Commercials and infomercials, such as the one on this screen for Betterliving Sunrooms, can do double duty as in-store marketing vehicles.
Commercials and infomercials, such as the one on this screen for Betterliving Sunrooms, can do double duty as in-store marketing vehicles.

Ever wonder where your customers get their information from? If you said television, you're right. According to a recent survey by the A.C. Nielsen Co., this year, the average American adult will watch more than 28 hours of television per week.

TV is seductive and omnipresent. Many home improvement companies are drawn to television's vast reach and its potential to create awareness. Those who use it say it can generate buckets of leads and make a company a household name.

But TV makes many contractors nervous. Aside from being expensive, this is a medium with different costs, requirements, and parameters. Making a commercial is a completely different proposition from, say, laying out an ad. Buying time on air is similarly different. And say you get everything else right, and the leads pour in: Those leads are going to require some special handling.

Rules to Live By Using TV to generate home improvement leads is definitely not for everyone. While the potential is huge, so are the risks. Careful consideration is needed to make it work. Know what you want to say, what you want to spend, what kind of return you expect to get back — meaning numbers of leads produced and deals written —and know exactly how you're going to measure that return so that you're not throwing your money away. In other words, have a plan.

“TV can be real good, but it can also put you out of business,” says Glenn Atkinson, owner of Modern Exteriors in Springfield, Mo., whose company has advertised on television for 22 years.

Marketers say television's great for producing leads in volume. “You pay your money and you get your names,” says Debbie Stone, marketing manager for Betterliving Patio and Sunrooms, Souderton, Pa. As a lead source, the advantage lies in the sheer volume of those names.

But another advantage is quick results. Television advertising, says Doug Jimmink, president of sales and marketing at Garden State Brickface, Roselle, N.J., is “the one thing you can do to get an immediate response.” In contrast to a direct mail piece that can take weeks or months to produce, “if I have a need for leads next week, I can go on TV today.”

Garden State Brickface has been a TV advertiser for 25 years. Companies with less experience aren't likely to get those instant results.

Then there's the other half of the equation. Say you run an ad. Who's going to take the calls? What process exists to turn those inquiries into issued leads? To get the most from TV advertising, you have to have an infrastructure in place. Some companies set up a phone room to manage calls they receive in response to TV ads. Many subscribe to a toll-free answering service, which offers the advantage of a round-the-clock response, so calls can be fielded night and day. Whatever way it's set up, somebody needs to be there when the phone rings. “I've seen companies rush into TV when their leads are down, and it seldom works,” Atkinson says. If a campaign makes the phone ring, “then they get all those leads and they can't respond. You have to have your call center ready to receive those calls.”