This article originally appeared on the Prime Design Solutions website.

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(The audio for this podcast is no longer available, but it is summarized below.)

When you think of traditional advertising, you’re usually thinking of paid media – that is, an ad that the advertiser spent money to place. Most advertising campaigns will use more than one form of media, depending on the audience the campaign is trying to reach. In this podcast, we’ll go over the strengths and weaknesses of the various forms of paid media, as well as their thumbnail costs – and how you can evaluate which might be right for your company and your goals.


A thumbnail cost for the Johnstown region is $250-500 per spot, depending on placement. Generally, the station can produce a spot for you, or you can hire a production company to do it– generally, a simple spot will cost in the neighborhood of $2,000 and up.

Advantages of TV advertising include:

  • TV has a broad reach.
  • TV ads feature strong visuals and sound.
  • People watching TV have to sit through ads.

Disadvantages of TV advertising include:

  • TV ads can be expensive in good time slots (such as local news).
  • Production costs for a more complicated spot can be high.
  • A station’s geographic reach can’t be adjusted.
  • The increasing use of DVR technology means more people can skip ads.
  • Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu means more people avoid them altogether – people’s TV watching habits are increasingly splintered, which is especially true of millennials.
  • Availability can sometimes be an issue with TV advertising, especially during election season.

Cable Television

Cable is pretty affordable compared to network TV, and can be bought for as little as $10-15 per spot, depending on placement. There are several ways to go about placing a cable TV buy — you can get ads that air on national channels within the geographic reach of a particular cable operator (sometimes it’s possible to limit the reach through “geographic zones.”) You can also buy “national spot” cable,  which allows an advertiser to contact a single sales organization to insert a spot in selected geographical areas.

Advantages of cable  advertising include:

  • Cable can be considerably more targeted than network television, as each channel’s demographic is a lot more specific.
  • TV ads feature strong visuals and sound.
  • People watching TV have to sit through ads.

Disadvantages of cable advertising include:

  • Production costs can be high.
  • Cable’s reach is much more limited — there’s a reason it’s so much less expensive than network TV.
  • The increasing use of DVR technology, Netflix, and Hulu means more people can skip ads.


The cost of radio ads can vary dramatically depending on how popular the station is, and when the ads are played – typically, the most expensive spots are drive-times in morning and afternoon. In the Johnstown/Altoona region, $47/spot is a thumbnail cost, although your cost will vary depending on the station and the size of your buy. Other advertising opportunities through radio include sponsoring a live remote, underwriting a show, and more. Often, a single corporation will own more than one radio station in the same market, which means it’s usually possible to structure a buy across several stations to reach your desired demographics.

When buying radio, you sometimes pick between “run of station” buys, when the station chooses when your spot runs – this is less expensive and usually less effective, or “flights,” which ensure more specific run times.

Advantages of radio advertising include:

  • Radio can be relatively targeted by demographic and geographic location.
  • Radio is often heard in public places like stores, reaching people who aren’t regular listeners.
  • You can sometimes buy shorter commercials than the standard :30, which makes it more affordable.
  • Radio campaigns can get on the air relatively quickly, although you can sometimes save money by buying in advance.
  • Production costs are fairly minimal, and almost always the radio station can produce a spot for you.

Disadvantages of radio advertising include:

  • An audio format is not suited for some kinds of information (phone numbers, products that are visually-oriented).
  • Many people have abandoned traditional radio for streaming services like Spotify or Sirius for personal use.
  • People tend to listen to the radio while they’re doing something else – it is a background medium, and as such requires frequency to be effective.

Outdoor: Billboards

The cost for traditional billboards varies considerably depending on the desirability of the location. In this region, $800-1050 per board, per month for placement is standard, plus at least $150 for paper (this does not include design costs. Typically, a billboard company can design for you for a fee, if you don’t have a marketing agency or in-house designer.) Generally speaking, it makes sense to buy billboards for longer time periods so as to amortize the paper cost, as that’s a one-time fee.

Digital boards are in premium locations and are extremely expensive, up to $2,060 for one 4-week flight. Design costs apply, but obviously there’s no cost for paper. Also, digital boards are shared by several advertisers, so your message is only seen a portion of the time.

Advantages of billboards include:

  • Paper billboards are always on, 24/7 (digital billboards are always on too, but you typically share the space with other advertisers).
  • Billboards are geographically focused, which can be especially good for businesses that want to direct people to a place of business such as a restaurant or retail location.

Disadvantages of billboards include:

  • