By Rosemarie Monaco Give your customers a reason to visit your web site on every piece of printed material you distribute, such as a free demo or special offer. April 18, 2005 -- The most effective marketing communications campaigns are integrated mixes of advertising, direct marketing, sales promotion and public relations. But if you've just spent huge sums of money on new equipment, you might not have a lot left to spend on a full-blown campaign. Looking at some of the advantages and disadvantages of each medium will help you determine which make sense for you. Print and Web Advertising Advertising is a strong image builder and will create name recognition. Keeping your name visible will reinforce it with your current customers, as well as attract new ones. And with "direct response" advertising you can gain actual sales leads. Direct response advertising is an ad that actually asks the reader to respond in some way. You might make a special offer using a coupon. The most successful method is to ask the reader to answer a few questions in return for a giveaway--a CD that contains free templates, for example. The questions will help qualify the lead, and at the same time allow you to deliver a preliminary sales pitch. There is advertising that small companies can actually afford. Look into regional trade publications, local directories and the business sections of local newspapers. The disadvantage of print advertising is that relative to other media it is considered expensive, mostly because in order to be effective you need high frequency. And you will not reach a very focused audience. With newspapers especially, there will be a great number of readers who have no interest at all in your services. PR results can be difficult to quantify, but like good will, can build over time and form part of your company's image. Placing a banner on web sites that potential customers might visit is a very effective way of advertising with a lower investment. But just like print advertising, it requires frequency.One of the most effective means of banner advertising is sponsoring e-newsletters. Find out what your customers read or subscribe to. Just ask them. Chances are that other buyers are reading the same materials. Your company website is another advertising vehicle with great potential. However, building a site and letting it sit does very little for you. You need to draw prospects in. This requires a search optimization plan, which means making sure your site is high in the search list when someone types in "on-demand" or "printer." There are companies who specialize in doing this. Ask the web designer who built your site to make a recommendation. Another way to draw people to your site is to entice them to visit on every piece of printed material you distribute, but give them a reason for visiting--a free demo, perhaps. You also need to keep your site fresh and interesting. If it isn't, visitors are unlikely to return. Public Relations (PR) Public Relations is the least expensive medium because you aren't paying for space in a magazine or for the production of a mailer. But if you want to get an article about your company placed, you need a professional writer and someone who knows how to get attention. And that does cost money. Direct mail can get expensive, even when you write off the printing. But there is no better way to demonstrate your printing capabilities, especially if you are skilled using variable data. PR is one of the best image builders. The fact that a third party is writing about your company provides objective endorsement and heightens credibility. But getting your name in the paper is only a small part of what PR is all about. Public relations consists of anything that gets you publicity, recognition, and creates good will. Educational newsletters--electronic or hardcopy--are very effective. The shorter you keep them the better the chances they will be read. A newsletter called PrintTips, for example, could offer clients and prospects clever ways to save money, improve quality or market their products--using variable data, for example. Remember one thing: you must follow the rules of permission-based marketing if you choose the electronic route. Educational seminars are another example. By inviting your target audience to learn about subjects they are interested in--free of charge--you send a goodwill message. You are telling your audience that you want to be a partner in their future. There are many other inexpensive ways to create good will. Take part in a community event. Organize a local environmental clean-up with a neighborhood school or another company. Just think about it. There are hundreds of ways you can get attention. Public relations activities will take a good deal of your time, but it is usually worth it. The results are difficult to quantify but the benefits of PR activities are long term. Direct Marketing Direct postal mail and email are the most focused of all marketing vehicles. You choose a mailing list comprising the exact profile of the customers you need to reach. Because it is so focused, you will receive more leads than you would with any ad and they'll be better qualified. Direct mail, however, can get expensive, even if you write off the printing. That's because in addition to design costs, you have to add postage and time. And to be effective, you need to mail at least four times--six times is better. However, there really is no better way to demonstrate your printing capabilities, especially if you are skilled using variable data. The most effective campaign is one that combines email with postal mail. It is possible to purchase mailing lists which also provide opt-in email addresses, but these are more expensive. With the proper timing you'll get more of a response in a shorter time. This will also demonstrate to your audience the power of the print medium. Newsletters, which also fall into the category of public relations, are also an effective direct mail format. If done well, they can be used to support your training efforts. They can build awareness and you can use them to communicate special promotions. Sales Promotion Just about anything that promotes sales falls into this category. You might want to consider a contest for your sales people. Make the rewards exciting and tie them into your overall campaign. For instance, reward sales people who turn an advertising lead into a new account. Sales promotion can be your least expensive medium. It is relatively easy to implement. But in this case it is limited to your internal organization. Evaluating Your Efforts Keeping a strong and consistent identity is critically important. An integrated mix of the various media is the most effect way to go. But if your budget is limited, you might want to choose one or two of these options. Remember that keeping a strong and consistent identity is critically important. Stay focused on your goals and reinforce your message in everything you do. Finally, the best way to determine if your money is well spent is to track your sales leads. Set up a system to record where your leads are coming from, how people heard about you, and which medium seems to be most effective. You may find that certain types of customers respond better to direct mail, while others are responding to PR efforts such as free seminars. Tracking this will help you to determine the best mediums to use and justify your investment. Warning: Don't Try This at Home While you don't have to go to the expense of a big agency, hire a professional designer and copywriter. The people you are trying to reach are not general consumers. They are far more sophisticated in marketing. While you don't have to go to the expense of a big agency, hire a professional designer and copywriter. After you plan your strategy let them work together to come up with a powerful campaign. The worst thing you can do is send out a weak message in an amateur layout.