Making television advertising work in the home improvement business is a challenge. But find the formula that works in your market and it can be a scalable lead source that becomes more efficient the more you use it. The brand-building power of television can pay big, long-term dividends if you can find a way to get lead costs down to an acceptable, sustainable level.

CONSIDER THIS If your company is ready to move into TV, here are a few things to remember:

  • Spending too little on your initial buy can cost you dearly, since your frequency might never reach critical mass.
  • Don't buy spots, buy impressions. An “expensive” spot may deliver a lower cost per thousand in your demographic than the “cheap” spot.
  • Learn all you can about spot availability and the competitive environment. Set clear cost-per-lead goals and communicate these to station personnel.
  • Frequency is critical. Five spots in the same program to the same audience in a week will likely produce better results than 10 spots run-of-station. Buy commercials in two-week flights rather than a lighter schedule for a month.
  • Low-involvement programming is best for direct response. Go with Oprah, local news, or a Saturday afternoon movie. And plan for a TV hiatus during political season.
  • Propose a schedule spanning at least three months with a weight that gives the campaign a real chance of success. Flight your commercials around the other retail advertisers to help that sales manager fill his book.

PITCH YOUR BUSINESS Finally, to get your TV lead costs down, don't buy your television schedule, sell it. Pitch the station sales manager face to face, not through the rep. Define the demographic, weight, and frequency that will be effective and then sell the TV station on running that schedule at your price. Talk in terms of your total annual advertising budget in all media. Make it clear that you'll move money to the most productive medium. Sell him on the long-term benefits of adding you to his account list with the same preparation and determination with which you'd sell him a siding job.

Also, if you're in a major market, consider using a freelance media buyer. The tools and know-how she'll bring to bear will more than pay for her fees in lower media costs and better targeting. —John Stevens is a partner in Peterson/Stevens, an advertising agency specializing in brand-building and lead generation for the home improvement industry. 800.270.0911;