Advertising Toolkit

How to Advertise and Promote Your Independent Agency

This toolkit provides helpful information to help you plan, develop and budget for smart, effective advertising.

There are many reasons to advertise:

  • Create awareness of your agency
  • Reinforce existing relationships for retention
  • Increase sales
  • Build on or create an image
  • Promote a specific product, line of business or area of expertise
  • Attract the customers you want

Advertising is an important part of any healthy marketing plan, and often, it can be the most costly. Your marketing plan lays out a strategy and the steps your agency will take to achieve your sales goals; advertising carries the message and should not be overlooked.

Think of advertising as an investment in your business. Like all good investments, the best results will come from careful planning and clearly established goals. Don't fall into the trap of looking at marketing and advertising as a luxury you can cut at the first sign of a sales slump. No matter how good your agency may be, or how terrific a location you may have, you still have to practice strategic marketing. Experts agree that if you want to increase your sales, profits and market share, advertising should be a key part of your strategy.

Well-crafted messages, properly aimed, can get into your customers' psyches, raise awareness of your agency and position your agency well against the competition.

That is not to suggest that you should throw an ad together and stick it in the newspaper a couple of times. Don't waste your money with that kind of piece-meal or single-shot advertising. It just doesn't work. By following the steps in this toolkit, though, you can think through your advertising strategy and develop an effective, sustained advertising campaign. Well-crafted messages, properly aimed, can get into your customers' and prospects' psyches, raise awareness of your agency, position your agency well against the competition and support your production goals. But don't leave your advertising to chance. Give someone responsibility for it and make that person accountable – even if that person is you.

Quick Tips

Know why you are advertising. It's not always to sell more.
Know your target audience.
Advertise where they are most likely to see your message.
Make sure the results you expect are realistic.
Keep the message simple.
Be truthful.
Advertise consistently. One-shot ads are usually a waste of money.
Repetition sells.
Sell benefits, not features.

Advertising Myth #1:

"Word-of-mouth advertising is enough for me."

This is usually an excuse not to invest in advertising rather than a good way to gain customers. Passive word-of-mouth is always ineffective. Happy customers tell an average of 0.7 other people if they have had a positive experience with you. Unhappy customers tell 11 to 20 other people. Word-of-mouth can work best for you if it is reinforced by advertising and other materials, such as blogs, brochures or whatever it takes to support your positioning. See Social Media in Step 6 for strategic approaches to word-of-mouth brand-building.

Effective advertising starts with well thought-out goals. Like any other journey, you have to choose a destination, and you have to start driving in the right direction. By taking the time to answer the questions below, it will become clear how you want your agency to be perceived, what type of customers you want and how you want to approach them. (We've included some suggested responses. Use the goals worksheet for your own plan.)

Do you want to:

  1. Penetrate specialized markets? Which ones? What are the measures of progress (e.g., policy count, premium value, other benchmarks)? Target small to mid-sized business owners; increase new premium volume.
  2. Sell more to present customers? Which ones? What do you want to sell them? Cross-sell homeowner and auto policies to increase premium per account.
  3. Change your agency image? Why? To what? A full-service independent agency that also offers financial service products.
  4. Penetrate geographical markets more deeply? Which areas? Consumers in neighboring towns.
  5. Create "top-of-mind" awareness? Business owners should think of us first when they need insurance.
  6. Increase sales of a specific product or line of business? Workers' compensation.
  7. Expand demographically? To what market segments? High-risk auto classes.
  8. Announce a new service or location? We moved from downtown to a suburban office.
  9. Protect market share in the face of new competitors? We're the hometown choice.

You have to choose a destination and you have to start driving in the right direction.

Advertising Myth #2:

"I'll know the right advertising opportunity when it comes along."

In the course of a year, you may receive dozens of advertising solicitations from your local newspaper, radio or TV stations, business and trade associations, school and civic groups, and online services, just to name a few. How do you decide which ones to accept? Without an advertising plan, it's easy to make expensive mistakes that do little to build your business. Invest in a plan now, and you'll make better decisions in the long run.

Without defining your target market, your advertising message is likely to be too broad and ineffective. Plain and simple, you can't speak to all the people all the time – at least not without a lot of money. Your advertising will be most effective if you choose to focus your message on your best prospects.

