How effective is advertising for professional services marketing?

I have been talking to a lot of people recently about advertising, largely sparked off by conversations about Yellow Pages who have recently being selling space in the Exeter directory.

I am generally not a fan of using advertising in the marketing mix when selling/promoting professional services. When people are seeking a supplier for a service they will generally look for word of mouth recommendation or seek out some form of endorsement. When you are selling a service you are largely selling a relationship and this is very difficult to convey in an advert.

Advertising can be useful if you want to build brand awareness or have a specific message to get out into the market. However, more often than not you need heavy financial investment and a planned, sustained campaign to really get noticed.

In my view you would be better using the money on more targeted business development activity  – entertaining key clients, meeting prospects for coffee or running an in-house training event for clients/prospects.

I met someone at a networking event recently who started his IT business a year ago. Not long after starting up he was convinced by the lovely sales people at Yellow Pages to spend over £1,000 on an advert. The net result was no calls from the advert and being very annoyed with himself when he realised what other more effective uses he could have had for the money.

At a previous law firm I worked at one of the firm’s offices was notorious for placing one-off £50 adverts in parish magazines and the like.  “But it was only £50” the Senior Partner would say. However, over the course of a year all those £50’s would add up to a fairly significant sum, which could have been better spent elsewhere. I appreciate that sometimes this form of advertising is necessary as a goodwill gesture to an important client or prospect but be careful to keep this in check.

Social media is a very powerful and growing tool for getting your business noticed so think about creating a social media strategy to promote your services. The even bigger bonus is that it is currently free although the caveat to that being you will need to invest the time to make it work!

If, despite all the above, you are really sure that advertising is the right medium for your business then here are some tips to bear in mind:

  • Make sure that the publication you plan to advertise in is directed at your target audience.
  • Employ the services of a professional designer to design an advert, which follows your corporate identity and stands out.
  • Keep copy to a minimum and make it eye catching, interesting and relevant.
  • Include a call to action or a reference in the advert so you can track return on investment (consider setting up a separate phone number which you only use on adverts or state on the advert “quote ref”).
  • Negotiate the price; don’t accept the first price you are offered.
  • If you are planning to place more than one advert buy them in bulk/sign an annual contract to get a better price.
  • If you are planning to place a number of adverts in a number of publications consider using a media-buying agency that will be able to get additional discounts.
  • Don’t be swayed by last-minute “incredible” offers (if it’s such a good deal then why haven’t they already sold the space several times over?).
  • Don’t place an advert just because your competitors will be there (take a look at any of the special supplements in the Western Morning News, do you really notice any of the accountants or law firms that are advertising in them?).  Finally and most importantly
  • Evaluate return on investment at the end of a campaign so you can make an informed decision next time.

Has advertising worked for your business or did you find it was just money down the drain? I’d be interested to hear of your experiences.

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