Stretch your ad dollar

Tips on getting the best advertising deal from newspapers, TV networks and radio stations. Plus, do-it-yourself TV ads: Create an ad, plan a campaign and buy media—all online. Flynn Dekker, VP of marketing at  Dallas-based Steak and Ale, needed a new ad campaign. He wanted TV and its broad reach, but didn’t think he could afford it. Then he discovered Spot Runner; users can build their own ads based on templates and choose where the ads run—at a fraction of the cost of using an ad agency.


  • Ask for the ad agency discount. Agencies generally receive a 15 percent commission for buying ads. Since you’re not using an agency, ask the paper to drop the rate based upon the commission they would normally give to the agency. If they’re feeling generous they just might pass it along.
  • Create mail-order ads, which contain coupons or direct response within them. Ads of that type qualify for as much as a 15 percent reduction in price, usually because newspapers, worried about not being able to fulfill numbers guaranteed on trackable ads, will curry favor with advertisers by lowering prices.
  • List the same ad in the same space month-to-month and ask for a “pick up” rate, which can cut the cost of an ad as much as 40 percent.
  • Ask the paper when their next dining supplement will run. Those sections tend to offer reduced pricing.
  • Advertise in high school and college newspapers if your restaurant appeals to that crowd. Those publications offer high visibility at rock-bottom prices. Similarly, neighborhood and regional sections of city papers demand lower advertising rates than the national editions.
  • Ask the paper if they have remnant space—places where ads haven’t been sold into—that the paper is desperate to fill. The positioning may not be ideal, but the prices are extraordinarily cheap.
  • Particularly for independent restaurants, share an ad with other operators in your neighborhood. It will cut the cost and can help promote your local scene as a whole.


  • Ask for no-charge spots, those that haven’t been filled for the day or month. They’re given away free just to fill the void. Keep in mind that those spots may air at odd hours.
  • Negotiate in January when possible—salespeople are starving for business then.
  • Avoid advertising during political campaigns—spots are often filled during those times of year, driving up prices or making negotiation for lower prices much more difficult.
  • Sponsor a traffic spot on the local news. Doing so will get you 15 seconds of advertising time for a quarter of the price of what it costs to purchase that time outright.
  • Buy from local cable providers, instead of from the networks’ local affiliates—with Comcast, for example, instead of ESPN. Select the cable zone that corresponds to your restaurant’s location. Ads will air only in that area, and buying them is dirt cheap.


  • Never accept the first price given. Rates are always negotiable, even if the station says they’re generally not. If possible, stall in your purchase of air time—doing so will inevitably bring the price down.
  • Negotiate rates during the first and third quarters, since they’re the slowest times of year. Doing so might drop the fees for spots during other quarters as well.
  • Ask for ratings guarantees upon purchasing ads. Then ask for a follow up ratings report. If the audience number doesn’t meet the guarantee, stations will make up the difference in lost ratings by giving advertisers additional spots for free. 
  • Purchase commercials in bulk. Doing so can yield a 5 percent discount for a six-month contract, and a 10 percent discount for a year-long agreement.
  • Trade broadcast time for food and beverages. Just make sure you’re prepared to trade dollar for dollar—stations won’t drop their fees for bartered air time, and will expect $100,000 worth of commercials to be reciprocated with the same value in food and drinks.


Create an ad, plan a campaign and buy media—all online

Flynn Dekker, VP of marketing at  Dallas-based Steak and Ale, needed a new ad campaign. He wanted TV and its broad reach, but didn’t think he could afford it. Then he discovered Spot Runner.

Web-based Spot Runner (www.spotrunner.com), launched in January, allows users to build their own ads based on TV commercial templates and to choose where and when the ads will run—all at a fraction of the cost of using an ad agency.

Spot Runner’s restaurant category has about 50 different 30-second ad templates broken down by cuisine. Choose an ad—those for seafood restaurants, for example, feature closeups of fish dishes—and Spot Runner will personalize it with a voiceover (you provide the copy) and your restaurant’s logo. Users can insert more images at no extra charge. A 30-second Spot Runner commercial starts at $499 (compared to $10,000 and up for agency-produced spots) and takes about two weeks to produce. A more detailed customization package is available for an additional $249.

“We are leveling the playing field,” says Rosabel Tao, VP of communications at the Los Angeles-based company. “If you can buy an airline ticket online, you can use Spot Runner.”

Dekker used an ad agency to create a TV spot for Steak and Ale, then used Spot Runner to buy media.  “Spot Runner allowed us to get back on TV for the first time in 10 years,” Dekker says. “It’s the most effective form of advertising we’ve found.”


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