You can't know too much about your customers and prospects. That's where market research can help, even informal research. Solid information will elevate your marketing plans from best-guess scenarios to purposeful action plans. Hunches, based on experience and observation, are important. They simplify market research by defining limits and setting directions for further investigation. But there is no substitute for hard facts.

You have to know how your target market perceives the value of your service to make informed advertising decisions. Professional marketing consultants can get this information faster and more cheaply than you can. Search online or ask other local business owners for referrals. If your budget is tight, try the local college. Marketing professors sometimes do consulting work. Students may take you on as a project.

If you don't have the resources for outside research, check out information available online or from your local chamber of commerce. At the very least, take some time to think about the characteristics of your target markets. Talk to people in your community who represent your target audience to better understand their attitudes towards insurance and, specifically, your agency and its competitors. What's important to them? What do they value most in dealing with an agency? Good information helps create great advertising.

Once you know your target audience, find out when and where to reach them. Different audiences pay attention to different media at different times of the day or week. Media outlets collect this information and use it to help determine their ad rates. Review the audience demographics to find out which media outlets reach your target audience. Professional media researchers can help you unravel the statistics and choose the best option for your agency. If a consultant is not in your budget, make it part of your research to find out what media your target audience pays attention to.

Remember AIDA:

You can't speak to all of the people all of the time. The most successful ads follow this simple formula.

Attention. Your ad must always get a prospect's attention first.

Interest. Your ad must create interest in your agency.

Desire. Your ad must stimulate desire for the prospect to act.

Act. Your ad must provide a clear action to take.

Advertising is an investment in building your business through increased sales. It is not an expense. The rate of growth for your business depends largely on how well you plan and implement your advertising program. This toolkit urges you to avoid guesswork, especially when it comes to your budget. How much you budget from month-to-month will depend on your advertising goals and at what point during the year you advertise. You may find you'll buy more advertising during certain periods – renewal season, for instance – or when you have a new product or service to sell or an expansion to announce. Most media have sales reps who can discuss budgeting. A key to successful budgeting is that you base your decision on getting the most value for your money and not simply on total cost. For example, ads in a local shopper that is free at the grocery checkout may seem cheaper than those in a subscription newspaper, but the cost per qualified reader is actually far more. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to advertising budgets, but there are some generally accepted methods of reaching a number.

Percent of revenue: A good rule of thumb for most agencies is roughly 3 percent of commission revenue. IIABA's Best Practices agencies typically budget 2-3 percent for advertising, regardless of their size. (That's $20,000 to $30,000 for an agency with $1 million in revenue.) Remember to consider your budget on a monthly basis to account for special instances when more or less advertising is desired. When sales goals or levels increase, adjust your ad budget accordingly. If this number feels too high at first, start with the flexible budgeting approach until you grow into a straight percentage of revenue.

Flexible budgeting: This approach is best used with a fixed advertising line item in your overall budget. It allows you to make monthly adjustments as changing circumstances or goals may warrant.

Flat dollar or "leftover" budget: This is often the most common method of budgeting among small business owners. You simply allocate to advertising what is leftover after other expenses. This approach is likely to be too passive and assumes advertising and marketing are luxury items. The best budgeting strategy is to use a fixed percentage budget that has room for flexibility. See if you can determine what your competitors are doing. It provides a variable you'll want to consider.

Quick Tips

Plan to spend 1/3 of your advertising budget on developing and producing ads and 2/3 of the budget running  the ads.

A good rule of thumb is 3% of revenue; A key to successful budgeting is that you base your decision on getting the most value for your money and not simply on total cost.

Advertising Myth #3:

"Advertising must be highly creative or funny to work."

Not true. Clearly targeted and consistent advertising works. It does not have to be overly creative or clever. Some of the most effective ads merely keep the name of a business in the public's view, such as sponsoring a local team or running a consistent ad in the local paper.

This is where you bring together the thinking and research you've done so far. In developing a strategy it will become clear how you must structure your advertising efforts.

For example: Your suburban community has attracted lots of new residents and new businesses. After doing the goals worksheet, you determine that your priorities are to build name awareness, protect your market share and attract newcomers to your agency. You begin by evaluating how your competitors advertise and position themselves. Then you study your target market: where do they live, what media do they use and what are their priorities in choosing insurance? Now it's time to write your positioning statement.

