Clients ask me all the time about newspaper advertising. Should we do it? How often? How large should my ad be? The answer used to be simpler. Today, however, I am more and more disinclined to recommend newspaper advertising not only to my restaurant clients, but all clients--unless they have the budgets to do it right.
The fact is, newspaper readership has been on the decline for years now, and now with the proliferation of 24 hour news networks and the Internet, that decline will only continue. To compensate for declines in subscription rates, newspapers have had to rely on increases in advertising rates to stay profitable. In the Tampa Bay area, for example, BOTH major dailies, the Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times have become so desperate that they have trimmed an entire column inch from the width of the paper due to paper costs and declining ad revenues!
Beyond that, I believe that newspaper is an ineffective medium for a number of other very simple reasons beyond cost.
Studies have shown that newspaper readership in consumers under the age of 54 continues to decline, and the percentages shrink the younger you go. Furthermore study by R&I showed that high income households ($75k+) rely on word of mouth or recommendations from friends and reviews, not newspapers. Unless your sales rep can prove that his/her publication is blanketing your demographic, you're getting a lot of reach in regard to circulation, but you're giving an awful lot up to waste.
I read the newspper every day, cover to cover. But I could not tell you a single ad that I can recall from the past week, even today. That's because newspapers are cluttered with small space advertising that no one can see. The reason for so many small ads is because that's all anyone can afford! The only way to do newspaper advertising well, in my opinion, is to do it big. You don't have to do a whole page, but to stand out, you need to be the big dog on the page. If you're convinced that print advertising is essential to your media mix--and for some it may be, I don't deny that--suck it up and run fewer but larger ads. The chances of your ad being seen and recalled will be greatly enhanced.
I'll make this simple and quick. Newspapers charge a premium for color printing. Because there are fewer advertisers, color charges are higher than ever--in some cases more than the charge for space itself. But here's an even bigger point: Most resraurants fail to invest in food photography that creates any sense of appetite appeal. Take an average quality photo of a dish, convert it to black and white and print it on the cheapest paper this side of a public rest area with the cheapest ink and what do you get. BLECH! You'd better have one heck of a price point to sell that piece of black and white steak.
I've already made my statement on discounts in other areas of the site, but in case you've missed it, brands that rely on constant discounts and coupons for anything other than promotions or to encourage one time sampling are cutting of their nose despite their face. Consumers become so accustomed to seeing coupons that it gets in the back of their mind that, unless something's on sale, there's absolutely no reason to go to your restaurant. For instance, we were working with a chain of steak houses. They have been running the same advertising in the same spot in the same newspapers for years. We recommended a change, a suggestion which the client quickly rebuked saying, "We stopped once, and our sales plummeted. We're never doing that again." Proved him right, right? No. If he hadn't turned a deaf ear, he might have really heard what this told him. What consumers were really telling him was a) your product isn't worth your every day price, b) we care more about your discount than we do about your food. You can create excitement without it being about price. You can offer a menu feature for a limited time at a certain price. To learn what works, watch the big boys.
Okay by now I'm sure I've come across as really anti-newspaper. But not entirely. Understand that most of my experience in planning and placing media for my clients has been in larger markets. But in hometown America, the local newspaper is still extremely relevant. My mother, who lives in Venice, FL, relies on her local paper because she'd never see anything about her town in Sarasota's paper, let alone on the TV news. Smaller papers can also be a lot easier to negotiate with, and may even be able to throw in a review or an article about your restaurant with a long term contract. The readers will never know it was part of a deal! But in a bigger town where "journalistic integrity" is the watchword, forget it.
If you believe that newspaper is an effective medium for you--and I said that it may be!--or if you are thinking about it, here are some tips:
- Avoid publications with unpaid circulations. Weekly entertainment rags may sound appealing for the price, but the figures they give you are not circulation, but distribution. Why pay a rate for distribution when you have no idea how many copies of those 90,000 papers were actually read?
- Control the placement of your ad. Demand that your rep guarantee page three or page five of the section you're in (near the top if you can get it). You may pay a premium, but your ad will have a better chance of being seen.
- Ask for free stuff. If you're committed to spending thousands of dollars, shouldn't they be giving you something for free? And don't believe 'em when they say they can't do it. Which leads me to my last point...
- Don't believe everything your sales rep tells you.