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Ad-itudes

 

Today, we teach you how to become the Ad Client From... Heck?!? Most workers are familiar with the ad client from hell. This is the person that sucks up 96% of your time, pays bills grudgingly (if at all), never delivers on time, etc. etc. And that's not really what we want anyone to be.

But there's a lesser beastie that any good company should aim to emulate. We'll call it the client from Heck-- not nearly as much trouble as the Hell variant, but still the sort of client that is butt-kickin' assertive when it comes to getting what they want.

We'll look over the extremes, then look for the Middle Path. We'll call this as for a magazine, but really the same principles apply for doing web banner campaigns and such.

ANGEL

*ring* *ring*
"Hello, Generic Magazine Ad Sales, can I help you?"
"Yes, I'd like to take out an ad in your next few issues."
"Wonderful, did you have a specific campaign planned?"
"Yes, I read your ad rates, it's $5000 per page, so we'd like to take out 1 page in each of the next three issues."
"Great, now, our deadline for the upcoming issue is the 15th..."
"No problem, we'll get the ad to you even if we have to fedex it."
"And we require camera-ready copy, or else we have to charge extra."
"Certainly, we'll take it to a post-production place to make sure it is the proper format for you."
"And payment will be required also by the 15th."
"Of course, we'll enclose the check with the ad."
"Anything else I can help you with?"
"No, we're all set. We look forward to advertising with you!"
Analysis: This is the sort of client that ad sales folks have wet dreams about. No fuss, no bother, guaranteed payment. But the truth is, the client hasn't really done the best job they can for their company.

DEVIL

*ring* *ring*
"Hello, Generic Magazine Ad Sales, can I..."
"What are your rates?"
"Well, we start at $2000 for a quarter page, then..."
"I want a full page for $3000."
"Well, a full page is $5000, and..."
"I know that's your listed rate, but no one pays the list rate. I want a full page ad for 3K and if you want my money, you'll give it to me."
"Well, we're close to deadline for an upcoming issue and might have the free space, so I may be able to swing this by..."
"Great. That'll be the inside cover, then?"
"What?" [drops phone] "I mean, no, the inside cover is a higher rate and is already booked, but..."
"Do you really want my ad dollars or not? I thought you'd be willing to play ball. Tell you what, I'll be nice, give me the first page after the table of contents, that will suffice for this issue."
"But... that's where our editor's column is! *sigh* I can guarantee that you ad will appear in the first quarter of the magazine, near the cover article"
"Great, put us right in the cover article, sounds great. We'll get the full-color copy to you next week."
"The prices were for B&W ads."
"Well, we have a color ad, do you want to delay your print run just because you're insisting we have to redo our entire ad campaign merely because you misquoted a rate?"
"*sigh* Well, we do need the ad by Thursday as color separations ready to go to film, and we charge a $50 film fee. Or you can send film itself to avoid that charge. Our ad size is 7.5x10 inches and..."
"Oh, we'll just email it to you, in Amiga HAM format, you'll get it by the end of the week that way."
"Umm... Amiga HAM format?"
"Geeze, aren't you folks on the ball? I thought you knew what computers were."
"Can you get it in TIFF or PostScript format?"
"Sure, it'll just take an extra few days for that."
"We really have to ship to the printers early next week, so anything after Saturday won't make it into the magazine."
"Okay, okay, we can make Saturday."
"And payment needs to arrive by then, also."
"Sure, just send us an invoice by postal mail, we'll run it by accounting, they're on the ball and generally turn things around in 10 days or less, then we'll cut you a check and mail it out to you pronto. Anyway, time is money, glad we worked this out."
postscript: Ad copy arrives via fax on Saturday, as an emailed HAM file on Monday, as postscript without the necessary embedded fonts Thursday, and finally as a color photocopy by mail the following Monday, each time with a "I can't believe you couldn't read that!" comment by the client. The ad as submitted is 8.0x11", and has to be cut down by the staff to the specified 7.5x10" size, then film made. Since the original invoice is never paid, they reinvoice the client and add a $50 film fee. Client refuses to pay because 'the invoice includes additional fees that were not made clear at the time we placed the ad' and threatens to sue.


So what should an ad client ask for, and what sorts of things aren't really flexible? These can be loosely broken down like this: Price and Placement are negotiable, Deadlines are less negotiable, Paying never is.