Who are you? Your positioning statement must set you apart from your competitors or your ads will not set you apart. It's called a "positioning statement" because it "positions" your business in the marketplace. It will be the basis for writing creative headlines and copy for your ads. For example: "Morris Insurance is your source for risk management service" vs. "Morris Insurance is your source for low cost insurance."

A good plan underlies every effective ad campaign.

Who are you?

Some studies estimate that Americans encounter up to 3,000 brand and advertising messages a day. From the moment they wake up, consumers are bombarded by everything from cereal labels to billboards to online banners to TV commercials designed to influence their purchasing decisions. With so much clutter in the advertising marketplace, it can be hard to stand out, especially when you have a modest budget. Fortunately, it can be done if you have a basic understanding of various media, their audiences and how to get the most for your investment.

Different media reach different audiences and are suitable for specific types of messages. Choosing the right medium can make all the difference in your campaign's effectiveness. Most media plans blend traditional and online advertising. Although you can do the research and decision making yourself, getting an expert's help may save time and money in the long run.

When planning your media strategy, remember repetition is essential, particularly for short messages, such as a call to action that includes a phone number, address, website or promotional dates. If you have to choose between size and frequency, always go with frequency. Also, if you plan to advertise in a cluttered medium, such as radio or newspaper, repetition increases the likelihood that your message will break through and be remembered. Remember that you may tire of the repetition long before your audience does. Virtually all media is negotiable. Even if you can't change the rates, you can often ask for extra spots or insertions or other types of value-adds.

Choosing the right medium can make the difference in your campaign's effectiveness.


Online Media

Online advertising breaks down the barriers of time and geography so prospective customers can find you anytime, anywhere. It combines the strongest features of print advertising (room for information) and broadcast (catchy visuals and audio). You can associate your ad with specific keyword searches or websites to dictate exactly who sees it and where. You can also drive prospective customers directly to your website and track how many visits your ads generate.


  • Your ad can reach a pre-qualified audience and is highly interactive.
  • Your ad is on duty 24 hours a day and is accessible from any web-enabled device.
  • Lots of options, from keyword search listings to full-fledged animated ads.
  • Billing plans to meet your budget.
  • Fast turnaround – your ad can be uploaded or revised quickly.
  • Prospective customers can click directly to your website for more information.
  • Built-in tracking mechanisms help you judge the effectiveness of your ad.


  • Creating online ads requires technological expertise.
  • It's not easy to break through the online clutter.
  • Online ads have little staying power.
  • Consumers may not have a way of going back to find your ad.
  • Your website must be monitored and updated constantly to ensure customers find the answers they need.

Buying Online

You can place ads through providers like Google AdWords or Yahoo! Search Marketing or work with websites that appeal to your target audience. Online ad rates are usually based on the number of times an ad is viewed (CPM, or cost per thousand views) or the number of times a viewer clicks on the ad and is redirected to your website (CPC, or cost per click). Viewers who take the time to click through to your website are the most valuable, so of course, those rates are usually higher. There are some variations on these basic billing plans, so make sure you understand exactly what you can expect for your money. An ad agency can help you evaluate the best deal to meet your specific goals.

Some other things to remember:

  1. Online advertising can help you reach both very broad and very narrow target markets. Make sure you know who you want to reach before placing an ad.
  2. Buying a keyword search listing ensures your agency gets premium placement in a search results list, such as Tyler/boat/insurance. Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM), strategies to get your website noticed by search engines, will help you move up in the listings without advertising, but they take time. You can research SEO and SEM yourself or get an expert's advice.
  3. The bigger your online presence, the easier it is for customers to find you.
  4. Tech-savvy buyers expect high quality websites. If yours is lacking, invest in an upgrade before you advertise online.
  5. Online ads can be swapped out so you can quickly revise the content based on responses.

Up to 90% of buyers start their search online.

Online advertising breaks down barriers of time and geography, and you can use online advertising to target specific geographic areas.



Newspaper readership is falling, but newspapers are still an important component of any advertising plan. Newspapers are still a crucial source of local information for many people, and most newspapers have online editions that allow you to mix print and online ads. Print editions tend to have slightly older readers, while online editions appeal to younger audiences. Your ad sales rep can explain the demographics of each and help you make an informed choice. Online ads give you the full range of creative options, including animation and audio. Most print ads are done in black and white and rely on a catchy headline and/or graphic to catch readers' attention.


