Print ads, particularly those appearing in daily newspapers, are seen as an effective means for promoting sales and other time sensitive events. The retail-co-op Carpet One recently distributed this ad to promote a Feb 10-23 sale. The ad, which can be customized to a specific market, is supplied to member retailers who are responsible for placing it in a publication of their choosing.

When it comes to advertising, it's never a good idea to simply patch together an ad just as the sales rep from the local paper or radio station walks through the door. Shoot-from-the-hip decisions just don't work. What does work is a long-term, carefully planned strategy that elevates your profile and consistently reminds potential customers about your business. Since the New Year gives us all a chance to start fresh, now is a good time to develop a marketing plan that works for you.

First the basics: You must determine who you are trying to reach and what you want to sell them. Then, decide what aspects of your business to highlight (price, selection, service etc.). From there you'll need to gather information about newspapers, radio stations and other media outlets in your area particularly the size and demographics of the audience. Ultimately, this will help you decide how best to direct your message and steer clear of a shotgun approach.

Timing your ad

Spring is traditionally the season for building and remodeling, so it may be a good time for a more aggressive effort using more than one outlet. Likewise, you may want to scale back during major holidays as ads usually cost more and are more likely to get lost in the crowd. Although some experts advise against advertising in the summer, when many consumers are on vacation, theses ads may help you to stand out from the competition.

Print ads are, by far, the most prevalent form of advertising for retailers. Creating an ad that is memorable and engaging usually means following some rules while breaking others.

Arguably, the most important element of the ad is the copy that describes items for sale and any other message you would like to get across. You may know your business, but it takes a certain talent to write copy that can sell your product to readers. You have about three seconds to get the attention of most readers. That's it! If they aren't hooked by then, it's off to the next page. If you are stuck, there is always outside help available in the form of freelance copywriters.

As for the written copy contained in the ad, the goal is to get noticed and entice the consumer with out being overbearing. So keep in mind the following:

Stopping power. Say something bold and catchy! Think about what you want readers to take away from your ad. That should be the headline.

Keep it short. Limit the headline to eight words or fewer and supporting copy to about six sentences. Bullets are a succinct way to list major selling points. Readers are drawn to white space and are repelled by small print.

A picture is worth ... Consumers are looking for ideas, so they will be drawn to images. Use your best shots and back them with snappy headlines and concise text.

Talk to the customer. Don't make the mistake of using the ad to send a message to your competitors. Broad statements about your firm's vision aren't as appealing as a statement about what you'll do for your customers.

Don't sound too good to be true. Consumers are too savvy to buy into hyped-up claims. Simple copy will be appealing enough to someone that's looking for solutions to their problems.

After your ad appears, ask yourself if it is actually driving business or is your advertising budget going toward an ineffective medium. Also, review your ads on an ongoing basis. If the ads are still bringing in business after several years, there's probably little need to change them. But don't be afraid of exploring other venues as well.

Most methods of tracking your advertising are not scientific and rely on some type of consumer contact. This can use a direct mail survey of recent customers or just asking people "So, how did you hear about us?" Merely keeping track of the number of people in the showroom before and after the ad can also give an indication. Unlike mass retailers, most showrooms don't see a huge volume of traffic so the direct contact can be beneficial.

Still, a head count of customers coming in can serve as a barometer of your advertising, remember that there may be external influences that have nothing to do with your ads - like the season or interest rates. If you don't ask people how they found you, it's difficult to link customers directly to any advertising efforts.

As every supermarket manager will tell you, a print ad with a coupon that offers an extra product or service is also a sure way to see if your ad is getting across. If you offer something for bringing in a coded coupon, you will generate more traffic and you'll be able to determine just where the customer saw the ad. The key, of course, is getting the customer to actually bring the coupon in.

As always, the bottom line will clue you in to your ad's success or failure. Simply tabulating sales before and after an ad campaign can help you decide whether it's wise to repeat a particular ad or continue to use a specific medium. Remember to compare the profit with the sale (net not gross). As long as the incremental sales are covering the cost of the advertising, it's worthwhile. If not, pull the ad and put your dollars elsewhere.

And don't expect to get it all figured out right away. There is an old axiom in the ad business that says: "Half the money spent on advertising is wasted-but nobody knows which half."

Where to spend your ad money, the pluses and minuses

Naturally you'll want to opt for the ad vehicle that offers the greatest efficiency while targeting the greatest number of potential customers. Consider the ups and downs of each of these popular formats:

Direct mail.

PLUS: As the name implies, this is the surest way to zero in on a specific audience segment. Also, if you keep it simple, it can be cost effective. (Usually, you can reach 1,000 people for less than $1,000) You can also personalize the mailings and track results. MINUS: Marketers may call it "direct mail" but consumers call it "junk mail." The challenge is to offer something compelling that is not discarded. Also you'll need to find a mailing list of potential customers (Brokers and trade magazines may be a good source and there are many direct mail firms that specialize in reaching a targeted audience.)

Yellow Pages.

PLUS. Probably the most common way flooring retailers advertise, a good way to be included in easy-to-find specialized listings. MINUS: Yours will be one of many ads for floor covering products and consumers are not likely to see the ad unless they are looking for it.

Daily Newspaper Ads.

PLUS A great way to advertise a sale or other time sensitive promo. Can inspire impulse buys by planting an idea in the consumers mind. Frequent advertisers also get special rates and, if needed assistance creating the ad. MINUS: Today's newspaper is tomorrow's fish wrap. You will need to advertise on a regular basis if you are going to get the message across. It can be costly over the long haul.

Newspaper Home Sections.

PLUS: Attracts people considering a remodeling project. Tends to have a longer shelf life than the daily paper. MINUS: Usually requires longer lead time for placing the ad. Smaller ads are usually relegated to the back of the section.

Sunday Supplements.

PLUS: Sunday newspapers tend to have the highest circulation and consumers reading in the morning may be inspired to shop later in the day. MINUS: Sundays are also the most popular day for advertisers so your ad will be one of many crammed into the paper.

Regional Design/Lifestyle Magazines.

PLUS: Ads printed on glossy stock paper have a greater appear and help show off the colors and fashions available. Can offer the allure of a glossy national magazine and usually have a long shelf life. MINUS: Typically a smaller circulation than the daily paper and some monthlys require long lead times. Not the place to hype a sale.

Cable TV.

PLUS: Huge array of networks means an abundance of options. Sales reps eager to help produce ads and create a schedule within your budget. MINUS: Local retailers can seldom afford more than a low budget commercial that is aired mostly during the wee hours of the night. Running the ad on a regular basis can be a costly.


PLUS: Typically less expensive than cable, is also one form of media that people are exposed to while they drive, play or work. MINUS: Radio relies on listening and memory skills. Since the listener probably won't have a pen handy when your ad plays, a snappy jingle may help them recall your name.