Taking It Out in the Trades

Jun 01, 2007 9:30 PM  By

Business-to-business merchants traditionally reached out to prospects by advertising in the trade magazines their prospects read. And while this old-school method still works, marketing experts suggest updating a trade ad campaign with online advertising, e-mail newsletters, and value-ad deals ranging from subscriber list rentals to trade-show sponsorships.

Interline Brands, which sells commercial plumbing, electrical, and maintenance supplies, boosted sales of a new line of faucets two years ago by running a trade magazine ad campaign that included targeted promotions using the publications’ lists.

“We asked four publications we had never advertised with before to send a letter of introduction, introducing us as a new advertiser, with a copy of their magazine to top customers,” says Brian Wenzel, marketing manager for Jacksonville, FL-based Interline.

Interline’s ads in those magazines directed readers to a Website created specifically to spotlight the new product. Thanks to the trade ads, as well as direct mail newsletters and advertising on Interline’s core Website, sales of the new line jumped 40% in one year.

Success with a trade magazine campaign, then, involves more than placing a space ad and waiting for leads to roll in. Here are a few tips to help you leverage your next big b-to-b ad campaign.

  • Know the audience

    Research all the trade magazines pertinent to your industry, not just the top one or two. Depending on the industry and how specialized your category is, there could be as many as 20 publications that reach your prospects. The best way to determine which magazines to investigate, Wenzel says, is to ask your current customers what they read.

    You can also e-mail both customers and prospects a survey on magazines they read, says Barry Litwin, vice president/general manager for Block & Co., a Wheeling, IL-based manufacturer/marketer of banking supplies. “It might be helpful to suggest 15 or 20 journals and let them choose what they read,” he says.

    Third-party research can also reveal which publications your target market reads. “You have to look at the demographics: who it is reaching and which level of management. Make sure it is the right people,” says Peter Koeppel, president of Koeppel Direct, a direct response media-buying firm based in Dallas.

    Media planners and advertising agencies also conduct surveys and other research to drill down the right magazines for your audience. Using their services can not only help you recognize all the possible ways to reach your prospects but may also provide you with competitive information you can use later in negotiations with the publishers.

    Compare circulation numbers among magazines by checking out their audited circulation reports. Organizations such as the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) and BPA Worldwide audit the circulation of more than 2,000 b-to-b publications and other types of media. “Be wary of publications that are not audited by BPA or another association,” Wenzel says. In those cases, publishers’ circulation numbers may not be accurate.

  • Wheel and deal for the best value and reach

    “Always negotiate the price,” Wenzel says. “If you are placing the ad yourself, you can get a 15% agency discount off the price.” In addition, new advertisers often receive a discount when they agree to place a certain number of ads, he says.

    If you advertise with a magazine on a regular basis, negotiate for value-adds such as additional mailings to its subscribers or placement on its Website as a “premier” advertiser, Litwin says. The presence of ads in the magazine’s daily or weekly e-newsletters will also attract prospects, he notes.

    When Wenzel worked for a company that sold supplies for printers, the firm partnered with a printers’ association that published a magazine. The supplier placed an ad in the magazine, then the association provided the company with a list of printers who were not yet members of the association. “We sent out a letter with the magazine saying that we would buy their membership to the association [$750 each], if they bought our product,” Wenzel says. The program worked.

    Also, stay current with media trends, such as the addition of blogs and podcasts to some magazines’s Websites. You might be able to sponsor a publication’s Webinar or educational podcast, or provide an expert for a podcast. Or you might be able to take part in a blog conversation on the magazine’s site, Koeppel says.

    “Each publisher has a different array of things you can spend money on: It could be participating in a research study; you might have the publication host a breakfast and have someone from your company there,” says Stacy Malone, vice president/interactive media director for New York advertising firm Universal McCann. So get creative and remember that he who doesn’t ask doesn’t get.

  • Negotiate list rentals

    With many trade magazines, you can negotiate for limited mailings to the publisher’s subscriber list as part of your advertising contract. “Always ask for a portion of their list. Some magazines will offer you a discount on rentals,” Wenzel says.

    In addition, Wenzel drills publications on their readers’ demographics, product preferences, and other selects. “Don’t just get 1,000 names. Ask if they cut the list and if they do market studies,” he advises. In some cases, request selects as specific as subscribers who plan to purchase faucets in the next six months.

    When Block & Co. runs prospecting campaigns for its catalog, it segments mailings by publisher lists and mail order buyer files. Although prospects from buyer files tend to respond better, Litwin says, publisher lists are also important because “there may not be a mail order list targeted precisely to the market you want.”

  • Seek prime placement

    When negotiating with trade magazines on ad space, keep in mind that some positions are better than others. Right-hand pages in the front of a magazine are considered prime positions. Sometimes, though, you may prefer to have your ad placed near a particular editorial department or feature.


A freelance editor and writer based in Orlando, FL, Christine Blank has written for Hotel & Motel Management and Supermarket News, among other publications.

Track and measure

To measure the effectiveness of your magazine ad campaigns, you need to track the ads on a publication-by-publication basis. “If you can’t drive an action from your message, you really aren’t going to have a good opportunity to gauge effectiveness. One of the hardest areas to gauge is print,” says Barry Litwin, vice president/general manager for banking supplies merchant Block & Co. Litwin uses source codes to track the number of catalog requesters and conversions each ad generates.

Experts suggest setting up a separate URL and/or 800-number for each print ad. Especially if you are running a new campaign or advertising in new publications, this helps you gauge exactly which magazines and ads were most effective. “A mistake people make is setting up one URL for their entire print initiative, so you can never refine your plan over time,” says Stacy Malone, vice president/interactive media director for advertising agency Universal McCann.

And before agreeing to a long-term ad deal, test the same ad campaign and creative — with dedicated URLs and phone numbers — across several competing magazines. “You then share the results with the publisher: Here is where you performed” compared with competitors, Malone says. If the results were not great, you can use that in negotiating a lower rate or to modify your strategy. If results were acceptable, you can continue testing, she notes.
CB