  • You can reach a mass, over-35 audience.
  • Your ad can be as large or as small as necessary to communicate your message.
  • Your ad is tangible and can be saved for later reference.
  • Newspaper readers usually have higher education and income levels.
  • The distribution of your message can often be limited to specific geographic areas (reduces wasted media costs).
  • Fast turnaround, especially for online editions.
  • You can target specific sections or editions to hit your demographic sweet spot.
  • Changes can be made quickly and on short notice.
  • Print ads are relatively quick and easy to develop.


  • Even with online editions, newspaper readership is falling, especially among young readers.
  • Print quality limits creativity using photos and color.
  • In print or online, a newspaper has a very short shelf-life.
  • Broad distribution means your ad will go to many who may never want to buy from you.

Buying for Newspapers

The newspaper's rate card will help you decide what size your ad should be, when it should run and how often. Newspapers charge a premium for color ads and placement in special sections. Rates may vary depending on the day of the week or the section of the newspaper. You can get discounts by running the same ad more than once or placing ads in multiple publications owned by the newspaper. Online ads are priced according to their size and how long they run. A minimum run of one week is normal. Pay attention to the technical specifications – they will save you time and money in the long run. If you don't have an ad agency or in-house designer, the newspaper may be able to help you put together an ad.

Some other things to remember:

  1. Newspaper circulation is highest on Sundays, which is also the day a newspaper is read most thoroughly. As a result, rates are higher, but the bigger audience is usually worth the additional cost. Online readership depends more on breaking news and local events than day of the week.
  2. Many markets have specialized publications such as business journals or community weeklies that may offer better buys than the local daily.
  3. Repetition matters. You get the best value when you run consistently over time.

Newspaper advertising has moved beyond print.


Your advertising goals should dictate whether magazine advertising is right for you, and if so, whether trade or consumer publications provide the best audience. Trade magazines target certain types of businesses, services and industries and usually are mailed to subscribers. Consumer magazines include general interest and special interest publications and are likely to be found at newsstands. Most publications also have robust online editions that complement their print versions.

Print versions of magazines allow you to build your agency's image by using full-color photos and elaborate graphics, usually on high-grade paper. Not surprisingly, these ads cost more than comparably sized newspaper ads. Online editions provide another opportunity to drive interested viewers directly to your website.

Just as with newspapers, you can work with an advertising agency or directly with a magazine to design and place your ads.


  • High reader involvement means more attention paid to your ad.
  • You can place ads in magazines read by your target audience.
  • High-quality printing and paper permits more creativity with color and photos.
  • Small ads stand out more than in other media.
  • Magazines have a longer shelf life and higher pass-along readership than newspapers.
  • Ads are tangible and can be saved for future reference.
  • Print and online options.


  • Production schedules mean you must submit ads 30-45 days before production.
  • Magazine ads tend to be expensive, both in media and production costs.

Your advertising goals should guide you to the right magazine.

Magazine ads have a longer shelf life and more pass-along readership.

Social Media

When the word Facebook became a commonly accepted verb, social media graduated from being a time-wasting hobby to a necessary component of business advertising. Facebook and Twitter are the social media giants, but there is much more: business networking sites like LinkedIn, location-based social networks like Gowalla and Foursquare, blogging sites like WordPress and online business review sites like Yelp. All of these can affect how your agency is perceived, and therefore, are important outlets for your advertising messages. Every time you reach out on the web, you make it easier for customers to find and know you.


  • You could start a Facebook page today or launch a blog within a few days.
  • There are no ad rates to pay.
  • You can get instant feedback, good or bad, and respond immediately.
  • You can provide more in-depth messages than with any other form of advertising.
  • Social media make it easier for search engines, and therefore, customers to find you online.
  • Social media bring customers to you rather than you seeking them out.


  • The audience may be small and unpredictable.
  • Bad feedback can become public, even when it is baseless.
  • Someone must take on the responsibility of monitoring your social media presence on a regular basis.
  • Social media should be an addition, not a replacement for other advertising.
  • Your website must be monitored and updated to make sure it's consistent with the messages you promote through social media. Mixed messages hurt!

