What Every PCO Should Know About TV Advertising

PCOs May Be Surprised To Learn That TV Advertising Is Both Effective And Affordable If They Can Avoid The Common Pitfalls Of Utilizing This Fast-Changing Advertising Vehicle.

July 3, 2001

This article appeared in the April 1999 issue of PCT Magazine.

PCOs May Be Surprised To Learn That TV Advertising Is Both Effective And Affordable If They Can Avoid The Common Pitfalls Of Utilizing This Fast-Changing Advertising Vehicle.

Think again if you believe that television advertising is only for the national companies – or for smaller companies on ego trips. Both large and small pest control firms say television advertising is effective, affordable and as essential to their success as Yellow Pages advertising.

"We’ve run television commercials for close to 30 years," says Gordon Redd, Jr., Redd Pest Control, Gulfport, Miss. "Our current advertising mix is about 30% television advertising, 25% Yellow Pages and the rest a mix of home and garden shows, print advertising in business journals and community newspapers, sports team sponsorships and community public relations."

What has made television advertising so valuable over the years, Redd says, is that it reaches many of the new residents who have moved into the company’s service geography – southern Mississippi and southern Alabama. Redd Pest Control prides itself on its reputation among long-term residents, he notes, but with so many new people moving into the area, television advertising has become essential to retain – and expand – the company’s market share.

"We’ve had some years where population growth in some counties has hit 20% or more," Redd says. "Television has helped us reach waves of newcomers since the early-1960s. We can’t compete with large department store or grocery advertisements in daily newspapers – that would cost too much – but on television we can be as big as anyone."

Company surveys show that up to 65% of new customers heard about Redd Pest Control from its television commercials. Television time does not come cheap, Redd notes, but what makes it cost-effective is the ability to target specific areas and audiences.

"We advertise with the local network affiliate stations because they reach the specific demographic audiences we want," he adds. "Cable television delivers too much of a shotgun audience in this area because it goes everywhere. For us, network TV is the best buy."

BUILDING A BRAND. Ten years ago, Jerry Batzner began advertising his Milwaukee, Wis., company on cable television. Batzner stayed with cable until three years ago when Time Warner gobbled up six independent area cable stations. The loss of cable competition meant prices rose and specific market segments were no longer available. In response, Batzner Pest Management moved its commercials to non-prime time on network TV affiliate stations. Batzner credits television advertising with helping his company become the largest independent pest control firm in Wisconsin.

"We use TV because the cost per thousand to reach our target audience is lower than with any other method," Batzner says. "I know TV has helped us grow. Television gives Batzner name recognition in Milwaukee.

"At the same time, I would caution anyone against expecting instant results. It took us our first full year of cable advertising before we saw even a marginal increase in business. In our experience, TV spots do not generate impulse purchases. People don’t jump up and call you after they’ve seen your commercial. They might do that after seeing a pizza commercial, but rarely for a pest control service."

With a limited advertising budget, Batzner cannot afford daily newspaper advertising or billboards – which can run $4,000 per month on a multi-month commitment. In Milwaukee, he says, consumer brand advertisers own all the primetime commercial slots on the NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox network affiliate stations. Batzner’s past attempts to use radio, direct mail and telemarketing have been disappointing.

What has worked best for Batzner is television, Yellow Pages, print ads in community newspapers and public relations – active membership in organizations, sponsorships of teams, participating in fund-raisers and charitable donations. Batzner has also made himself known to local television news reporters and as a result his company has been interviewed several times about pest problems and solutions.

RIGHT TIME, RIGHT PLACE. Andy Mannino, Jr., co-owner of AMCO Ranger Pest & Termite Control in St. Charles, Mo., has been running cable commercials for nine consecutive years.

"Cable commercials may seem hokey, but they’re fun and they’ve helped us grow," Mannino says. "Cable definitely does us good in terms of reaching new customers."

Like any other advertising, cable works if you know what you are doing and why, Mannino says. To make sure advertising is effective, Mannino researches available cable networks and program demographics. For example, AMCO Ranger runs commercials on CNN to reach households with an annual income ranging from $40,000 to $60,000; a median age of 43 years and home ownership of 74%. Mannino also runs commercials on ESPN, TNN, USA and several other cable channels. Sports channels have been effective but are becoming too expensive.

"Some pest control companies use network TV in our area, but few do cable," Mannino says. "For us, cable lets us reach just the people we want to reach. We run commercials in the St. Charles area only, even though we also serve greater St. Louis. St. Charles is growing fast and it is an important market. We run commercials during the season only – from mid-March through September or October."

NATIONAL ADVANTAGE. The advantages of cable and network TV in local areas can simply be multiplied on the regional or national level, says Stephen R. Good, vice president of marketing for Terminix International, Memphis, Tenn.

"Terminix is bullish on cable advertising," Good says. "We are investing more on cable TV than any other single advertising medium. We use cable because it works. Terminix tracks customer leads on a daily basis and we see a definite difference when we are airing commercials.

"We are also big on cable because it gives us a national presence that would be impossible to afford on network television. The proliferation of stations in recent years increases our audience options."

Buying a national cable presence requires defining and refining choices year-to-year, Good adds. Terminix defines the target audience groups it wants. Then cable station and program recommendations are made by an agency with specialized expertise in buying media. Another agency produces commercials for Terminix.

"I am a strong proponent of professional agencies," Good says. "When you deal with a local cable station they are interested in doing one thing – selling time. Unbiased, expert help is valuable in making wise decisions because it’s too easy for some people to take program ratings and slice and dice them to look the way they want."

Knowing the audience you need and making sure you get it is probably the biggest challenge for any pest control company, Good adds. The difference between an effective or ineffective television advertising investment is more often than not the programming and time slot selection.

"If you take your time you can usually cherry-pick the programming and time slots you need for good results," Good says. "You’re better off buying time that’s more expensive than being on at 2 a.m. when no one is watching – even though the price looks right. The old saying that ‘you get what you pay for’ is also true of television advertising."