By Kim Smith (Owner, Digital and Broadcast Media Specialist)

I read an interesting post on LinkedIn written by Collin Slattery, founder and CEO of Taikun Digital in New York City. His thesis is that advertising won’t fix a business. What it will do is amplify the current state of the business. Good or bad.

That means if you have lousy customer service, and advertising brings more people to your door or to your website, it won’t improve your customer service; it’ll just mean that potentially more people in the marketplace will know about your lousy customer service.

Likewise, if your pricing structure is poor and you’re not making the margin that is needed, or you’re pricing yourself out of the marketplace. I would add that if your website provides a poor user experience, is not designed to work with digital campaigns, or has a slow load speed, advertising will not help your company until those issues are addressed. If your company is using a call service to answer leads, and they are not spectacularly trained, advertising will not help your business. Whether you’re using traditional or digital media, if your ad creative doesn’t give prospective customers a compelling reason to choose your company, if it talks down or denigrates people (white males are a particular target in much of today’s advertising), or if it’s not in the right place at the right time, it will not work.

In my years in marketing and advertising, more than 30 now, I’ve heard a saying more times than I can count from small business owners. When asked why they made a particular advertising decision, the response “Well, I had to do something” is an enormous red flag. It tells me that the owner is not in a good place but was expecting advertising to change the business course.

Advertising can’t do that. What it can do is separate you from the competition and provide compelling offers to those most likely to be interested in what you sell. But if there are foundational problems, do not expect that advertising is going to fix them, much less provide growth.

In our company, I’m known for what’s been called my “your baby’s ugly speech”. Translated, that means I feel it’s our responsibility to point out the issues we see that are hindering a company’s growth, whether those are part of the advertising or not, before and during campaigns.

Over the years, I’ve (kindly) pointed out factors such as salespeople smoking outside the front door is a total turn-off to customers; when the person answering the phone sounds like it’s the worst job he or she has ever had; outdated and slow websites; websites built to be pretty but that will not work well in digital campaigns; spending media dollars to support a sales rep who’s a personal friend, instead of buying media most suited to your prospective customers; and many more.

We’ve seen advertising produce amazing results for many, many clients, but we’ve seen some campaigns that had a modest impact or been a near-total loss of ad budget. For those, almost invariably, we find there’s an issue with the internal workings inside the company. We will never promise you results for the ad dollar, but we will promise you that if we see issues that need to be addressed, we’ll bring them up for discussion so that those very important ad dollars don’t amplify problems — but work to amplify the solutions and value that you provide to customers so you can gain more of them.

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