Buying for Social Media

Social media connect you directly with customers. What you do with that connection is up to you. Your online "friends" can opt-in to receive emails, e-newsletters and other communications from you. This audience is highly pre-qualified and much more likely to act on the information you provide. You can quickly test ideas by asking for feedback. You can tout your community activities and urge others to get involved. You can demonstrate why your advertising messages are true.

Some other things to remember:

  1. By their nature, social media are relational. Use those relationships like you would any other – get to know your customers and see how you meet their needs.
  2. Social media put you in the conversation about events and trends that affect insurance. Everything you say online should reinforce your advertising goals.
  3. The bigger your online presence, the easier it is for customers to find you.
  4. Clear, concise communication matters in social media. If you aren't a strong writer, or don't have one on staff, consider hiring someone to write your posts and blogs.

Broadcast Radio


  • Radio lets you target your ad budget to the market most likely to respond to your offer.
  • Free creative help is usually available at the radio station.
  • Rates are negotiable, based on supply and demand.
  • Frequency generates "top-of-mind" awareness.
  • Most stations are streamed live online, which provides a wider audience.


  • Music stations have lost listeners as digital music devices have become more popular.
  • Radio is a fleeting medium; listeners can't review your ad.
  • Radio ads are an interruption to entertainment and have to be repeated often to break through the listener's "tune-out" factor.
  • Most listeners are doing something else while hearing your ad.

In a radio ad, you must do the following within the span of one minute or less:

  1. Grab the listener's attention.
  2. Tell them something they want to hear.
  3. Sell them something they may not need (at least not immediately).
  4. Mention the name of your business at least three times.
  5. Get them to remember your phone number, street or web address.
  6. Motivate them with a "call to action" (e.g., see us today, call today for great rates, stop by and let us show you...)

It's best to get help from professionals to create effective radio advertising. Radio combines succinct writing with sound production and voice talent. If you need to go it alone, the local radio station will most likely produce an ad for you.

Two cardinal rules for radio advertising:

  1. It's better to advertise when people are listening than when they aren't, so scheduling is important.
  2. It's better to bunch your commercials together in a flight than to spread them out over a long period of time.

Buying Radio

If you don't know which stations you want to use, ask each station for its demographics and the research to back it up. Then you can decide whether that matches your target audience. The stations will also provide information about their programming, musical format, geographic reach, number of listeners and station ratings.

Radio ads are usually purchased in 10-, 20-, 30- and 60-second spots, with 60 seconds being the most common. Radio rates vary depending on the time of day broadcast. Organized from most expensive to least expensive, these general time categories deliver different sized audiences:

Morning drive
6 AM to 10 AM
7 PM to Midnight
Evening drive
4 PM to 7 PM
Midnight to 6 AM
Home worker
10 AM to 4 PM

(Note: Weekend rates may also vary from weekday rates.)

Fixed spots are guaranteed to be broadcast at specified times and are the most expensive. "Run-of-station" or floating spots are the least expensive, but you have no control over the broadcast times. These ads are used as "fillers" by the station. By getting the station ratings and the number of people it reaches, you can figure out the cost-per-thousand people (CPM). Simply divide the cost of a commercial by the thousands of people you are reaching. This can help you in choosing stations and times. Most of the time radio advertising should be bought in chunks. High frequency over a short period of time is much more effective than low frequency over a longer period of time. It's important for your audience to hear your ad repeatedly to retain your key message.

You can also turn to a media buying service, which often offers packages that span several radio stations. That saves you from working with individual stations – you may even be able to buy TV or print outlets from the same representative at a discount since bulk buyers have more negotiating power.

Some stations offer options such as an interview or other content on a show. This kind of branded content is complicated and you really need an expert to represent you in such a buy. Consult with your ad agency or PR firm to ensure that you will get the value and the timeslots you need.

Ask each station for its own research.

High frequency is the most effective strategy.


Television commercials represent the greatest investment and can provide the greatest exposure. A modest 30-second television commercial can cost more than $1,000 to produce. It makes sense to use the spot repeatedly so the production cost becomes a better value. With that kind of time and money at stake, it's usually best to hire an ad agency or professional production crew to help you. You can also find production assistance from local television stations. Usually the more time you purchase, the more negotiating room you have to get free production.

Like other media, local television stations have online news services that offer advertising opportunities to drive viewers to your website. If you intend to be a regular advertiser, it makes sense to incorporate the TV station's online presence into your plans.


