Advertising is a big business, with its own language, terms, and protocols that can be daunting to outsiders. Nonprofits sometimes ignore or even disdain paid advertising in favor of PSA’s and earned media coverage. Some nonprofit leaders have a passionate belief that their issues are so important that they should never have to pay for public attention and that news coverage alone will carry the day for them. Although that sentiment is lofty, it is misguided for two reasons.
First, the tools and techniques of advertising are generally adaptable to any communications strategy. Survey research, media content analysis, focus groups, and other components of a sophisticated communications strategy all started in the world of commercial marketing and advertising. Focus groups are a good example. Before launching a multimillion-dollar national ad campaign, you should test your themes and language on scientifically selected groups that represent potential audiences. That way, you can catch potential flaws or make refinements to your strategy before committing serious resources.
Second, paid advertising can jump-start a media outreach campaign and is a useful complement to it over the long term. An example is the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which has consistently used newspaper ads to reinforce its highly successful efforts at obtaining news coverage. Many public education campaigns over the years have bought space in a prominent newspaper as part of an introductory or “launch” strategy.
Do not automatically assume that advertising is too expensive for your organization. Advertising need not break your organization’s budget. Inexpensive but effective campaigns can be developed and can help pay the costs. For example, we noted earlier that a full-page nationwide ad in the New York Times might normally cost $75,000. But a small organization like the Native Forest Council in Eugene, Oregon, had good results with a full-page ad placed only in selected editions of the paper on a “space available” basis that guaranteed that the ad would appear at some time within a 14-day period.
Another way to make a newspaper ad more affordable is to join forces with other groups to purchase a “signature ad” that carries the names of prominent individuals and sponsoring organizations, all of whom share some portion of the ad’s cost. This strategy can also have value as an organizing tool. Getting groups to agree on ad copy is a good way to find their common ground. When the ad is published, it gives exposure to all of the signatories in the context of working toward a common goal. Some groups still include coupons that the reader can send in for more information to make a donation, but the popular and more effective practice is to drive readers to a Web site where they can take action. But realize that fundraising ads rarely pay for themselves.
Commercials on local TV stations can also be surprisingly affordable, at rates ranging from $100 for 30 seconds in small-town markets to as much as $20,000 for 30 seconds in a major metropolitan area. Likewise, 30-second local radio ads can range from less than $100 to $1,500, depending on market size. Few companies produce ads for their own products. Most ad campaigns are designed and produced by advertising agencies, subject to the company’s approval.
Advertising on the Internet has become hugely popular. Banner ads usually are placed at the top or bottom of a Web page are a common form of Internet advertising. Although banner ads have lost some popularity, expect them to be around for some time to come. A banner ad can be static (the least interesting format) It can include animation or a short video. Most importantly, with a quick click of a mouse, Internet ads connect visitors to your Web site to learn more, donate money, contact a legislator, sign a petition or take some other action.
Your organization can create basic static ads or simple animation in- house with the help of software that you may purchase or even download free from the Internet. Then you’ll also need someone who is skilled at writing short, compelling, action-oriented copy. Finally, keep in mind that the ad must open quickly. Consider the frustration you experience when you click on an item that takes forever to load. Well, that’s the way it is with Internet ads. If your ad opens at a snail’s pace, the reader will become aggravated and move on. Avoid this scenario by contacting a graphic designer who will tell you how to size your ad so that it opens fast. Once your ads are ready to be launched you can contact the Web sites yourself about costs, or you can hire an agency to make the media buys.