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Spending a fortune on advertising and getting only meagre returns, is a common frustration amongst small business owners. Mainly because advertising is not always the right marketing tactic for SMEs.

Many small businesses spend huge amounts of money on advertising because of a mis-informed belief that it will pay off in the long run. Advertising, if done properly, can pay handsomely. But it is often a dead loss.

Generally speaking, the adverts we notice in the media are for products we already know about – Toyota, Sony, Coca Cola etc. These companies spend fortunes on advertising so that they retain top-of-mind awareness and market leadership. Top companies do a good job of this.

It is possible to increase market awareness of your product or service through advertising, but you need to be a market leader and a big spender. Unilever spends US$3.0bn a year on advertising and its business continues to thrive. But this type of marketing just doesn’t work for small businesses.

We are exposed to up to 3,000 advertising messages a day. Our capacity to absorb information on products and services advertised by small business is very limited, simply because of information overload. As the quantity of media surrounding us increases, small-business advertising becomes increasingly invisible.

According to Dan Kennedy, the renowned marketing trainer, you are an advertising victim when you write out a cheque for placing an ad and you have no idea whether it was a good business decision or not. Sadly, many small business owners who advertise fall into this category. The way adverts are usually written means that there is no way of measuring how effective they are.

You can increase response to your adverts by including a compelling time-limited offer and a call to action. This gives readers a reason to take immediate action and means that you can measure the effectiveness of your ads. By making a free try-before-you-buy offer, you are able to extend response to your ad into a multi-stage follow-up process.

By counting the requests for the free offer you get after an advert, you are able to measure the effectiveness of your advertising spend. And by tweaking the design of the advert and measuring the results, you are able to steadily improve the response rate.

The hardest part, of course, is getting prospects to respond to your ad in the first place. An advert doesn’t give people enough information to form an opinion about your business. Which is why adverts often get no response.

For small businesses, marketing success is the result of building relationships with prospective and existing customers. By positioning yourself as an expert, you win the credibility and confidence that prospects require before parting with their money. And this is where Public Relations techniques are very powerful.

People who are ready to buy a product or service look for information to support the buying decision. So making suitable information available enables you to attract ready-to-buy prospects. You do this by issuing press releases, writing & publishing articles, using speaking opportunities and networking.

Websites provide marvellous opportunities for making useful information available to prospective customers and building relationships remotely. The best part about doing PR is that it costs very little. And PR material can be reused over and over again.

Advertising is a bit like firing a gun. The explosive effect is short lived and repeated firing is very expensive. Public Relations is more like building a foundation. The bricks are cheap, they last a long time and the foundation is a solid support for other marketing activities.

So next time you think about advertising, consider using Public Relations to get your message across. It is might mean more work, but it is a lot cheaper and pays off handsomely in the long run.

This Business article was written by Mark Munday on 2/11/2005

As a Business Strategy Coach, Mark works with business owners, helping them make the most of their businesses. He uses a powerful system to unleash vigourous business growth in your business. For more information and to subscibe to Mark’s newsletter, visit