At this point, by the way, we'll ignore co-op ads or 1/8th page sub-$20 ones. Co-ops are their own subfield, worthy of a separate essay (someday). And if you are doing low-margin ads (1/8th page or less, or classified bubbles, or similar), a lot of these negotiating rules break down. At that point, the magazine is performing (relative to cost) more service than you are paying for. It's only when you get into full ads (1/4 page or more in a reasonably circulated journal) that you can be considered a full paying client. This isn't to marginalize small ads, but simply a reflection of scope.

That said, time to haggle.

Discounts

Price is the first place to start... and it'll likely fluctuate as things go. The first thing is 'never pay retail'. Get the ad rates, but realize they are simply a stepping stone. No, you shouldn't ask for a reduction for no reason, but there's a lot of leeway.

Are you advertising in several issues? If they don't have a stated discount for this, you can request one-- after all, you're giving them guaranteed money. If they have a discount, great-- get it!

Is this your first time placing an ad with them? Ask for a small discount, since you're a newcomer. Have you advertised with them a lot previously? Ask for a discount, as a steady customer. Now, this might sound like I'm violating my 'don't just ask for a discount for no reason', but it isn't. Instead, you are providing a valid reason for them to cut you a break, in order to encourage your business.

Circulation

Since you're tossing out money, you might, just might, want to have an inkling of how many people you will be reaching. Fortunately, your friendly magazine ad sales rep will tell you a precise figure. Which is, of course, completely wrong.

You might hear a magazine has 50,000 readers. This may mean, though, they are using the standard conceit that each issue gets passed around between 3-5 readers (kudos to Palladium's "RIFTER" for actually stating that in their ad, albeit in smaller type than the promo blurb). So if you take their 'readership' and divide by 5, you're likely in the right territory, but it's still a woefully inexact figure.

Maybe you are told 'our print run was 20,000 issues'. That's nice to know, but there are a heck of a lot of ways of getting rid of issues without anyone reading them. Some may be warehoused, others stripped (more on this in a bit), others given away to Cons (where who knows how many actually get read). Print run isn't a good measure.

"10,000 issues were shipped" or "we sold 10,000 issues" gives you a better idea than just the print run, though not that much better. Shipped where? Distributors will warehouse non-returnables, so distributor orders don't necessarily count as 'read'. Con giveaways, again, are fluky.

And there's the strips. These are the mass market stores that will place a huge yet returnable order. They don't actually return things, of course, because postage is killer. Instead, they rip off the cover (strip it) and mail you back the covers as proof that it wasn't sold. You can imagine the joy this brings a publisher, to receive a box of ripped covers with an invoice requiring reimbursement for them being unsold.

So magazine orders aren't necessarily a good measure. There are two really good measures-- one takes trust, and one is overly pessimistic but almost entirely accurate. These are 'the real numbers' and the subscription base.

What I call 'the real numbers' are the editor's best assessment of the number of issues that are actually sold. This would be subscriptions plus distributor re-orders. Reorders are a useful measure of what distributors are actually passing along to retailers, and hence what is likely being sold. Given that a magazine first issue will usually outsell (and outorder) subsequent issues, that issue 2 has some overenthusiastic momentum from the issue 1 launch, etc, distributor orders usually won't be accurate or stable until the 3rd or 4th issue. By that point, it's largely a market-driven situation and hence the order tally is a good approximation of readership.

And subscriptions are the most accurate number. Subscribers are guaranteed to get (and read) the magazine, so you know the readership is at least that size. Subscription rates for most magazines are only a fraction of their total sales (10% is not an uncommon figure), but knowing their subscriber base gives you a good assessment of the magazine's viability. From a risk point of view, you know you'll reach at least that many people.

So taking the subscriber base plus post-launch distributor reorders gives you a good handle on the actual readership. In the gaming industry, subscriber bases of 2,000 and orders for 8,000 issues aren't a bad thing, providing a reasonable expectation that the audience is 10,000 readers. Get these numbers from the editor if you can. Then you can snicker when the ad sales rep says they have a readership of 50,000.

