STOP!  Don't run this ad!

I got a call from John.  He explained that he’d invested in some of my marketing materials, and that he had created an ad for an upcoming promotion. He wondered if I’d look briefly at his ad before he placed it.  He was only ‘risking’ $200 on the ad, but he didn’t want to spend his money until he had an opinion on it.

I asked him about his business. He was an interesting man.

He outlined his impressive career as a trainer, said he’d written a book on public speaking, and now wanted to promote a new public speaking course. I agreed to look over the ad.

When I got it, I knew immediately it wouldn’t work.  I could see instantly that he’d be wasting his money.  I phoned him to say: ‘Hold the presses!’. 

He was taken aback by my reaction. You see, in John’s mind, he had followed ‘the Chris Newton’s system’ for creating an effective advertisement.  He protested that his ad had an attention getting headline, and he’d included a money back guarantee.  And it had a ‘call to action’ in the form of a coupon. 

So ‘WHY would I even suggest it wouldn’t work?’ 

In a moment, I’ll explain exactly WHY.  And I’ll share with you the keys that would make his ad a success. But it begs the question, ‘How is that business people like John can follow the guidelines and get it SO wrong?’

The truth is, creating a successful marketing piece is like completing a jigsaw puzzle.  You can’t use just SOME of the pieces.  You need to ensure you’ve got ALL of the success elements incorporated and dovetailed together.  Your ad, brochure, sales letter, proposal … or indeed, any piece of ‘marketing collateral’ that misses key elements will fail to work.  It may work to a limited extent, but the sales that are being potentially lost don’t even bear thinking about!

Strategy is king

Most importantly, you’ve got to have the STRATEGY right. In John’s case, (I’ve changed his surname and address details) he had missed quite a few pieces of the puzzle, and his strategy was completely off the rails.  Here’s his first ad draft:



First, what’s RIGHT about his ad? 

Good headline.  

We’ve all heard that surveys show that people have a great fear of public speaking than of death.  So John’s headline taps into that fear element quite effectively. 

The sub-head.

‘Be an effective SPEAKER’. 

This is good as it clearly defines whom the ad is addressed to. 

OK, so what’s WRONG with the ad?

The money back guarantee in the headline. 

The ad fails here, because we don’t really know anything about what is on offer, or whether we want to buy it at this point.  So a money back guarantee at this point is fairly meaningless in this particular ad.  

It is attempting to ‘sell off the page’. 

Selling off the page is the toughest of challenges.  An ad that can motivate its audience enough for them to send off their credit card details to buy something sight unseen, needs to be a GREAT ad.  It needs to be extremely compelling.

In contrast, John’s ad doesn’t offer any understanding of what the course is all about, what the reader will GET in the 'Textbook and CD series', what the '2 private evaluations' are, or who the company is.  There’re no testimonials, no ‘painting’ of the picture of what the course will do for the reader. 

It was doomed to fail.

Sadly, John is not alone in running ads like this.  On any day, there are thousands of companies spending their hard earned money on ads that patently FAIL to sell.  And these well meaning companies just keep pouring more money in, hoping it’ll start working.  It won’t. 

In many cases, they don’t measure the results to their ads, and they’re blissfully wasting thousands of dollars, probably because some ‘expert’ insisted it's OK because they're ‘keeping their name before the public’!  (Which categorically doesn’t work.) 

More on how to overcome that later.  In this case, I explained to John that he needed a strategy. He need a strategy that would get him his desired outcome.  That is, bookings for his workshop.

The Strategy – and a Sales Process

By now, John had accepted that his chances of selling his $150 course off the page in a small ad like the one he proposed, were nil. So I went on to outline a multi-step approach for his sales process. 

  • First, generate leads.  Create an ad with a strong RESPONSE GENERATING OFFER to gather the names and contact details of people qualified as prospects for his course. 
  • Then, follow these prospects up with a letter and an information pack outlining what it is John does, and what his course can do for them.  The letter to explain that one of John’s team will be in touch to answer any queries.
  • And as a third step, phone them.  Develop a script for his people to call the prospects and discover what it is they’re looking for in public speaking, and to explain how the course will help them achieve their outcomes.

From this point, the team is in a position to convert prospects into bookings over the phone.

A very simple three-step strategy. 

Doing the numbers

At this point it was time to put some numbers to his campaign, to open John's eyes to what it would take to make his campaign viable.  In other words, we needed to establish a breakeven for his ad campaign.  Specifically, how many sales did he need to get per ad to make it PAY?

I got John to figure out what a sale is WORTH to him.  Then to work backwards and determine how much he could afford to invest to GET that sale.

He figured his gross profit on a booking at his course was around $100 after catering and room hire.  He also told me that he typically ‘converts’ two out of every ten leads.  A conversion rate of 1:5.  In other words, he needs to get five leads to lock in one sale.   Every lead therefore represents $20 in gross profit.

Creating a compelling OFFER

One of the critical things to do in any marketing exercise is to test. 

And one of the key elements to test is … the OFFER. 

How compelling your offer is impacts on your outcome by over 300%! 

With that in mind, I prompted …“John you mentioned that you’ve written a book and that it’s been a pretty popular seller.  How would you feel about GIVING AWAY a copy of your book, as a lead generator in your next ad?”

To his credit, John saw the immediate potential of that.   His book had a retail face value of $19.95.  But they only cost him about $4.  So yes, he would be happy to give a book to qualified enquirers. 

This may sound like giving away the farm, but when you consider ONLY people who are interested in public speaking would want a copy, they would be fairly qualified.

A new, bigger ad

Armed with all this new strategy and insight, John went away and wrote a new ad.  It was to be 3 times the size.  His new ad space would cost $600.

Based on the work we'd done already, he knew to breakeven on that ad cost, he’d need to get SIX people in the workshop. And to convert those six, he’d need to get five times that in leads – 30 enquiries.  Actually, a bit more, perhaps 35 to cover the cost of giving away his books.

So at least he now had a clear objective.  And he had a strategy to write an ad offering his book for free. 

He also knew that 35 enquiries was the absolute rock bottom breakeven point.  And that every lead after that represented $20 in gross profit.  He was on his way!

You know, simple as this critically importnat exercise is, most companies NEVER get to analysing their advertising even to this detail. 

It’s a valuable and powerful exercise to do.  Perhaps it's time for you to review your own ads.  Your own strategies.  To challenge: Is our marketing working?  Do we measure it?  Have we figured out what’d happen if we doubled our number of leads?  Or improved our conversion rate by 15% or more?

Once you put a pencil to these things, you can see where those profits you’ve been chasing so hard have been hiding.  Change things, and profits flow!

As a footnote, John had a graphic designer do his second larger ad for him.  And I had the unenviable task of telling him that one wouldn’t have worked either.  (A topic for another article! - Selling Off The Page)

For more tips on writing killer ads, check out my new ebook Write & Design your own Ads, Brochures, Sales Letters, Direct Mail, Flyers & Sales Presentations.