  • Permits you to reach great numbers of people.
  • Independent stations and cable offer opportunities to pinpoint local audiences and are often less expensive.
  • Computer technology allows for faster and less expensive commercial production.
  • TV is a good image-building and brand-building medium.
  • You can reach viewers' emotions with sound and pictures.
  • You can post your commercials on your website or YouTube, which adds to your image.


  • Creative and production costs are generally high, as is the cost of the time itself.
  • It's dangerous to cut corners; poor production values undermine your message.
  • Programming content may conflict with your advertising message.
  • Viewers may not pay attention to commercials.
  • Recording devices make it easy for viewers to skip the commercials but also provide opportunities for repeated viewings.

Cable vs. Broadcast TV

Cable advertising is a lower-cost alternative to broadcast television advertising. It has many of the same benefits of broadcast and, because of its varied channels and programming, cable makes it easier to reach a designated audience. Your local cable company may even allow you to buy only certain areas, such as specific neighborhoods that fall into your target market.

Buying for Television

There are many things to know and consider before buying a TV programming schedule. That's why in most cases, using an advertising agency or a media buying service is recommended. Your ad agency or station sales representative can help you select the best programs in order to reach your target market.

When you are developing your schedule, remember that repetition (or frequency) is a very important ingredient. Make sure your audience sees your commercial within the context of the programs you're buying. Ask the stations to provide a time log showing exactly when your spots run. Most will even notarize this report.

When it comes to production, you get what you pay for.

Cable advertising has the benefits of broadcast TV and costs less.

Using an advertising agency or media buying service is recommended when advertising on TV.

Advertising myth #4: "I can create my own advertising and save money."

Ineffective advertising is expensive. Advertising that works – that informs your prospects honestly, accurately and effectively – is worth the investment. Generally, advertising professionals can put your message together faster and make it more effective than you can, especially when you give them clear goals and information about who your customers are and why they buy from you rather than from the competition. Advertising professionals can also provide objective advice about where your advertising should appear – the print, broadcast and online programming that you personally prefer may not be the best bet to reach your target audience.

Company Co-op Advertising

The Double-Edged Sword

Insurance companies have been willing to help agencies pay for advertising for many years, but efforts to protect an insurance company's brand means that there are strings attached. First, realize that such co-op programs typically include a vast array of eligibility requirements ranging from what information can and cannot be included in the ad, to where the ad must run, to how it must be billed, to how the insurance company's logo must appear. Co-op programs also usually don't pay the full cost of the ad but only a percentage of the cost based on some additional increase in business done with the co-op company. Prior approval of the ad is often required. The amount of reimbursement usually depends on your agency's business with the company (premium volume, loss ratio, etc.). In recent years, insurance companies have expanded co-op programs to include creative ad development and placement services. Some points to consider when reviewing co-op offers from companies:

Will the ads offered by the company make sense to your customer base? New York-style advertising may not be the image you are trying to brand in Texas.

Do the ads target the media you want to use? If you have great success advertising on movie screens in theaters, don't sacrifice that impact to acquire some free ads. Ask for ads to be sized and formatted for the media you are using.

Will the company help with the costs of ad placement? The most expensive part of advertising is purchasing media time and space. Some companies require that the agency use their media purchaser; others offer only to assist with ad development. Always ask the company to share the cost of the media purchase.

Are competing agencies using the ads? Try to find out what other agencies in your marketing area have obtained approval to use the ads.

If you are developing your own ads, how much time should you allow for approval by the company? Approval usually takes place at the home office and could take weeks. Online services have sped up this process in many co-op programs.

Will the company pay for non-traditional advertising such as agency sponsorships, participation in special local events or the costs of an agency newsletter? Don't think only in terms of print advertising. One company helps an agency with the costs of maintaining a website in exchange for using the company banner on the home page.

Co-op programs typically include a vast array of eligibility requirements.

Direct Mail

Direct mail allows you to reach your target audience directly, without competition from other advertisers, editorial or other programming. The aim of direct mail is "direct response" from your target. This usually includes some kind of offer that requires immediate action, such as the promise to give a comparative quote at no cost.