Formats

Next is formats. Find out what formats are easiest for them, then ask for a discount. And if they want Postscript or TIFF, don't send them a 300dpi GIF, or a postscript file that is missing the fonts. Remember, if you send them something incomplete or at poor resolution, they just might run it, and your ad will suffer through your own misdeed. And never send a Word file and expect them to convert it, unless you'd specifically negotiated it. Remember there are no 'standards' for shipping ads around. Each magazine has its own preferred formats. It's ultimately your responsibility to make sure your ad looks good in their chosen format.

Ask if they prefer film, camera-ready, or electronic. Ask for a small extra if you provide the film yourself (it's often cheaper to do it at a local service bureau than to pay what the magazine charges... but not always) Do they prefer electronic delivery? That's a good time to ask for a discount. Do they charge extra to make the film themselves? Ask for a reduction in that fee if you get the ad to them early.

In fact, getting the ad-- and payment-- to them early is a great way to shave a little off the price. If your ad bill will be $230, you can usually get them to 'round it off' to $200 by promising to enclose a cashier's check with the ready-to-go ad copy three weeks ahead of the deadline. Just to be classy, tell them that, if for any reason you run late, you'll naturally pay any difference, but you really want to help them reach their deadlines.

And by all means, know the specs and keep your promises! Otherwise, your credibility is shot to hell and you lose hope of getting a good rate next time. If the magazine is 8.5x11" but they say the printed area is 7.5x10", make sure your ad fits in 7.5x10". If a half-sized ad for a journal is stated to be 7x4", don't send something that is 6x5" (even if "the total area is the same").

Placement

Where your ad gets put in the magazine is a crucial detail that most advertisers either are not aware of, or trust in the (overworked) ad director to handle. But it's something you can talk out early on, to make your wishes known.

The best location in your magazine is different for different magazines, different ads, and different markets. There are few hard and fast rules, but we'll give some tips we've noticed here. Some of these are opinions, but we feel they are sound.

Having your ad placed near a relevant article is always the best placement, bar none. Think about it-- if you have a game about ancient Japan, would you be more likely to attract readers of "Samurai in AD&D" or "Hard SF gaming"? By working with the ad sales rep and the editor, you can find out what is coming up and where your ad will reach the most folks.

The inside and outside covers, front and back, are much debated as far as worth in placement. For some ads, it's the best location; for others, it might just cost more than it's worth, given that the prices for covers are higher and you could have a larger campaign in the interior.

The middle split (where the staples are in a magazine) is a good place to put a 1- or 2-page spread. It's a natural location for idle people flipping magazine to spot your ad. Meanwhile, debates about the front half versus the back half, I leave to ad pros. I'm just an editor/publisher at heart, and it's a surprisingly subtle topic.

But always talk with the editor (or, if really informed, the ad sales rep) about what their readers tend to read most. Then put your ad there. Just by being friendly and asking about their traffic patterns, you'll get (for the same price) the best placed interior ad.

If they say everyone reads the cartoon section, get your ad next to the cartoons. If they get the most feedback about their advice column, go there. A good editor will know their magazine, and know where to place your ad for best results. By being a good client, you can get this information. Editors and reps will play favorites, so being a good client will reap you tangible benefits. (Yes, I'm assuming the editor isn't lying... you gotta take some chances here.)

Remember, after all, it's in the editor's interests to have your ad succeed, so that you'll be encouraged to place more ads. As long as you aren't more trouble than you're worth, the editor and ad sales rep will want to help you as much as possible. Someone is going to get that really cushy interior location that 99% of the readers look at-- why not make sure it's you?

Web Ads

Much of the placement details were focused on magazines. For web banners and web ads, though, the same principles apply. Find out where the traffic is, and make sure your ads go there. And you don't just want generic traffic, you want targeted traffic. So work with the ad sales rep to make sure you're placed in an appropriate, well-targeted section.

Likewise, all the previous negotiation tricks apply. Work out the formats, the rates, multiple banner discounts, first-timer or steady-customer discounts, and the like. If you are doing anything beyond a short test of banner advertising or a one-shot ad, you should be able to negotiate a discounted rate for a steady campaign.

Being a good customer means in part that you making less work for the site manager, which means (in a karmic sense) you've earned a discount. For example, if you deliver your banners in the proper format, in the way the magazine asked, ahead of the deadline given; if you've also remitted payment in advance, well, you're a good customer.

