Finding Alternatives to One-size-fits-all Advertising

By Jim Carper

If I want to buy a car, Toyota offers a Corolla, Camry and Lexus. If I go on vacation, Marriott offers me the choice of a Fairfield Inn, Courtyard by Marriott and JW Marriott.

But if I want to buy advertising space, magazine publishers offer one choice. (Two actually: Take it or leave it.) B2B publishers don’t offer a good-better-best option. They publish one magazine.

How do we serve the would-be advertisers who can’t afford even the smallest page rate? It’s not like these firms don’t believe in advertising, they just can’t afford your rates. So they turn to the cheapest publication in the competitive set. If that’s not you, you are missing out on revenue.

There is no good-better-best option in B2B. Publishers force advertisers to buy the entire circulation. That’s like Macy’s making me buy one of everything in its men’s department when all I can afford are socks and underwear.

Publishers need to create a “good” product to complement their “better” flagship publication. Publishers have two assets — their circulation and their editorial content. They need to exploit both and recombine them into new publications.

Here is an opportunity to use the pending names in the circulation file. You’ve paid to acquire the names; you might as well use them now instead of waiting for a subscriber to drop out.

Your good product comes with less circulation; thus, ad rates are priced accordingly. This magazine has lower paper, postage and printing needs. You select the names in the circ file according to criteria that make the most sense for your market. You could build a list taking every an Nth name. A better decision-making approach is to be customer-focused. Ask the would-be advertisers who they want to reach and go from there.

A good car has no power windows, GPS navigation systems and DVD players. Your good magazine has neither frequency bonuses nor agency discounts. There are no preferred positions. You fill the magazine from the front to the back, first come, first served. There is only one ad size — a full page. You do not offer terms; advertisers pre-pay by credit card (wave “bye-bye” to collection issues). You run a tight 75/25 ad-edit ratio to squeeze out every drop of profitability.

You fill the good magazine with editorial that has been repurposed from the “better” product. It is not uniquely prepared but it still has value. Think about new products, calendar listings, survey results, how-to articles, company profiles, and roundtable proceedings. The editorial in the good publication could be running concurrently in the flagship.

The additional labor to produce this publication falls on the production department to make up the pages and assemble the ads.

What will happen with this good product is that companies get in the habit of advertising — with you, not your low-priced competitors. When their business increases, they step up to your better flagship publication (which charges higher rates) in order to reach a wider audience of potential customers. But even if they stick with the good publication, you still capture some or all of their ad dollars. And that’s not a bad deal.

ASBPE member Jim Carper has started new magazines and revitalized old, tired magazines for large and small publishers. Currently an independent contractor, he is editing a new-products tabloid, consulting with a website owner, creating e-newsletter content for a marketer, and blogging for various clients. See more at and Gift & Home Today.

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