doesn't necessarily mean that one agency is any better than any other agency. But, if you do, indeed, want a full service agency to handle almost everything for you, some small one-, two-, and three-man shops can offer just as much "full service" to a small retailer as a large organization with a couple of dozen people. A smaller agency might also be able to provide more personalized service and quicker turnaround time than a sprawling corporate giant because they'll bust their hump to keep you happy. It's all a matter of determining your own comfort level and your actual requirements.

Finally, you'll need to know how agencies charge for their services. Again, there are differences. Some agencies -- particularly bigger ones -- work on a retainer basis, charging a monthly fee for their time and services. Some charge strictly by the project, with most costs determined by hourly charges. They'll also usually markup all out of pocket expenses on services and materials they can't provide in-house, like printing, photography and typesetting. All that stuff is legit, although some will really rape you on the markups if you let them. Just be sure you know ahead of time what the hourly charges are and how much markup is customarily added to outside services. Then get estimates on each project--those can change, of course, if you make a lot of changes during the production process -- and double check every bill thoroughly.

Most agencies also earn commissions on all the media time and space they buy on behalf of their clients. Radio and television stations pay a standard 15% commission to all agencies buying time, so the agency should charge no more to buy the time for you than what you would pay if you bought it yourself. Newspapers, on the other hand, do not customarily give agencies a commission. So in order to earn their 15%, agencies typically markup newspaper space to 117.65% of the gross to their clients (the 17.65% markup is the same as a 15% discount--figure it out).

Then, to further complicate matters, some agencies combine two or more of the billing practices described above, or they come up with unique twists of their own. The key again is to ask how they charge and to make sure everything is understood up-front. Then you're less likely to be surprised, and you won't be charged $1,000 for an ad you thought was going to cost $100 to produce. My best advice on agency selection is that neither cheaper nor more expensive is necessarily any better or worse. Neither should bigger nor smaller be the most important criterion. You just have to feel satisfied that you've selected someone (or some company) with whom you work comfortably and whom you believe to be both honest and capable. But, then that's usually the foundation for any good relationship, isn't it?

Art Studios

Need a special newspaper ad or brochure designed? Maybe a new logo for your business? A commercial artist or a commercial art studio just might be the way for you to go. Note the use of the word "commercial" because not all artists are capable of creating and producing advertising materials. A guy who's hell on wheels with oil paints and canvas might not know squat about preparing ads for a newspaper or fliers for a printer. They're completely different skill areas. Again, you've got to ask, and always request samples so you know what kind of work the artist or studio has done in the past. Art studios generally work strictly on a project basis, and they usually charge much the same way as an advertising agency, albeit cheaper. But, get estimates so you know for sure.

Advertising Free-lancers

A lot of professional advertising managers, copywriters, and commercial artists who are already employed (maybe by a manufacturer or a large retail store) are hungry for the extra money they can earn from doing a little "moonlighting" for small businesses like yours.

Unfortunately, since most of them are not in a position to advertise their own services for fear of jeopardizing their permanent positions, you might never know of their existence unless they approach you or unless you're able to get a referral from some other business operator who has knowledge of an available free-lancer. If you find a good one, it will probably cost you much less than hiring either an ad agency or an art studio, because with little or no overhead, free-lancers do their moonlighting after hours, projects might take a little longer to complete, and you might have to put up with evening and weekend meetings.

Local high schools, colleges and trade schools can also be an occasional source of free-lance advertising talent. Not so much from the students, whose practical experience is probably non-existent, but from the instructors of advertising and commercial art courses, assuming their background includes some real-world advertising experience in addition to the distinctly unrealistic world of academia. Do not hire someone already affiliated with a newspaper, radio or television station to help you with all your advertising. In addition to a potential conflict of interests, his experience might only be limited to the media in which he works, so his objectivity and general knowledge could be questionable.

There is advertising help available -- lots of it. You just have to determine what kind of help you really need, then be very careful and methodical in finding it. You must also remember -- and I do mean must -- that just because you hire an ad agency, an art studio or a free-lancer to help you with your advertising doesn't mean your involvement in the advertising process is ended. Renew your commitment to becoming a better and smarter advertiser by learning the lingo and understanding the basics so you're in a position to weigh the options your representative presents. If you understand what he's saying and what your choices are, you'll also feel more comfortable that the decisions you make are sound. It's still your signature that's on the checks and it's your business that's on the line. With or without help, it's the smart advertisers who have the best chance of surviving.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Publishers' Development Corporation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:gun stores
Author:Grueskin, Robert
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Aug 1, 1989
Previous Article:SI profile: the Burris Company and the future.
Next Article:Senators Metzenbaum and DeConcini push restrictive anti-gun legislation.

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