To reach your target audience, you must develop or purchase the right mailing list. You can build a "house list" by doing the research yourself and compiling the information on a computer, or you can consult a list house or mailing organization for a list based on the demographics of your target audience. A word of caution: the mail-list business is highly specialized; an ad agency is helpful in finding the best list possible.

Direct mail is slowly morphing into direct email. Tread carefully here, since unwanted email, also known as spam, can alienate prospective customers. Send email only to those who opt in to receive messages from you.


  • Your message is sent directly to your target audience.
  • Your message can be as long as necessary to fully tell your story.
  • You have control over all elements of creation and production.
  • It is particularly effective in cross-selling to existing customers.
  • It is easy to track the effectiveness of direct mail.


  • You have to keep your mailing list up-to-date, and renting lists adds to your costs.
  • Production and mailing costs per piece are high compared to other advertising.
  • You are competing with "junk mail."
Direct mail is designed to elicit a direct response from your target audience.

You can build a mailing list yourself or purchase one from a list house.


Outdoor advertising includes billboards, posters, airport signs, bus signs, mall posters, theatre ads, bus shelters, stadium signs, bench ads, shopping cart ads, gas pump ads, blimps and banners carried by planes. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, most outdoor advertising promotes local businesses. While print and broadcast media have declining audiences because of media fragmentation, outdoor advertising remains strong because of the increasingly mobile population and new technology like digital billboards.

Outdoor is best used as a supplement to other media. For example, you might purchase a sign on local sports field fences to show your support for the organization. When you buy outdoor advertising, remember that location is everything. High-traffic areas are ideal. A billboard in an undesirable area will do you little good and in fact may be negative. Keep your message concise, and make it creative to attract readership. Few words, large illustrations, bold colors and simple backgrounds will create the most effective outdoor advertising. Outdoor advertising companies can typically help with design and production if you aren't working with an ad agency.


  • On display 24/7, outdoor advertising doesn't have to compete with editorial or programming.
  • Digital billboards bring dynamic content to a formerly static medium.
  • Your ad generally doesn't compete with other messages.
  • It can be specifically targeted to a neighborhood.
  • Frequency occurs quickly among regular travelers.
  • Cost per thousand is comparatively low.


  • Posters and other types of outdoor ads are susceptible to being defaced or stolen.
  • It is a glance medium, drawing only 2-3 seconds of a reader's time.
  • Messages must be eight words or less to fit in that 2-3 second time frame.
  • Billboard production and space in the most desirable locations can be expensive.
  • Not conducive to short, special focus campaigns because of minimum time commitments.

Outdoor is best used as a supplement to a campaign.

Location is everything. High traffic areas are ideal.

Other Media

Yellow Pages

Today's Yellow Pages are yellow in name only. Most people begin their search online and visit the business' website or a business review site like Yelp before picking up the phone. Traditional printed telephone directories still have value for many customers, but it's time to incorporate virtual Yellow Pages into your advertising mix.

What printed and online directories have in common is that most users intend to make a purchase. This is the only form of advertising where that's the case.

Traditional Yellow Pages. Printed directories place your ad amid your competitors. Your key message here must tell your prospects why they should call you first. Make sure your ad is attractive and informative. The phone company will design your ad for free, but you may want to use a graphic designer or advertising agency to create an ad that really stands out.

Online Yellow Pages. Like a printed directory, online Yellow Pages groups businesses by category. However, you have far more choices about how to present your agency. You can stick with a simple listing or display ad, or incorporate audio, video or a virtual tour of your business. Online directories also make it easy for prospects to locate your office and get more information before they call.


  • Surprisingly, research shows that many consumers still look to the Yellow Pages before they buy, but the trend is clearly moving online.
  • Ads are usually priced on a monthly basis and you can easily track responses.
  • One ad works all year long.
  • It gives prospects a way to locate and contact you without knowing your name.
  • It can help you describe the differences between you and your competition.
  • Online ads drive viewers to your website.


  • You are immediately placed with a group of your competitors, making it easy for the prospect to comparison shop.
  • The ads must follow certain formats, limiting creativity.
  • Printed directories require you to commit to an entire year of advertising.

Buying a Yellow Pages Ad

To determine the size you should use, consider the following: Your ad should be large enough to incorporate the vital information the reader needs to make a contact decision. Give yourself a budget to work with. Remember that your rate for the year is divided into 12 monthly payments. If you require more than one classification, or advertise in more than one city, your Yellow Pages representative often has packages and programs that can save you money.

