Get it? Got it. Good!

Dear media owners:

This will be the nth time I have attended a “free seminar” on “how to do effective advertising”. As someone who has been doing marketing and advertising for non-profits as a paid career for at least 20 years, I understand very well how to do effective advertising. But I sure do appreciate the stale pastries and gross institutional coffee.

The patronizing tone? Don’t appreciate that so much. Your sales guys (why are they almost exclusively guys, btw?) pitch advertising packages after showy presentations that outline the three secrets of good advertising. The secrets of advertising that only your media agency/outlet/company truly understands. The secrets of advertising that we, the lowly non-profits and small business owners, have super privileged access to by virtue of being invited to the stale pastries presentation featuring your latest guru, marketing firm, advertising genius, or other highly paid wunderkind.

First, let me say your highly paid wunderkind learned their tricks from timeshare sales pitches, and might not actually be a wunderkind, because those timeshare pitches at least usually involve free cocktails (at worst) or some kind of tangible benefit (free weekend at the show suite). Yours offer stale pastries and patronizing pitches.

Don’t get me wrong; I love being talked down to just as much as the next guy – and as a woman in business that next guy usually is a guy. I’m just saying that you, the guys trying to sell me advertising as a way to sell more of my unique product, are not offering a unique product. You talk about the “value added” of buying advertising with your firm/station, which could be anything from the prowess of your creative team to the wicked 1980s pricing scheme you’ve developed just for small business, to the whole “this is a highly secret cabal you are now part of and the arcane knowledge we are imparting is even more highly privileged information than the state nuclear codes” thing you’re doing. But it’s not value-added, is it?

The fact that you don’t understand where this is going is the problem. But let’s back up for a second. If I could pre-emptively give YOU (and your wunderkind) a short presentation, it would go like this:

Non-profits are businesses. Charities are businesses. “Non-Profit” does not mean “not profitable”, and it does not mean “operates at a loss” or even “breaks even”. “Non-Profit” means the business’ excess revenue over expenses on an annual basis gets rolled back in to the operation of the business rather than being paid out to shareholders, board members, or owners. If a Not-for-profit corporation does not earn a profit, they won’t be around very long.

Some of the revenue (income) that non-profits and charities post may come from sponsorships, fundraising, donations, or even public grants from any number of levels of government. This support may be in the form of tax refunds or tax forgiveness. It could be in the form of in-kind donations of goods and services. It could be in the form of cold, hard, cash. In all cases, a business that receives public support is beholden to the people for their support. That means we have to be good and responsible stewards of public money and support. That means we can’t just take the $5,000 we received from the provincial government for capacity building and use it to buy 5,000 helium-filled balloons, each containing a leaflet for discounted product, that we release in the parking lot.

….okay no, that would be environmentally irresponsible.

…plus the whole dropping leaflets from airplanes connotations.

The point I’m trying to make is that as businesses, non–profits do just as rigorous (if not more rigorous) budgeting and fiscal analysis as private business. Because we have to report to the people of the municipality/province/country how we used their money. And if we get it wrong, we may have to give the money back. Grants can operate like no- or low-interest loans; “if you do not complete what you said you would, you may have to give this money back”. But I’m getting off topic (shocking, I know).

Here’s what gets my goat about the advertising sales timeshare condo pitches:

  1. You don’t understand, nor care to learn, how MY business works – you won’t take the time to learn what I do, and what I’ve been doing very well, but you expect me to sit and listen to what you do, and what you do is basically the same as what every commercial media outlet does (you are not offering an unique product);
  2. You’re talking at me, rather than listening to me to find out what I actually want (or need – you are not speaking my language);
  3. You consistently price yourself out of the market (you don’t know who your target market is, and you don’t know how to reach them).
  • If you actually want my business – and selling advertising to non-profit and small businesses could actually be an incredible new market, maybe not in the “big media buy” department, but 30 non-profits/small businesses buying advertising could add up – if you want my business, make it affordable for me and stop patronizing me. I understand that repetition works. I know I need to buy advertising throughout the year to for my ads to be most effective. I get “brand recognition”. We all do. It’s not actually rocket science and advertising best practice isn’t actually seekrit arcane knowledge.
  • You want small business and non profits? Create advertising packages that are accessible for businesses whose entire advertising budget for the year is $10,000 or less. $5,000 or less. Maybe that means co-op spots. Maybe that means lever clients can sponsor smaller clients. Maybe that means you’re providing some in-kind service or goods. And don’t cheap out/crap out on them.
  • I get that advertising is expensive. It’s a huge risk to your business to spend money on something you don’t know will generate any return. And you the advertiser certainly can’t guarantee return on investment so you vouch it in terms of “the more frequently you run a spot, the greater your ROI potential”, knowing most people will hear that as “you are more likely to sell more product/service if you buy more ads”. Because statistics, AMIRITE‽ Studies show.
  • Don’t try to sell me on a $15,000 advertising package (that I’m sure is a great deal) when I’ve told you three times my entire annual advertising budget is one third that amount. And don’t come back and offer to make me an even better deal by selling me “social and digital” for $5,000. One Facebook post and a couple of poorly done banner ads on your website is not worth it for me. I am very crafty at making my teensy advertising budget work relatively well in the markets I have spent a long time and a lot of energy researching. I know who my consumers are. Could I reach more of them with TV and radio? ABSOLUTELY. Am I willing/able to dump all my advertising dollars in one bucket for three months of shitty “also-ran” ads?
  • *hard stare*
  • You want a piece of the small business market? Do some research. Get your creative team on board. Learn what we need, what we want, and what we can actually realistically afford. Speak tot he dog in the language of the dog.
  • Marketing 101.
  • cenobyte
    cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.

    2 Comments

    1. But if you just pour ALL your money into his scheme for THIS year, he can make HIS sales target, and move on. Why are you being so difficult? Just try it once? For him, with whom you have NO relationship.

      Let’s put it this way: you’re not a Trump voter.

      And you’re not of the tribe of suckers born once every minute. Wonder who is.

    2. I’ll never forget the SPG seminar where Warren told a room full of mainly women to “get some stones” and do a big radio buy…

    i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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