How To Advertise Your Small Business On Tv

Television advertising can help grow your small business. Understanding the basics of local TV will allow you to create an advertising program with results.

Do you think television advertising is only for big companies with money to burn? Think again. Even if you couldn't dream of spending $2 million dollars on a Super Bowl commercial, your small business can achieve a big bang on a much smaller budget. With careful planning, your business can benefit from the power of TV.

Today there are more options than ever to use local television. Before you simply pick up the phone and call the nearest television station, do your homework to understand how to get the most from your money. Ask yourself some honest questions about what you want to achieve, and also take the time to learn how television advertising works.

Who is your target audience?

Who do you want to talk to? They may be modeled after your current best customers, or they could be your ideal prospects. Either way, clearly defining your target audience is crucial to building an effective television campaign.

At a minimum, a target audience must be defined by gender and age - television is purchased based on its ability to reach preset gender and age groupings. Age groupings are usually expressed in ranges, such as age 18-24, 25-49 and 50+.

Beyond age and gender, it makes sense to outline as many characteristics of your target as possible. The more detailed a picture you can paint, the more targeted your advertising can become. Additional characteristics include marital status, the presence of children, professional status, lifestyle attributes and hobbies. All these factors can influence your television campaign. As a small business owner, you know your best prospects better than anyone else.

What is your message?

Now that you have an idea of who your target audience is, what do you want to say to them? Are you trying to get your name out, or offering a specific promotion? You'll need to put a lot of thought into what you want to get out of your campaign, and how you will measure success. Whether your goal is immediate foot traffic or just general visibility, this will vary dramatically based on the type of business that you have.

Television's standard commercial unit length is 30 seconds long. Depending on what you are trying to say, longer or shorter units are available as well. An advertiser with a few simple messages may want to use two 15 second units run back to back, while a detailed message or specific product sale may require a longer 60 second unit. The latter units, however, can be very difficult to schedule and tend to be favored only by "infomercial-style" direct sales advertisers.

Once you determine your message, either the television station or an independent production studio can help you create your spot. While a production studio can usually offer a more sleek, professional spot, they will cost significantly more than work done by a television station.

Where should you say it?

You have a variety of options for local television advertising. The broadest and usually most expensive is to advertise with the local broadcast network affiliates, or your local NBC, CBS, ABC or FOX stations. These local stations can deliver a very large audience and are priced accordingly. Viewers tend to be fairly loyal to their preferred station, and therefore you would need to purchase airtime on more than one local station in order to reach a large enough audience. While some of their programming may be similar, like local news, each affiliate tends to draw a slightly different audience. The sales representative of each station will be able to outline, using sophisticated research, the station's overall audience and how it may vary by individual program. By comparing this information with your desired target audience, you should be able to narrow down a list of two or three stations.

Cable network audiences have increased significantly in past years, and the local cable networks have become strong advertising venues. By advertising on local cable systems, your ad can appear on stations such as ESPN, The History Channel, Discovery Channel or Lifetime. In most markets, they reach smaller audiences than the broadcast networks, and their prices are lower accordingly. Cable networks are very targeted - you can find a cable network to deliver any type of interest, from sports to decorating to children's programming. Cable networks also allow very localized advertising buys. Advertisers have the ability to purchase specific towns, zip codes or general areas if desired. Cable network advertising is usually handled by a local cable system that allows you to combine many cable networks together in one package.

Many markets also have their own local cable networks. Usually focused on local news or sports, these outlets are always looking to work with new advertisers and can be quite affordable in comparison to the larger networks.

When should you say it?

When to advertise encompasses two areas: time of year, and time of day. While the timing of your advertising campaign will be based on your business needs, there are also some factors to consider that will affect pricing.



The TV business has its own busy seasons, where new programming draws higher viewer levels that in turn raise prices. These periods are commonly known as "sweeps" and occur four times a year: February, May, August and November. In addition, September tends to be busy as networks launch new shows. Your advertising will benefit from the increased viewership during these times, but this visibility comes at a higher price and available time can easily sell out.

Television sales also affected by the demand generated by large advertising categories, putting airtime at a premium. Some retailers focus on November and December to affect holiday sales, while office suppliers and others focus on the profitable back to school shopping season in August. Big carmakers can drive demand in the summer with the introduction of new car models. it may be difficult to get airtime during these demand periods.

On another level, you'll need to consider the time of day for your advertising. When is your target audience most likely to be watching TV? Viewership information provided by the salesperson will tell you this. The television day is broken down into sections that are defined by time parameters, such as 5pm - 6:30pm, called Early News, or 8pm-11pm, or Primetime. Pricing is determined by the demand for specific time of day and shows, so higher viewership times, such as the evening hours, are much more expensive than a lower viewership time such as the 9am - 3pm period. Unless your audience is very narrow or specific, most advertisers will benefit from a well-rounded schedule that uses portions of all dayparts in order to reach the largest audience.

What affects pricing?

Now for the biggest question: how much will all this cost? TV pricing is based on supply and demand. Unit rates are based on market dynamics and the size of the audience, so a popular primetime spot in New York or Los Angeles can cost upwards of $75,000, while in Boise, ID or Portland, ME that same spot can be had for $1,000. Your overall advertising cost will be based on the demand to reach your target audience, the size of your market, and all the other parameters that have been outlined here. Once you get an idea of the market costs in your area, you'll be able to determine a budget that works for you. However, in any market, there are ways to make your schedule as affordable as possible.

Network choice - Most target audiences can be reached by multiple networks, but some channels are more high profile than others. Using less popular networks can mean a less expensive schedule.

Programming choice - Like network choice, certain programs have a significant premium and demand, while others are less expensive and reach your target just as effectively.

Packaging - Almost all networks will package in-demand expensive programming with less popular shows in order to sell the latter. You can get a larger schedule for the same cost with this method.

Bulk Buying - If you can commit to a longer schedule in advance, stations usually will discount your entire program.

First-Time Advertiser - Getting a new advertiser on their station is a big achievement for a salesperson, and they will sometimes discount your program as an incentive to start advertising.

Added Value - Like packaging, all stations have programming that isn't in demand. Many times they will give bonus spots in this programming. Added value pieces also include promotional messages, such as "this program is brought to you by..." announcements.

Gross vs. Net - These are payment terms. The standard television cost is quoted in what is called "gross dollars." This gross cost includes a built-in advertising agency commission. You are placing your schedule without an agency, so make sure you ask for the "net" cost - this represents a 15% discount on your program.

Now that you have an understanding of the basics of TV advertising, you'll be able to let the station sales representative do the rest of the legwork for you. Following the guidelines above, you'll be able to provide all the information that your salesperson will need to build a schedule for your review. Don't be afraid to ask for changes based on your criteria, and don't hesitate to negotiate - you are the customer and all TV sales are heavily based in negotiation. You should receive a thorough schedule that meets your demands and that also shows a real effort to add value and stretch your dollars. The sales representative should also be able to show you how well your schedule reaches your target audience - a general rule of thumb is to reach at least 33% of your audience at least 3 times, but these goals may vary based on your needs, as will the amount of spots it will take to reach your goal.

Lastly, after your schedule airs, demand results. Stations have sophisticated tracking systems that provide detailed proof that your schedule ran as ordered, called "affidavits." Any spots missed or run at incorrect times are owed to you and are commonly referred to as "make goods."

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