Can You Hear Me Now?

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Whether you are selling horses, boarding horses or giving riding lessons, well-executed advertising stimulates readers to contact you. Advertising should be the steady drumbeat that keeps current clients and potential clients aware of your business. If your advertising is an afterthought, you are probably wasting hard-earned dollars. Four equine advertising pros offer advice here to help you get more bang for your advertising bucks.

1. Make advertising a budget priority. Your business can only be successful if people know you are there, says Cindy Engels, director of sales for the regional Equine Journal. Nicole Fults of Fults Media Management, a full-service equine advertising agency, recommends five percent of gross sales as a starting point for the advertising budget of a small equine business. If you don’t think you can afford that, start somewhere with a figure you feel comfortable spending. Build the cost of your ad campaign into your fees, says media buyer Sue Aker of SMA Media Resources.

2. Be persistent and consistent. Never stop advertising, says Engels. You can cut back on your advertising program by reducing ad sizes or reducing ad frequency, but being there is critical. Bob Banner, the publisher of The Chronicle of the Horse, points out that marketing research shows people generally must see an ad at least three times before they are likely to respond.

3. Plan a year at a time. Sit down and look at your business cycle; then map out an advertising strategy that supports your busy and slow times, says Engels. For example, if you are advertising your breeding stallion, start advertising in December and continue through March or April. Maintain some budget flexibility so you can take advantage of opportunities that come up during the year. Since most magazine deadlines occur two months before the publication’s cover date, planning ahead also means your summer camp ad materials will be ready on time even though it’s still snowing outside. Fults reminds advertisers that they must budget for ad production (by graphic artists, copywriters, photographers and illustrators) as well as space reservations in the media they select.

4. Know your best customers. Business gurus are fond of the “80/20 rule” which says that usually just 20 percent of your customers provide 80 percent of your income. It makes sense, then, to direct your advertising toward that top twenty. Publications have media kits that describe their mission, their reach and the demographics of their average reader.

5. Choose appropriate media. If you are boarding horses or giving riding lessons, Aker points out, it may make more sense to advertise in local newspapers than in regional equestrian media. If you are holding an event, however, regional equestrian media may be your best buy. If you are selling horses, consider whether you will be comfortable dealing with long distance buyers and how far are you willing to ship.

6. Frequency beats size or color. Whether you have $3,000 or $10,000 to spend, says Fults, don’t blow it all on a few large, splashy ads. Greater frequency in black and white also pays off more than an occasional ad in color, she says.

7. Study publication rate cards. The rate card tells you how much different size, black and white, spot color and full color ads will cost each time you run them—the cost per ad goes down as the frequency goes up. Read the rate card carefully and understand your obligations because it is basically your contract. Be aware, says Fults, that rate card ad prices may assume that the publication will prepare your ads (which means the publication, not you, owns the ad—an important point if you want to use the same ad in several magazines). Publications typically give advertisers a 15 percent discount if they provide artwork that is ready to go to the printer. You can use this discount to help pay for the services of graphic designers, photographers, ad agencies and media buyers.

8. Ask for extras. Always ask ad representatives what other discounts or extra bonuses are available, says Banner. You may be able to get free spot color in special promotional sections or the publication might increase the size of an ad at no cost.

9. Study media demographics. If you run a reining barn and want to advertise in a publication that reaches both reiners and cutters, find out what percent of the magazine’s readers are interested in reining. If you are selling horses, are your prices within reach of the publication’s average readers?

10. Check circulation figures. Banner notes that paid circulation or controlled circulation magazines mailed to people who have opted to receive them (see sidebar) give your ads a greater chance of reaching their intended audience than controlled circulation publications that are distributed in piles to tack shops, feed stores or other venues.

11. Make your ads visually appealing. Your ad is competing with hundreds of others for the attention of readers. You have only a second or two to attract their eyes before they move on. Engels strongly recommends using a photo in ads. She also reminds advertisers to use legible fonts and that properly used white space can be a critical design element. Aker advises using a logo and creating a recognizable ad style that readers will associate with your business.

12. Use great photos, not just good ones. A bad photo may be worse than no photo at all, Engels believes. Photos must be crisp, bright, and have clean backgrounds. Whether you are sending an actual photo or a digital file, the bigger the better if you want quality reproduction. Magazines can only produce the quality you send them, she says.

13. Stop readers with a great headline. Your headline should arouse curiosity, Banner says. A question, for example, begs an answer and the answer should be whatever you are selling.

14. Stress benefits in ad copy. Banner also encourages advertisers to stress benefits, not features. If your horse has won something this year, advertise it as a benefit to a potential new owner. He also likes bulleted information because it makes it easy for readers to grasp your points.

15. Don’t overload an ad with information. Banner and others warn to avoid the temptation to overload your ad with too much information. Leave enough unsaid that people will want to call and ask you more questions. Ads with too much information can look cluttered and difficult to read, discouraging potential clients.

16. Limit changes to limit costs. Running the same ads over several months keeps down design costs while it builds reader recognition. Check ad sizes carefully and work with your graphic designer to develop ads that are easily adapted to fit in different publications.

17. Make it easy to respond. An ad can’t do its job if it doesn’t contain easy to find contact information, Aker points out. Your ad should include an address, phone number, fax number, e-mail address and website information wherever appropriate.

