Think that the budget won’t stretch to advertising your business? Think again, says management and marketing consultant Phil Turtle…
“We don’t need to advertise, we know all the people we need to communicate with.” I hear this from business owners and directors on a weekly basis. Either that or they say; “We can’t afford to advertise.” Nearly always, they’re from companies that are performing averagely. What we both know that they’re actually saying is: “Look, we’re sort of managing at the moment. Okay so the order book’s down, margins are low and advertising is really expensive so we couldn’t afford it even if we wanted to.”  And of course they’re quite right – so why didn’t they just say so?

Anyone who has run a company will know that when your nose is hard to the grindstone, you don’t really have the luxury of the time and energy to stop and spend time thinking laterally. And of course believing your own defence statement gives you one less thing to worry about. But it doesn’t really give you less to worry about because the order book’s still very thin and margins are tight and there are many active competitors, which may not be too bad when the economy’s reasonably buoyant. But when the pendulum swings the other way as it has now, either you’re the supplier of choice in your marketplace (and you suffer a bit of margin erosion), or you’re much lower down the pecking order and your margins get decimated.

You don’t know everyone

Even though you and your staff know your customers and possibly ‘some’ key prospects, they aren’t the only people who need to know about your company. Even in existing long-term customer relationships, people move, situations change and new customers will need to take their place. If they don’t know your company, they’ll tend to favour familiar names and many new brooms want to make their mark and sweep clean. And it doesn’t have to be your direct contact that changes. You may offer the best service around but if another company has a higher profile – they are advertising or being featured in trade magazines all the time for example – they are almost guaranteed to get the customer’s business.

It happens to big companies too. A classic example of a company being caught out by believing their own “we know everyone” mantra was former international car and truck brake manufacturer Ferodo. They did know many of the right people but that didn’t help when several of their major customers decided, almost all at once, to relocate their research and development functions toGermany. Suddenly, the Ferodo people knew no-one. Even worse, the new decision makers didn’t know anything about Ferodo. I was brought in to implement an aggressive advertising, PR, direct marketing and high-level sales operation. In this case, the damage was successfully limited but it was an expensive exercise that could have been avoided by on-going low key, low cost business to business promotion centred on PR.

Who needs to know you?

There are various groups of people or “audiences” who it is in your best interest to make and keep aware of your company. But all of these people need to know how good your company is and the breadth of products and services you offer. Of course your customers and prospective customers need to be aware of your presence but it is wise that your peers or competitors also know about you. The more they know about your good points, the harder it is for them to knock you. Also, their people are more likely to want to jump ship and join you if have good press coverage. Your suppliers also need to be kept aware of your company. The better they perceive you to be in the marketplace, the more attractive a customer you’ll be which will help you to negotiate better supply deals. Finally, it is also important for your staff. Reading about the company they work for makes them feel a part of something important. It can have an almost evangelical effect and is highly motivating.


But we still can’t afford to advertise…

Advertising is not the only way to gain awareness and it certainly would be a very expensive way to communicate with all of the people you need to reach.  It certainly has its place in the marketing communications mix, but there is a more cost-effective way for businesses to communicate with other businesses and that is PR (public or press relations). Business to business (or B2B PR) is completely different to the sort of PR you hear about with celebrities, paparazzi and champagne. It’s even legal, decent and truthful! There’s a total culture difference and thankfully, editors of trade magazines are not out to sell copies based on sensationalism – they’re in the business of providing high quality, relevant information to their readers about their market                  sector.

Your market sector.

In fact, because most trade journals actually have a staff of only one and bit (the editor and a part time advertising sales rep), they are almost totally dependent on material submitted by companies. So if you’re providing a flow of high-quality press releases and feature articles, or case studies, they’ll probably use it. If you don’t, they’ll use your competitors’ material instead.

A few guiding principles

As I run a PR division, you’d probably expect me to tell you at this point that PR is a really difficult black art. But it’s not. Granted, we at Turtle Consulting have learned a trick or two over the years which help, but the core skill is simple hard work and gentle sales technique. To start with you need to analyse the journals in the sector (remember that many are onlin

e) and understand what the editors want. Write and distribute press releases on any real news stories you have – but don’t send rubbish. This way, editors will come to know that your releases will be worth reading. Make sure you pick up on all the coverage you obtain. And don’t just file it; you can reprint into a direct mail, put it on your website or hand-out items to encourage your customers and potential customers. If you don’t want to do all of this yourself, then consider using a PR agency but only one that specialises in your sector.

B2B advertising can sometimes be expensive and to be effective, it needs to be regular. B2B PR on the other hand can start from £zero if you do it yourself and as little as £15k a year using an agency. You can achieve editorial coverage valued at many times what you spend.

Of course, there are also good reasons to advertise – particularly when you need to get over a message which is not “news”. And of course if no-one advertises there won’t be any magazines left for PR to work in. So it is a responsibility to support sector magazines with advertising too.

For more information on PR and marketing visit or email