Before placing a Yellow Pages ad, ask your new customers how they found you.

Most Yellow Pages users intend to make a purchase. That makes them an especially valuable audience.

It makes sense to hire an advertising agency when:

  1. You don't have the time or expertise in your agency to do the job well.
  2. You want to ensure your advertising is professionally produced with maximum impact.
  3. You need help evaluating and negotiating your media options.
  4. Phone calls from media sales reps take too much of your time.
  5. You are simply overwhelmed by the details and decisions involved.
  6. Your own creative efforts aren't yielding results.
  7. You don't know if your budget is being spent wisely.

The good news is you don't need a huge advertising budget to hire an ad agency. Most areas have small advertising and marketing firms that can produce solid results and cost less than most larger firms. In fact, a small agency can often provide better service if you are looking for quick turnarounds and direct contact with the owner. These small firms are often able to keep costs low because of their lower overhead. Once you decide to hire an agency, you will have to provide the staff with the information needed to create the best advertising. Tell them as much about your agency and industry as possible, and make sure you update them on any changes.

Basic questions an agency will ask you to include:

  • What makes your insurance agency special, and why should people come to you instead of your competitors?
  • Who is your target market (who are your current and prospective customers)?
  • Who is your competition and what are they doing?
  • What type of advertising have you done in the past?

Questions you might ask the advertising agency include:

  • What type of companies do you have as clients? Have you worked with insurance agencies like mine? (Ask for examples; look at their work.)
  • How do you approach advertising? What process do you use to analyze your clients' needs?
  • How do you measure your effectiveness?
  • Who will be working on our account? How will they interact with us? How will they keep us informed?
  • Can we talk to current or former customers?

Advertising Commission

An ad agency will take a 15 percent commission on media purchases, which is paid by the publication or station. In most cases (newspapers are the general exception), the publication or station will bill the agency a "gross" amount for the advertising – that's what you as the advertiser will pay – but the ad agency pays "net," which deducts the 15 percent commission. Generally commission is designed to compensate agencies for placement, as well as their services for tracking and reconciliation. If you buy the advertising directly, most media will still bill you at the gross rate.

A small, local agency can often provide better service to a small business.

Once you've done the groundwork, you're going to need some ads. If you decide not to hire your own advertising agency to develop custom ads for your campaign, consider one or more of the TrustedChoice ads. 

Determine an ad schedule that meets your goals. 
Use the tips throughout this book to create your media plan or use a professional. And remember, when it comes to media, frequency matters.

Don't like anything here or another local agency beat you to the punch? Then find an advertising agency and work with a pro to develop a campaign that's right for you.

IIAT has partnered with Wick Marketing, a full-service advertising agency, to help members with their advertising efforts. For professional assistance with graphic design, media buying and more at discounted rates, contact them at 512.479.9834.

First, don't entertain inflated expectations. Very few ad campaigns result in instant sales. Remember to begin advertising only after you have clear goals in mind. But once you've followed the steps to develop, produce and run your advertising, it is important to evaluate the results. We've included an advertising audit worksheet to help. The advertising industry uses highly sophisticated tools to measure ad results. Professional media tracking services can give you detailed reports about when and where your ads run. You may choose to look at call volume or product sales as your guide. You can also ask your friends and customers if they are hearing or seeing your ads.

Better yet, if the ads are working, they'll probably tell you without being asked. When new prospects call, ask how they heard about you. Be aware that you may not see positive results overnight, especially if you are running an image campaign designed more to raise awareness or goodwill than to generate sales. One of the widely accepted models for explaining the impact and effect of advertising demonstrates why this process may take some time. It's called the "Hierarchy of Effects" model. The premise is that advertising is not always and should not always be measured by sales results alone. Creating awareness is necessary before prospects can take action. Advertising helps move consumers through many stages.

How advertising works:

  • Consumers begin unaware of your brand.
  • After exposure to advertising, consumers know you exist.
  • Consumers begin to learn what you have to offer.
  • Consumers develop an attitude toward your brand.
  • Consumers with a positive attitude develop preference for your brand.
  • Consumers combine preference with the desire to buy and the conviction to make a wise purchase.
  • Finally, consumers purchase your product.