The bargain hunter's guide to advertising

The average London commuter is subjected to 3,000 adverts a day. Wherever you go in London, there's an opportunity: above people's heads on tube trains, plastered over bus stops, painted on the ground, flickering across screens and echoing through loudspeakers; advertising is everywhere - or at least, it used to be.

Since the beginning of the recession, there's been a noticeable absence of adverts. Commuters waiting on tube platforms are faced with blank walls or torn posters where once enormous images in shouty colours vied to grab their attention. Newspaper readers are confronted by ads from agencies eulogising on the benefits of advertising in print, while buses roll past urging advertisers to consider their medium instead.

There's no doubt about it: the advertising industry has descended into turmoil. After year-on-year growth of more than 4% in 2008, a report published by media agency ZenithOptimedia in April predicted UK advertising spend could fall by almost 9% this year.

Different media are suffering to varying degrees: while online is still seeing growth - albeit slowed - local papers are very close to hearing their death knell, with revenues down as much as 40% for some publishers. The television ad market is predicted to fall 12%, while local radio could see a drop of almost 10%, and outdoor advertising is likely to decrease by just under 7%.

Online advertising may be the one bucking the trend, but it hasn't escaped gloomy headlines. While online had seen a growth of around 40% year-on-year, it's now predicted to drop to just 2.3% in 2009.

With demand down and supply overflowing, there should be some deals you may not have previously been able to afford - but which medium is best for you? And, more importantly, where are the best deals? Read on for Smarta's comprehensive guide to the what, where and how much of advertising during the recession.

Print

With more cuts in staffing on local papers announced every day, print is undoubtedly the hardest hit by recession, which means there are bargains to be had in this sector, particularly in regional papers. During our enquiries, we were offered a rate of £4,147.20 for a full page in the Bristol Evening Post, which has a daily readership of almost 143,000; or £2,779.20 for a page in the smaller Western Daily Press, which has a readership of just over 72,000 - for both, that works out at around £30 per 1,000 readers.

National press is more expensive - we were quoted £34,000 for a full colour, full-page ad in The Guardian, which has an average circulation of 340,952, or £21,420 for a monochrome ad. A more affordable option might be to go for a smaller ad - it's possible to get an 8x3cm ad in one of the non-news sections for £771.

Consumer magazines are different again, with rates as high as £39,000 for a double page in a top-selling mens' monthly such as FHM, and going down to £2,255 for a hobby magazine such as Golf World.

For most businesses, though, the business-to-business or trade press will be your first point of contact for press advertising. As an idea a trade magazine, such as Property Week, with a weekly circulation of just under 24,000, charges £3,695 for its inside front cover or £2,290 for a two-colour full page. 

Making sure you know who you are targeting will be incremental to your print campaign's success, though. Bradley McLoughlin, who founded Trading4U, says his press advertising campaign failed to have any impact.

"We spent a great deal of money on a full-page ad in a top gadget magazine and it didn't even generate one phone call," he says. "It simply didn't see any results. 

"We tried four adverts. I looked at the first two and thought there must be something missing. We went for very different approaches on each one but it just didn't work for us."

Remember that in print, the rate card is essentially the starting point for the bargaining process. "Never accept a first offer," recommends Niall McKinney, founder of marketing site UTalkMarketing. "No one does." Instead, find out when the newspaper or magazine goes to print, and phone up just before. If they have a space and you have the cash available immediately, you may be able to drive the price down 50% or more.

Online

During a recession, advertisers want measurability, which is exactly what online advertising can provide you with. There is software to track everything, from how many times your ad has been view and clicked on to where in the world the customer is located. "In the current climate, everything is being scrutinised," says Piri Ramazanoglu, managing director at digital marketing agency Minute Steak.

"Digital marketing is so accountable, you know exactly what you're getting back for what you're spending. You can see exactly where every penny's going and you can factor in what your returns need to be off the back of that."

Ramazanoglu says with digital marketing, it's difficult to determine how much the average spend should be. "It's a case of how long is a piece of string.

"We're seeing some clients spending £1,500 a month on paid search, whereas some of our clients are spending up to £20,000, and it just so happens that it's working for them. You need to look very carefully at what your returns are going to be and what your targets are going to be, and then work out how much you want to spend based on that."

Remember to keep on monitoring your online campaign and how it's working, though. If a pay-per-click search term isn't yielding results, try something else - don't keep wasting money. Make sure you're attracting the right traffic - it's no good if page impressions don't convert to sales.

"We started spending about £1 a day but now we're on a £40-a-day Budget," says McLoughlin. "But you've got to make sure you keep track. As long as you keep it optimised, you'll see results - otherwise, the campaign might not be as efficient."

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