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February 14, 2020 —

Is print advertising for small businesses worth it?

91 Magazine editor Caroline Rowland talks to 91 readers and advertisers about why print advertising is still relevant in today's digital world
91 Magazine editor Caroline Rowland
Caroline Rowland
91 Magazine
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Ads. Love them or hate them, they’ve been a part of our lives for well over a hundred years. Many of us feel nostalgia for those old illustrated ads from the likes of Pears Soap and Coca Cola and I’m sure you can remember a few TV ad ‘jingles’ from your childhood! – Milky Bar and Fairy liquid are springing to mind for me! But, the media landscape has change dramatically in the last 20 years or so and I find its evolution fascinating.

Social media has surely had the biggest impact on the world of marketing, and as a publisher of a print magazine it is something that I think about a lot. Many will say that advertising in print media is dead, but then many said that print was dead in general, but in fact independent print magazines are thriving. I want to delve into the topic a little deeper and share some of my thoughts alongside insights from others – both entrepreneurs and 91 readers – on how print advertising works, particularly within independent publishing, and how it can benefit you and your small business.

magazine advertising for small business


Most mainstream, commercial publications are run on their advertising revenue. You know, those pages and pages of ads at the start of the magazine, usually big name brands with high-end, glossy campaigns? The crazy thing is, big money is exchanged for these slots, but the majority of readers will flick straight past them to the editorial. There is just too much. But, advertising does play a big part in funding the production of a print magazine, and for me, as editor and publisher of 91 Magazine, I knew it would need to factor into our business model, but I wanted to do it in a much gentler and authentic way.

We are very lucky to have had support from advertisers from our very first online issue that published back in 2011. Some of these advertisers are still running thriving small businesses today and still advertise with us. Julia, who runs Winters Moon, selling vintage & contemporary homewares has been with us from the second edition. Julia explains why she has chosen to promote her brand through 91 for so long: “I think print is a really great way to get in front of people but it’s all about the quality of the context which is why 91 Magazine is so great. You will be seen when the reader has taken time out of their day to sit and read – I think you have a better opportunity to be seen (especially as 91’s ratio of ads is so low) rather than just scrolled past, but I think it works hand in hand with digital.”

The choice to have a low ad to editorial ratio in 91 was very much a considered approach. As I mentioned, most people find when the first 30 pages of a magazine are purely filled with ads, they will skip past. So, I decided that while a lower amount of ads equals lower revenue, I really wanted the brands that did advertise with us to be seen. All our quarter, half and full pages ads sit opposite editorial content, so they will be visible as readers consume the features.

small business advertising in 91 Magazine


Even with this low ratio, I still fretted that readers might not want to see any advertising in 91. Some publications (often indies) do go without advertising and will make their revenue up elsewhere. Some have a design studio alongside their magazine, for example. This route wasn’t an option for me, and thankfully, over time, I’ve realised that most of our readers enjoy our ads – they feel like they are discovering new brands each time they look through the magazine.

One of our readers Chloe Sherwin, who also runs her own small business, Table 30 Three – making and restoring furniture, told me her musings when she is browsing through her copies of 91: “As a reader of 91 Magazine I really enjoy your advertising. I find new small businesses to follow who are up and coming, and this is something I really like, as I feel I am getting insider info and it gives me an idea of who is on trend at the minute as I respect 91 Magazine’s thoughts/opinions and reviews on small businesses. I feel if 91 Magazine advertises a small business they are definitely one to watch, valued and bang on trend currently. I honestly don’t feel it diminishes my enjoyment of the magazine – I feel it is relevant and appropriate advertising for current / on trend small businesses.”

marketing for small creative businesses


Brands have the option to choose one of our larger ads (quarter, half or full page) or they can opt for our budget-friendly choice and feature in our Directory at the back of the magazine. The Directory includes 12 brands across one spread, each with an image and a paragraph about their business, often offering reader discounts too. Both options have their advantages and I was intrigued to hear which (if either) readers felt was more compelling.

Ethical womenswear designer and 91 reader Roopal Vadgama shared her opinion on this with me: “91’s adverts are structured beautifully within the magazine and I do take time to look at them. I like the look of both styles of ads. You get a nice snapshot of independent shops and makers in the directory. Although, the larger adverts catch my attention first and draw me right in.”

Another reader and creative business coach, Jo McCarthy of Firain viewed them slightly differently: “I like the way 91 approaches advertising. The adverts feel well-placed and totally on-brand. I probably pay more attention to the Directory but I am not sure why… maybe because it feels intentional? It’s a dedicated area to promoting businesses. It feels organised! I expect to see the kind of adverts that I do see. The magazine feels collaborative.”

