Don't cut back on advertising, says Cooper's Brown

Dec. 23, 2008

When times are tough, the last thing you want to do is cut back on advertising, says Pat Brown, vice president of global branding and communications for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. That was the same message Brown delivered in 1991, when the U.S. economy was going through another difficult period.

With Brown’s permission, presents the following article, which she wrote in April 1991. It was published in that month's edition of the NTDRA News, the mouthpiece of the old National Tire Dealers and Retreaders Association. Here's the article:

"There's no doubt about it: times are tough. The economy is unstable and the market for tires appears to be flat. The conflict in the Middle East has made consumers skittish about spending.

"Ever the perennial optimist, Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, noted that with a war and a recession, '…we're entering some uncharted waters, meaning we don't know what the hell we're doing.'

"One thing we do know is that this is not – I repeat – not the time to cut back on advertising dollars.

"It is tempting to slash advertising budgets, but those short-term savings could spell disaster in the long run for tire dealers.

"It has been reported that dealers who maintained or increased advertising spending during the 1981-82 recession did well. They averaged higher sales during that period – and for the next three years – than dealers who cut promotional spending.

"It is time to evaluate your advertising plan and make sure you're getting the biggest bang for your hard-earned bucks. There are some bargains to be found in the media today. You can maximize the effectiveness of your advertising dollars by directing your funds into what works best for you.

"Be sure to monitor your competitors' advertising to see if they are cutting back. If they do, consider increasing your ad budget and hitting harder.
You'll have a great opportunity to capture and retain a larger share of the market when things settle down. This is definitely the time to be aggressive.

"One of the fastest-growing segments of all media today is direct mail. Our dealers have shown a 100% increase in the usage of direct mail over the past five years.

"What's more important is that February's NTDRA Dealer News reported that 48% of dealers surveyed found direct mail to be the most effective means of advertising. In view of today's postal rates, it is a good idea for dealers to check out the national direct mail companies. They offer a variety of formats at very affordable prices.

"Most national direct mail companies offer a 'marriage mail package,'
whereby they combine several flyers from assorted businesses. Some
companies even offer exclusivity, accepting only one product brand per mailing package. In other words, only one tire advertiser would be permitted.

"The mailing lists are updated regularly for an accurate and efficient mailing. With most sales generated within a five mile radius of your business, targeting households by zip code is an extremely efficient method of advertising.

"We encourage dealers to seek out local direct mail agencies in the markets where national companies are not available, or a dealer can very easily put together a mailing package of non-competing businesses and share the cost of the postage.

"Generally, a business-size envelope can hold 8 to 10 'coupon'- size flyers (3½" x 8½") and still be mailed at the minimum first-class postage: 29 cents. (Remember, this was early 1990s pricing. - Ed.) That decreases each participant's share to an affordable rate of three to four cents each. Local print shops and copy centers are usually enthusiastic about this type of business and will help you put the package together.

"Another medium that we see on the rise for tire dealers is television.
You don't have to use 'Madison Avenue' slick TV spots for effective television exposure. Sometimes home-spun commercials work best, especially in smaller markets where 'everyone knows everyone else.'

"You can be formidable competition when you feature yourself as a TV personality promoting your products and services.

"Creativity abounds at local TV stations! If your manufacturer doesn't have spots available, tap the creative brains cells of your local TV rep. They are eager to sell you the time, so they'll be extremely helpful in creating and producing low-cost, effective TV spots.

"Low-budget does not necessarily mean low-cost, ineffective TV spots. Low-budget does not necessarily mean low quality in television. And don't be afraid to use humor. As long as your TV spots are tastefully done, they will do the job for you.

"When you negotiate your TV buy, be tough, and remember the key word is: negotiate! While print media must adhere to 'cast-in-stone' rate cards, broadcast media are very often flexible about rates. Sometimes, you can even barter your products and services for extra air-time. Just keep negotiating until you find the right deal.

"Newspapers have long been the backbone of tire advertising. The NTDRA dealer survey cited newspapers as the most popular choice for tire ads. Just make sure you monitor the effectiveness of your ads.

"Chart your sales with respect to the number of ad inches running per week. If you don't see a developing correlation between sales and advertising, then consider a change in ad copy, products featured, or placement in the newspaper.

"Simmons Market Research reports that of the total tires bought in 1990, over 35% were purchased by women. (That figure is much higher today. - Ed.) This indicates that some thought should be given to advertising occasionally in a newspaper section other than sports. The latest Roper Report (a public opinion research firm) tells us that local news is the most widely read section of the newspaper, with national news second and international news third.

"The bottom line is that newspaper advertising works for tire dealers. Just be sure you're getting a decent return for your investment.

"While traffic (getting potential customers in your door) is important to your business, converting that traffic into a sale is the ultimate objective.

"Employee training and development is extremely important. Keep your employees motivated and enthusiastic about selling tires and services. You can turn everyone in your business into a salesperson by sponsoring a contest.

"Have cards printed with a discount message. The discount can be on products or services, depending on what you want to promote. Give
a supply of cards to all your employees. The only rule is that the cards must be distributed off premises, on the employees' own time. As each
employee hands out the cards, he or she spreads the word about your store, products and services. As an incentive, you reward the employee who has the most cards returned for that products or service, or you can base the reward on gross sales generated on cards returned.

"Make the incentive something that is desirable for all employees: a color TV set, CD player or a weekend for two at a local resort. You might even consider a dollar spiff for employees, giving them a 'commission' for the extra business they generate. It's a win-win promotion and not that expensive for you!

"When you can't outspend your competition, you must outsmart them.

"Look for ways to increase exposure to potential customers. Take advantage of what's free! One of the most believable forms of advertising is word-of-mouth. Ask your satisfied customers to recommend your business to their friends and neighbors. It never hurts to ask and it doesn't cost a penny.

"While visiting an ad agency recently, I was impressed by this poster in their lobby. It said:

"When business was bad, he said he couldn't afford advertising/When business was good, he said he didn't need advertising/For the life of us,we can't remember his name.

"The message is clear: you must advertise consistently, all the time and aggressively when the market is soft if you want your fair share of the business. To get that fair share, put your advertising money where it works!"

While many of the principles Brown discussed in 1991 still apply today, the advent of the Internet "has dramatically changed marketing," she recently told "It has become such a powerful form of advertising and it's something dealers need to look at very carefully."

Web sites, she says, "are global storefronts. Dealers need to invest time and care in their Web sites. Most manufacturers have assistance available for dealers to build Web sites at different levels. More and more people are doing their research on the Web" before walking into tire shops.

"The other thing that has changed is e-mail. Maintain an e-mail database of customers."

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