As with magazines, you really do have to prove yourself before pushing for the real discounts. Everyone says that they will deliver on time, pay on time, and of course they are an expert in image formats and won't make a mistake with their banner. Most, alas, fail. But if your first ad worked out well, you're gold (as far as the web ad sales rep is concerned!) You are providing steady business for them with not much overhead; they in turn should be able to give you advice on placement and a break on price.

It's true you are taking up their time by asking traffic details, placement details, and such. But the truth is, for most people doing this work, that's a lot more fun than handling errors. Given the choice of talking about where their site shines best, or spending hours trying to get an oversized and broken JPG to load with the ad management scripts, most web folks would rather rave about their site to you. Be personable, be business-like, and know what you are doing; then ask for a discount once you've proven this.

Payment

Now to the rules for payment for ads, whether magazine or web. It's fairly straightforward, and yet this is where most companies drop the ball.

Pay for the damn thing. You'd be surprised how just paying your bill on time will make you the most beloved of ad clients. You can even negotiate an early pay discount... so many advertisers run late or default, by reducing the magazine's risk you can save some money.

Yes, everyone has cash flow problems. Yes, running a game business is a difficult task. Yes, you have product to produce. But if you are asking about taking out an ad, either you can pay for it or you can't. If you can't pay, whatever the reason, you're asking for charity, not business. So budget your ad money in advance-- not from expected revenues or profits, but from your actual cash flow.

And though this may seem similarly hardball, don't expect a discount just by asking for one. After all, almost all ad sales already expect payment by the time the ad is received. You don't get any bonus points for saying "Yeah, you say you want the payment on time, but I know most people don't do this, and I will, really I will."

Instead, be clever. If the deadline isn't for a month or more off, ask if you can drop a check to them this week 'just to make sure you get the payment while our cash flow is good'. Then you have a negotiating tool. You can ask for a small discount. Or you can use this as leverage to get better placement, or get them to do the film for free, or some other courtesy.

Delivery

I'm not going to suggest you get the ad to the magazine on time. I'm going to tell you to deliver it early. There are a dozen things that can go wrong on either end of the process. If you get your ad copy to the magazine early, you've just drastically increased your chances that it'll work.

Which would you prefer? To send something regular mail (for $3) so that the magazine has time to do test proofs and the layout people can place it without rushing? Or to express mail ($13) an ad which ends up coming out fuzzy and with extra whitespace because there were slight mismatches between your specs and the magazines?

Let's be practical here. No one has infinite time. But you're one outfit producing an ad for the magazine, and each magazine is receiving dozens of ads. A magazine has a fixed print schedule that never ends, and they always have to be preparing for the next issue. And they are likely plagued by many deadline-driven problems, in which your ad could get lost in the shuffle.

You get to choose your own time schedule. Their responsibility is the entire magazine. Your ad is, ultimately, just your responsibility. So give yourself the time to do it right, but also give the magazine time to make sure there are no problems. Yes, you're paying them-- but if you were smart, you negotiated better rates already in return for being a good, savvy ad client. So prove that you are-- deliver early.

Comp Copies

I was surprised that this was a sore point with some magazines, but I'll give my take on it. When you take out your ad, request a comp copy of the issue(s) it will appear in, sent to your business address.

Ah, but the cries come back, "Shouldn't you already be familiar with the magazine?" or "Why advertise in a magazine you don't personally read?" All valid points, but...

There are a lot of magazines out there, and busy professionals don't necessarily read them all. Further, you really want a copy for your office files, which may be completely distinct from your personal reading copy. And finally, after just paying over $40 for an ad, asking the company to fork out $2 to send you a comp is not asking for a lot.

More to the point, getting a copy of the issue is crucial for seeing how your ad actually came out. This in itself will affect how you might change the ad or rebook it. So ask for-- and get-- a comp, and the publisher that wants rebookings should provide it. End of story.

By now we've set out how to be informed, assertive, and efficient. From this, you can get a better deal, have a more successful ad campaign, and set your company's rep as being more clueful than the rest. You've become the ad client from heck-- not a raging firestorm, but someone who knows the score and knows what they want. Someone who isn't afraid to make reasonable demands. Someone that understands how the whole industry works.

Which in itself, is good word-of-mouth advertising.

Until next month,
Sandy
sandy@rpg.net

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