Effective Advertising

The Value of Planning

By Laura Allen
[Business Side]

Advertising comes in many different forms: word of mouth, print ads, radio, and television. The Internet alone has many different platforms, including having your own website, banner ads, links, blogs, e-mail blasts, and social and business networks. Opportunities to spend advertising dollars come at you from every direction. You, as the media buyer, have to decide which way to best spend your money.

Marketing differs from advertising in that marketing encompasses everything you do to promote your business, from the greeting on your voice mail to making the personal effort to tell two new people every day about your business. Advertising is marketing that costs money, and proportionately, the more effective your other marketing efforts, the less money you will have to pay for advertising.

Unless you have unlimited funds, it’s important to take as many steps as possible to ensure the success of your advertising by following a few simple guidelines:

• Plan your advertising budget.

• Choose the right venues for spending your money.

• Develop an advertising schedule.

• Be consistent.

• Stress your professionalism.

• Track returns on your advertising investments.

Plan Your Ad Budget

Most marketing books advise that during your first year or two in business, you should spend 30 percent of your budget on advertising. That’s a big chunk of money most people would prefer to keep in their pocket. Especially when just starting out, nearly one-third of your budget might not cover a year’s worth of ads in the newspaper, particularly in metropolitan areas where advertising is more expensive than it is for those in rural areas and small towns. Advertising expenditures decrease with time as word-of-mouth referrals become your primary source of business. After five years, advertising should account for no more than 5 percent of your budget.

More importantly, by utilizing as many no-cost and low-cost methods of promoting your business as possible, that 30 percent could be substantially reduced from the very outset. Performing community service, actively taking part in networking opportunities in your area (such as participating in chamber of commerce events), utilizing all the free Internet networking opportunities, and bartering for advertising are just a few ways to save money.

When it comes to my own budget, I have gone against the advice of marketing books by using the residual method. That means my bills are paid first; I budget for advertising with what’s left over. My philosophy is if I’m out of business because I can’t pay my rent and utility bill, no amount of advertising will help. I don’t put advertising on credit cards; I don’t want to be paying for the ad in Sunday’s newspaper (plus interest) a year from now. That policy keeps me from going in debt for something intangible.

Decide realistically how much you can afford to spend each month, put it in writing, and avoid impulse spending. Refer to your budget to make the judgment call of whether you can really afford a particular option.

Choose the Right Venues

There are many choices when deciding where to spend your money. Partner advertising opportunities abound on restaurant menus, drugstore prescription bags, grocery carts, benches at the bus stop, and dozens of other places.

Don’t choose an advertising medium just because it’s cheap. If your child begs you to buy an ad on the Little League calendar, of course you’re going to. But if it’s not your child who’s asking, consider that the only people apt to see that calendar are the other parents with kids in Little League.

Consider the cost-per-person formula. Say an ad on a calendar that will be distributed to 1,000 people is $200. If you spend $200 on a newspaper ad that reaches 40,000 people, a radio spot that will reach 100,000 people, or a Web promotion that can potentially be seen by everyone who has Internet access, it’s obvious which choices will give you better exposure for the money.

Niche publications are what the name implies—they reach a certain segment of the population. Advertising in a sports publication targets athletes; if you specialize in sports massage that may be a good place to spend money, but it may not be the best way to reach other segments of the population. Again, advertise wherever it makes you feel good, but keep in mind how many people are going to see the ad compared to the money you are spending for it.

Develop a Schedule

Creating an advertising schedule that can coexist with your budget requires advance planning. For instance, there are times of the year when you want to give gift certificate sales a big push, including Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduation time, and Christmas.

Most newspapers plan certain issues well in advance. For example, my local paper publishes magazine inserts throughout the year: a Health and Fitness supplement, a Best of the County magazine, and so forth. People tend to save those issues and extra issues are distributed through the chamber of commerce and tourist centers to newcomers. Develop a good relationship with your advertising sales representative so he or she can let you know at the first of each year when such issues are going to be published.