Affordable advertising for small businesses in 91 Magazine


It really is great to hear direct from readers that our approach to advertising sits well with them and adds to their enjoyment of the magazine, rather than detracting from it. But, if you are a small business owner, you may be wondering how you can measure the effectiveness of print advertising? In the world of digital marketing, there is the advantage of scrutinising data through your Google Analytics, which is of course useful, but data analysis cannot always show the full picture and this approach to determining the effectiveness of an individual ad or a marketing campaign has eclipsed other benefits and effects of advertising that aren’t so trackable.

Brand awareness is the big one here. This applies to both online and print, and is all about making more people ‘aware’ of your brand, and also reminding those who already know you so your brand doesn’t drift out of their consciousness. The more your business pops up in front of the right people, the more likely they will think of you when they need or want something you offer. It’s actually quite rare than people buy something immediately after seeing it, either via an ad or elsewhere. Spontaneous purchases do happen – of course they do – but these days, we are all a little bit more considered and will either follow a brand on social media, bookmark their website or pin their products on Pinterest (or all three!) before actually committing to buying something. This means it is almost impossible to track whether an ad you placed in April has been the instigator of a sale you received in August.  Reader Chloe Sherwin tells me how she processes the ads she comes across in 91: “I tend to follow them first to see who they are, what they are about and their brand, what they stand for, what materials they use, how sustainable are they, and does it fit into my style of my home/fashion etc. I normally tell my partner about anyone new I’ve found and if it’s something we are after for our home then we’ll discuss whether we buy from that brand.”

Yes, offering discounts codes are one way of measuring it, but it’s worth bearing in mind that these might have expired by the time the person is ready to purchase. Unless you ask each and every customer where they discovered you, it is immensely difficult to keep a track of your marketing efforts. The problem that many brands have, particularly those with limited budgets for marketing, is that they will ‘try’ running an ad once, feel they got no response and never do it again. This means there is a lack of repetition, and fails to remind readers of the chosen publication about your brand. Whereas for a brand like Winter’s Moon, our readers see them in every single issue and slowly they will begin to not only associate it with 91, they will also remember them when they are looking for colourful, retro homewares. As owner Julia confirms: “I think brands need to aim to be seen in different places and repeatedly. People also keep their copies of 91 so a business can be rediscovered in a year’s time – that’s not so likely to happen with online advertising. The point of difference with 91 Magazine vs mainstream titles, and one of the reasons I wanted to advertise in the first place, is that I feel like I am then part of 91’s community.”

collection of independent magazines


Of course, making the decision to go down the route of paid advertising is an investment, but it is interesting how so many small business owners, and even medium sized businesses allocate almost no budget to getting their brand in front of the right audience. We rely so heavily on the phenomenon of social media, which is certainly an essential marketing tool, but we forget about the communities that are being built around other forms of media.

Here at 91 our focus has always been on supporting small businesses and makers – the people that have followed a creative dream – just as I have myself. What I love about our community, whether that is our contributors, our readers or our advertisers, is that we all lift each other up, we work collaboratively towards a common goal of doing what we love.

Yes, social media does play a HUGE role in running a small business, use it to your advantage, but if you are toying with the idea of investing in ads on there, do consider where your money is going. Will the CEO of Instagram do a happy dance when you book your next ad with them? No. Will he send you a nice email to say thank you and answer any questions on how you can best make it work? No. Would it make you feel better working with another small business who really appreciates your support and in turn will support you? I should say, that I’m not just trying to get everyone to rush and book their next ad space in 91, but I’m encouraging you to find your own community and platforms that are best suited to your small business. If you sell hiking boots for example, let’s face it, they are probably not best placed in the pages of 91, but could you chat to one of the travel and adventure indie mags? Niche magazines tend to have niche audiences and this is one reason why independent magazines are flourishing. Find the right magazine and you’ve potentially found the right audience for your brand, too.

small business advertising in 91 Magazine

I want to finish with a few words from my longest-standing advertiser, Maeve, owner of Ruby Roost, a beautiful online homewares store, which I have seen evolve and grow over the years. I asked Maeve why she has continued to market her small brand through 91: “I’ve simply loved 91 Magazine from the start. Advertising here has always been affordable and as a small business owner, I really appreciate that. It’s lovely to support this magazine. It’s inspiring, oozes creativity and just gets better with each issue.” Thank you Maeve!

I had planned to cover online marketing in this post too, but I think I’ll save that for another time. If you have any thoughts or comments on that area, please do get in touch! And if you have any questions about the above, please do leave a comment.

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