18. Be ready when people call. Ads are only useful to stimulate a response, Banner points out. Selling occurs after that response. Be ready with appropriate sales information such as a brochure describing your services or a video of a horse for sale.

19. Have realistic expectations. A single ad is unlikely to pull more than a few responses, Engels says. Don’t expect it to fill your clinic or sell four horses. That is why consistency is so important to successful advertising.

20. Track results. Keep track of ad responses. Ask people who call where they heard about you and what ad they saw. Typically, says Fults, it takes at least a year to gauge the effectiveness of product advertising. Over time, you will begin to see patterns that will help you understand which publications, headlines, and advertising copy work best.

21. Test. Try running ads with different photos or different copy to see if they pull more responses than ads you have used for awhile. Try a new publication to see if it performs. Business cycles change, demographics change, publication readership can change and your advertising program must remain flexible.

Know The Lingo

When comparing how effective publications may be in reaching your target audience, pay close attention to their circulation figures. Ask for a statement of circulation and find out whether these figures have been audited by an independent research agency such as the Audit Bureau of Circulations. If the answer “no” (a very likely case for the smaller publications in the equestrian field), make sure you ask enough questions about how the magazine is distributed and who really reads it.

Circulation—paid. This is the number of people who have paid for a subscription to a publication. It is NOT the same thing as the total number of publications distributed, since that figure can include free copies given away at events and other non-paid distribution. People who have paid for a publication are more likely to read it.

Circulation—pass along. Magazines assume that a single copy will be read by others in the same household. Total circulation or readership includes the “pass along” figure. This is NOT a guaranteed number, however.

Controlled circulation. This means that the publication itself controls who reads it in some fashion. Piles of magazines are left at stores or events for customers to pick up. Or it may mean that the publication is mailed only to people who request that they receive it. The latter are more likely to be motivated readers and buyers.

If stacks of publications are left for pickup, ask how many outlets the magazine uses. Ask where the piles are left—at the counter or in a back corner? If you know any of the outlets, call and ask them where they display it. Does it disappear quickly or do copies get thrown away each month?

Cost-per-thousand. The breakout of the cost of an ad to reach 1,000 readers.

Demographics. Information about a publication’s readers—where they live, the type of riding they do, how many horses they own, how much they spend annually on things like feed, tack, trucks and other consumer goods. The more you know about your own best customers, the easier it will be for you to choose the media that reach them.

Media kit. A packet of information including the magazine’s rate card, plus demographic information used to sell advertising. —BK

A Case Study: Whimsy Brook Farm

“Advertising is very expensive and you don’t get any immediate return,” says Candace Benyei, Ph.D., who, along with her veterinarian husband Dr. Christian Benyei, owns and operates Whimsy Brook Farm, Ltd., in Redding, Conn. “If you are pinched for cash—which is typical for a horse business—it feels like you’re throwing money away.”

Benyei’s advertising campaign is complicated by the farm’s wide ranges of services. The farm is a full-service breeding operation with a stallion at stud, a few broodmares, and trained youngsters for sale. The farm also offers boarding, private and semi-private lessons, clinics for both children and adults, and a summer camp. The need to appeal to so many different types of customers makes it a challenge to develop effective ads and choose appropriate media.

To further complicate Whimsy Brook’s marketing, the farm recently became the base of operations for the Whole Health Equine Clinic, concentrating on alternative medicine.

Like many horse businesses, Benyei admits that she has not been very disciplined about her advertising program in the past. Last year she worked to remedy that. First she studied her competition and analyzed how her own business was similar to and different from them. She also thought hard about who her best customers were, where they tended to live geographically, and the type of services that they most often requested.

She quickly realized she was not trying to reach “everyman.” Benyei’s classical approach to riding (including bridleless riding) only works well when students take private or semi-private lessons, she says. Her clients tend to be very serious riders who are not particularly interested in social life at the barn or in competitions. Some want their children to learn to ride that way from the start. Competitors northeast of her farm were doing group lessons, trail rides, pony parties and schooling shows. West of her farm there was another group of stables catering to equestrians mainly interested in showing.

Benyei decided to target local media in towns to the south and north of her location where there were no competing barns. The demographics of these towns meant she would be reaching people who could afford her services. She began a classified advertising campaign running in six weekly newspapers. At the suggestion of one paper’s advertising department, she included horse line art to attract more attention. She, in turn, persuaded them to add a “horses” listing to their classi­fied headings. She used a rotation of ads which featured either lessons, boarding, the equine clinic, or the summer camp. Despite poor results in the past, she also decided to try another display ad in her local business telephone directory under “riding academies.” She also has a display ad in Just Horses, a regional directory. All told, she says, the campaign cost about $5,600.

The campaign resulted in a steady increase in calls about Whimsy Brook’s services and, compared to previous advertising she has tried, Benyei counts it a success. Figuring out the advertising mix that works best for her has involved some experimentation over the years with different papers and a few equestrian publications. She has found that regional equestrian media don’t have enough circulation in the geographic area she needs to reach to be helpful. Their two-month lead times also make them impractical, she feels, for advertising horses for sale. When she has a youngster ready to sell, she uses the weekly The Chronicle of the Horse because it has only a two-week lead time and tends to reach the demographic group that is interested in and can afford her horses.

Next year, Benyei plans to try small display ads rather than classified ads to see how if they pull a greater number of responses. However, she intends to keep her advertising drumbeat going. —BK