Monday, April 19, 2010

How well are you telling your story?

I got a fat lip sitting in a seminar recently.

No, no one punched me and I didn’t fall. It was self-inflicted out of fear I would offend the host or be the object of an angry mob because my comments about newspapers and good advertising practices would have been blasphemy for the majority of those in attendance.

So I bit my lip, for the better part of an hour.

I attended the seminar sponsored by a local web design company to learn more about effective online marketing. I suspected it might get ugly when one of the first questions was, “How many of you have cut back your advertising in the last few years?” About half of the 45 people in attendance raised their hands. Smiling and apparently proud, those in the front turned around to see how many less smart people were sitting behind them.

I twitched when the facilitator asked for their reasons for cutting advertising. Here are three that won tokens for a fifty dollar discount off the websites the seminar host wanted to build for those in attendance.

  • “To save money.”
  • “No one reads newspapers anymore. They don’t work.”
  • “Everyone is going on line.”

I resisted the urge to jump up and blurt: “Cutting advertising to save money is like leaving your watch at home to save time!” I wanted to hurl statistics about how print drives web, and preach about how frequency creates memory, that advertising is a process not an event.

But I wimped out and bit my lip. This was not the time or place.

I tolerated the next 20 minutes or so until the part about how the advantages and benefits of web advertising compared to print. To illustrate how painful and inflexible newspaper advertising is, the owner of the web company lamented that when he was buying all the back pages of the local weekly newspaper group to advertise his business, he would have to wait an entire week to change the ad if he wanted to. The price of total market coverage, God, how awful...

Then he held up the Yellow Page book to wail about all the money he had to pay for the back cover regardless of how many calls he got each month, the point here is that pay for click is King. I’m the last one to stick up for Yellow Pages but here’s this now very successful guy criticizing the very mediums that got his business started. I wondered if anyone in the audience would connect the dots, but the room was quiet as he gushed about how Facebook can work as a business tool. In his only support of papers, the host did suggest the option of buying a small ad in the paper directing people to their web site. That was huge, and I thought an admission of sorts.

At this point I think I started to taste the blood from my lip but thankfully the session was ending. Yet I thought, 40 or so people here got fed some bad information and they could be making some important decisions with no other perspective.

If there was a central theme to the web seminar it was saving money by curtailing or cutting traditional advertising (after you spend several thousand dollars for this guy to design your web site). That’s certainly music to a small business’s ears, and this guy had the graph to show the growing traffic on Facebook, Twitter and My Space. Sure people are using these free sites, but its social networking, entertainment. They’re not there to buy furniture or shoes. Sure you might get introduced to a plumber, but is that plumber going to feed his family off social networking?

Unfortunately this wasn’t the first instance of misinformation I found in my community this week. While condo shopping with one of my daughters I came across a real state company’s web site that offered this babble in 18 point type.


Its undeniable. The internet is the present and future of real estate marketing and sales. Traditional marketing methods largely involve self promotion and are becoming more and more ineffective and costly. Unnecessary costs that are passed on to you through high commissions.

Consider this: Research now shows that you are 500% more likely to sell a home through the internet than through a newspaper.

We have saved our clients thousands of dollars by controlling the costs of geographically limited and ineffective print advertising by marketing their home where the buyers are (the internet)

(Color emphasis as well as the poor grammar, spelling and punctuation were on the website.)

Now I admit I’m a hot metal/glue pot die-hard newspaper guy who believes that local papers (and the more local the better) are still the best place for local businesses to advertise. Sure the web has its advantages but it’s not ready to replace the local paper. I’ll even concede for some businesses the Internet may be more efficient, but not for Main Street merchants where I live.

I shudder to think of how much bad information is out there hurting newspapers. I cringe when I see how few newspapers make any effort to set the record straight or generate anything more than token tired and ineffective house ads—when they have room.

This misleading and false information needs to be addressed. It’s harmful to these small businesses and it fans the flames of the alleged “newspaper crisis.” Local publications still work. The latest research still heavily favors newspapers for audience and credibility and that word needs to be spread. Papers should be proactive and aggressive, running convincing house ads, doing email blasts, using bill stuffers, putting on seminars of their own. An educated advertiser is more likely to make better decisions, so teach them about best advertising practices.

Newspapers need to talk back and set the record straight, because if they don’t tell their good story, no one else will.

Drop me an email at if you’d like a list of some good research sources.

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