Shooting for Tutorfair's TV campaign

How to commission a small business ad campaign

It can be a costly mistake or a fast-track to brand recognition - so how can you make sure an ad campaign pays off?

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 05 Feb 2016

Advertising can be the turning point for a business in breaking through to its target audience and establishing a brand. But often the world of agencies and media networks can seem a world away from small businesses. It doesn’t have to be.

Find the right agency

Nobody wants to waste a great deal of money on advertising campaigns they’re not sure will provide results – least of all small businesses. When you’re sussing out potential agencies, a useful starting point is finding out about their experience of working in your sector. 

Natural skincare brand Faith in Nature commissioned its first campaign last year. ‘The usual process is to get agencies to pitch, but we didn’t think that was necessary,’ Joy Parkinson, Faith in Nature’s MD, says. ‘For us it was about finding people on the same wavelength.’

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Depending on the opportunity you have and what your marketing budget is, you may be able to experiment a little. Cab comparison service minicabit rolled out an ad campaign across the London Underground over Christmas. ‘We decided to run two different ads during the campaign.' says CEO Amer Hasan. 'One with a more functional tone, highlighting the ability to compare cab quotes for trips in and around the M25, the other a more humorous ad with a Santa Claus theme indicating our UK-wide reach.’ This allowed the business to assess which elements of its messaging worked best.

Track your progress

Hasan says it’s vital you are able to track the response to an ad campaign ‘whether through a unique phone number, website URL or promo code’. Minicabit gave each of the ads featured ‘a unique promo code offering a discount on their cab booking so we could measure the response to each and get an idea of which theme resonated more’.

Get your message straight

Brian Millar, strategy director at creative consultancy Sense Worldwide, says you have to be ‘really disciplined’ about focusing on your product or service's distinctive quality. ‘Get it down to one a word – Porsche, fast. Volvo, safe. If car companies with far more complex product ranges than yours can do it, so can you.’

When preparing for its first TV ad campaign, van leasing firm Vanarama held a number of focus groups ‘to get right to heart of understanding our customers’ pain’, according to MD Andy Alderson. ‘We could therefore target our advertising directly at the channels they watched the most.’

Size doesn’t always matter

Agencies can talk through which format your ad campaign should take and what might be best suited for your firm, and it doesn’t have to be on a massive scale. ‘You can "boost" a post on Facebook for phenomenally affordable rates,’ Lucinda Brook, director at Marketing Clout, says. She uses the example of a luxury ski chalet firm – ‘For £20, we reached 49,000 individuals with 5,400 engagements.’

Make sure your voice is heard

While having an agency can provide you with expertise in areas you may be less knowledgeable about, that doesn’t mean taking a back seat in the process. ‘Don’t be intimidated by people in agencies; you don’t have to follow conventions,’ Parkinson advises. ‘If you want to work a certain way, find an agency that is happy to work with you in that way. If you want to save some money then accept it may take a bit more input on your part.’

The small screen isn’t out of reach

TV isn’t off the table as an option. Costs of shooting and developing a TV ad have fallen in recent years – small firm Tutorfair recently spent two days filming its first commercial and spent less than £50,000 altogether.The ad aired more than 100 times in a couple of weeks. Co-founder Andrew Ground says, ‘We were looking for a marketing channel which would reach the largest audience most cost effectively. I’d also seen the halo effect that TV advertising can have on other channels.’

Patience is a virtue

If you decide to progress with a TV campaign, it’s worth noting that not many ‘will provide a positive return on investment immediately’ as Mike Longden co-founder of thecoalshed, which specialises in Direct Response TV marketing, points out. ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was a household name.'

But be optimistic

Not all campaigns will take off immediately, but you need to be prepared for increased interest off the back of them. ‘With hindsight we would have put more time and resource into ensuring our systems could cope with the increased volume that TV delivered,’ Alderson agrees. ‘They were quality problems to have but if we could have changed something about our first campaign it would have been preparing everyone for the increase in volume.’

Not all small firms will need big campaigns and it’s worth researching your options to see if smaller, targeted social efforts would be more likely to yield results. At the same time, if you’re planning for something on a bigger scale, teaming up with an agency that will suit your brand is the main priority. Whatever your decision, Jack Briggs, MD of marketing agency Reverb has one final word of warning – ‘Ensure that any content the agency creates is returned to you at the end of an agreement.’

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