Negotiating Mass-Media Advertising for a Self-Storage Business: TV and Radio

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By Randy Smith

So, you’ve taken the plunge and decided to add mass media to your marketing mix. Great idea! Now you’re faced with a host of decisions, not the least of which is how much to pay for it and how to know you’re getting the best deal at whichever station(s) you choose to use. Here are a few thoughts from my experience at having spent more than a quarter of a million dollars on radio and TV advertising over the past handful of years spent marketing self-storage.

Production of your video and audio spots should be free in most markets because they’re built into the price of advertising. The only exception may be if you’re doing a video shoot in an exotic location, need extensive special effects or require experienced acting talent or singing for a musical jingle. In those cases, a talent fee is appropriate. If you purchase long-term advertising of six months or more, many stations will give you production credit to revise your spot once per quarter. If you don’t revise it, you get a credit you can use to buy extra spots.

Initially, always request to deal with the local sales manager, not a salesperson. Sales managers usually have come up through the ranks and were the most successful salespeople. They also have more pull and authority to cut special deals on pricing and throw in extra spots to sweeten the deal. They will offer concessions, too, because they want to close the deal and look good to their sales staff!

I let all media reps and sales managers know they compete against each other. You’re much more likely to get competitive pricing if the station you’re dealing with knows it’s competing against others for your business. They all know each other’s pricing—just like we do in storage. Consider holding a cattle-call to accomplish this. This is a collective meeting with all station sales reps or managers in the same room, where you tell them all about your business, target market, ideas and such.

You also tell them that if they’re in the room, they’re in the running for your business. Tell them they need to prove to you that their station will reach your target demographic, and they should be aggressive in their rate structure. Let them know you’re also open to their creative ideas to get your message out. Hint: In any creative effort, the focus should be on what the customer will gain by choosing you specifically, not just a rundown of all your features.

Find Your Target Market

It’s extremely helpful if you analyze your current customer base by using a simple survey and offering a prize to encourage participation. You need to know what your customers' media usage is like, including favorite radio stations, what time they listen, favorite local TV stations for news and weather, what time they watch, etc. If you already have a large contingent of customers who listen to country music, for example, then you may reach a similar group of potential customers by advertising on country-music stations.

If your survey is specific enough, you can even determine your target age groups, or if you need to go for a more male or female audience. This data is gold to your media reps because they can use it to pull specific reports on time slots and programs to hit your desired demographic.

With radio, people are loyal to stations. With television, they’re more loyal to particular programs. If you’re choosing to use both mediums, try a rotating schedule for radio on just one or two stations to brand your message. Rotating spots are usually cheaper than requesting specific time slots.

For radio rotators, I choose to advertise between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. in our market, and like to see a good number of spots in the schedule in the morning drive. With television, I don’t advertise in prime time, but will schedule spots during evening news and morning shows, like local spots during "Good Morning America." We’ve also experienced very good results with spots in late night shows following the late news.

Pricing and Frequency

Your ultimate cost of a campaign on any particular station will be determined by station popularity (ratings), time slots, station inventory and time of year. Political season and holiday retail seasons reduce inventory and drive up cost. Committing to a longer campaign early on can help keep rates constant. Higher ratings of stations and programs and busy listen times also increase cost. Each media market is different, and there are 210 in the United States, so rates will vary.

Gather the data and compare numbers. Ask your media rep how you can get a good mix of reach and frequency at your allotted budget. For a long TV campaign of six months or more, try to hit a frequency of at least three times per month on as big a reach as you can. Operators who don’t have competitors with TV ads don’t need as much frequency to stand out or be remembered.

For radio, a two and a half frequency in a two-week period is ideal. Ask your media reps to explain reach and frequency more in-depth to you.

Finally, commit to be consistent. You cannot brand yourself to the masses in a couple of weeks or just a few months. An ongoing presence will be needed. If you’re patient and consistent, you’ll be richly rewarded with increased occupancy and top-of-the-market rates!

Randy A. Smith currently serves as director of operations for Another Closet Self-Storage in McAllen, Texas, an Inside Self-Storage Top Operator. He has just released a free, mass-media “how-to guide” on his personal self-storage marketing website, available at www.moresquarefoot.com. Contact him at freeadvice@moresquarefoot.com.

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