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November 8, 2012

Take an ad or else!

by Howard Fox Chartered Marketer

“Hello, Howard speaking”

“Er, (indistinct) who’s speaking please?”


“Ah yes, are you the marketing director, fully empowered to take all media buying decisions without having to discuss it with anyone else?”

“I suppose so.”

Hi, I’m Joe[1] from ‘You’ve Never Heard of this Magazine’. I see you’ve been advertising in Financial Mail. I am phoning to understand why you haven’t booked anything in our publication.

“Sorry?” – question, not an apology.

The Media Mag

This article first appeared in
The Media magazine.

“Yes, you appear to have overlooked booking in our publication.”

“Ok,” politely, “I’m afraid I’m not familiar with your publication, is it new?”

“No not at all, we are on edition two. We launched early last year. We’re a monthly.”

“So, you’re a business publication then?”

“No not really. More a sort of sport / lifestyle magazine.”

“But you can see from our campaign for a financial service product, that we are aiming specifically at the business market.”

“But business people like sport too, you know! Anyway, I was speaking to your MD’s office before this call. They really suggested I discuss this fantastic opportunity with you. I’m sure he wouldn’t want to hear you had missed a great opportunity to promote the company’s products.”

“I’m not entirely sure that the context would work, as you can see the ads are about, well, frankly, ‘death’. Seems incongruent with sport.”

“So, “ pause, then shuffling of papers “ isn’t ‘Name-of-large- financial-services-company’ a competitor?

“Indeed they are. That’s interesting, are they advertising in the next addition of ‘You’ve Never Heard of this Magazine’ ?

“Oh sorry, I can’t reveal that sort of information!”

“You bought it up.”

“We’re offering a big discount. 7.5% off rate-card. And for every ad you get three and a half pages of editorial”

“No one pays rate-card, but what’s the content focus of the mag?”

“Oh we mostly do company profiles.”

“I thought it was a sport publication?”

“We’re distributed to all the government ministries and embassies.”

“What’s the readership then?”

“We have a print run of up to 4 000.”

“Ok, and the readership?”

“My PA did some dipstick research, we have very high pass-on rate – 27 readers per print.”

“Seems high – ABC verified?”

“ABC what? I thought you were empowered to take these sorts of decisions, am I speaking to the wrong person? Would I be better going back to the MD’s office? His PA seemed very interested in the magazine, in fact I have arranged for voucher copies to be delivered to the executive dining room.”

Howard Fox prior to interview on 702 Talk radio.

Howard prior to appearing on 702 Talk Radio

“Tell me a little about your readers.”

“We think its about a fifty-fifty male / female split. Mostly employed.”

“Income splits?”

“Oh perhaps 90% of our readers earn between two thousand and a hundred and fifty thousand rand a month.”

“I don’t see a fit with our current strategy I am afraid.”

“But our next addition will be a feature on your type of product. Your absence will be very obvious.”

“Indeed it will, but we actually have a specific media strategy based on the comstrat developed from our 3 year strategic marketing plan. Your publication would if anything distract from the rest of our efforts.”

“Don’t you have contingency budget.”


“This is a very limited offer, you’ll have to get me a signed booking form by close of play today or the cost increases 50%, and I can’t guarantee you’ll get in.”

“Look we book through a media house, but I’m not interested”

“What is your budget cycle?”

“Calendar year, but what has that got to do with it? Our strategy won’t be dramatically different just because the financial year clicked over.”

“So I’ll call you in January then.”

So this isn’t you calling. But when you call with your never to be repeated, industry changing, virtually free, incredibly strategy congruent media offer, understand that the last three call I took from a media representative was the conversation above. So unless you have a well thought-through, relevant pitch, which will add to the thinking of the media strategist I have entrusted with planning appropriate media, don’t waste your time.

Here is the insight:

I am going to take media decisions based on who consumes your media (and who doesn’t). Understand that if I want a very general, audience, I can almost certainly get it more cost effectively elsewhere. However if you have cornered the entire constituency of left-handed basket weavers, I might have a very specific campaign waiting for just such an opportunity. If you can also reliably tell me that no right-handed weavers read your publication, now we are really talking. (Oh how break-though is my right Vs left weaver ad- positively award winning!)  If you are a small niche publication, play to this strength rather than trying to be yet another generalist publication.

The context – i.e. specifics of your content, style and tone are vitally important. Yes, senior business people read sports publications but perhaps as they kick back (pun intended) they are less receptive to a ‘Keyman’ life insurance ad highlighting the risk of their business partner dying.

Other advertisers: Sometimes I want to be seen with my competitors, sometimes I don’t. But I drive the strategy not my competitors. Certainly dodgy ‘non-time-share’-time-share, illegal online casinos, herbal remedies and the like may preclude my prestigious brand from participating in your publication. I will, I am afraid, judge you by your lowest common denominator. Likewise some advertisers add value by their inclusion, and if you don’t have them I may not want to be the first to jump in. Female interest magazines are required to have big fashion and cosmetic brands if they are to look the part. Prestigious business and male interest publication really do need that ‘aviation time instrument’ or Italian sports car ad on the outside back.

Your offer of free editorial is great but means your content is rubbish supplied by advertisers. I am turned off.

Nobody pays rate card, right. So I’m not comparing your offer to your arbitrarily determined rate card but rather my next best media (or other marketing) opportunity-cost and the likely return. More importantly your substantial discount means nothing if the other decision criteria are negative. I have turned down free ads, because inclusion in the publication would be damaging to the brand.

So, please:

Do do research into the company’s campaigns and products. But be realistic. If there isn’t a logical fit it will damage to your publication as much as my brand.

Do look me up on Linked In before you hint that I am incompetent in overlooking your ‘opportunity’.

Do bring new thinking or an idea to the table that’s worth talking about.

Don’t try and bully me. If the MD buys your ad he can pay for it from his budget. I’ve got his agreement on this.

Do be professional and offer credible circulation data and research. Marketers want to take informed decisions not wild guesses.

First published in The Media magazine.

[1] Names have been changed to reduce embarrassment.


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