Your local chamber likely plans events on an annual basis that you’ll want to participate in or help sponsor in exchange for the publicity—like Founder’s Day, Octoberfest, and the Christmas parade. Scheduling in advance gives you the time to budget the money for participation and allows you to have a realistic idea of how much is left for necessities, like signage, business cards, and brochures.

Be Consistent

When it comes to advertising, consistency is important. Develop a few ads that you can use all the time with minor wording changes; for example, by changing Mother’s Day to Father’s Day. Use fonts that are easy to read, and use the same one every time so it’s instantly recognizable.

If your business name does not explain what services you provide, be sure that’s mentioned. A pregnancy massage therapist might use the name “MommyCare.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t convey the services offered.

The crucial elements of a good advertisement are your business name, phone number, website URL, e-mail address, and location. Other options include pricing, discounts, or special offers. One caveat: listing your prices in places where your ad can’t be changed for a long period of time, such as the phone book, locks you into a position where you can’t raise your fees; it may put you at risk of making customers irate because you’re charging more than your ad states.

I’ve heard therapists complain, “I placed an ad six weeks ago and didn’t get anything from it.” Expecting that kind of return on investment is unrealistic. Market research shows that individuals need to see an ad 6–10 times before acting on it, so placing one ad is no more effective than placing none. If you’re choosing print ad venues, choose the ones you think will reach your intended audience. For example, my local paper runs a “Pamper Me” page every Friday. That’s a good, steady place for my ad. Many papers run a “Community Happenings” page, where public service announcements are paid for by sponsoring advertisers. Having your ad look the same, and appearing consistently in the same place, will keep you in the minds of the public.

Google AdWords and banner ads that appear on the websites of other businesses are popular ways to advertise online. You’ll pay-per-click for Google AdWords, but you could trade banner advertising with other local merchants at no cost. For instance, people who are thinking of moving to your area frequently visit realtor websites, so reciprocate banner ads with a popular real estate firm in your town. The public almost expects every business to have a website nowadays; being able to refer people to your website can save you time. You can also sell gift certificates and even book appointments online.

If you’re not marketing-savvy, perhaps you can barter bodywork with a professional to help spruce up your advertising, or with someone to build your website. ABMP membership actually comes with a free website that you can have up and running in just a few minutes.

Stress Professionalism

With the exception of our professional associations’ listings, where you must be a member in order to be included, the Internet sometimes makes it difficult for consumers to separate legitimate therapists from those offering illicit services.

Be careful with your website and other Internet listings. For instance, not only do you not want links on your own page to connect to anything of questionable nature, you never want to place your link on any other sites that link to something we don’t want massage to be associated with. That means not only sex, but Internet gambling sites, dating services (even if they’re legitimate), inappropriate humor, anything associated with liquor, drugs, racist or prejudicial content, and so forth.

Your ads should make it clear that you are a professional massage therapist. Include your license number, your national certification or advanced certifications, your modalities, your professional affiliations, and anything that will make it obvious that you are providing therapeutic, nonsexual services. Remember that in many states, massage therapists are required to include their license number in all advertisements.

Track Your ROI

Keep a checklist on your desk for tracking the answer to the question, “Where did you hear about us?” You may also track specific promotions. For example, if you place a coupon for first-time clients in the newspaper, how many are redeemed? In short, is your return on investment (ROI) impressive?

My tracking shows that more than 90 percent of our clinic’s clients come from word-of-mouth referrals; 8 percent from the Yellow Pages; and the rest from a mixture of our website, radio, and print ads. Your results may be different; a year or two of careful tracking should demonstrate where you want to make adjustments in the venues you are using or the amount of money you are spending in a certain place.


 Laura Allen is the author of Plain & Simple Guide to Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork Examinations (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009) and One Year to a Successful Massage Therapy Practice (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008). A third book, A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Business, will be published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins in January 2010. She is the owner of THERA-SSAGE, an alternative wellness clinic and continuing education facility, in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. Visit her website at www.thera-ssage.com.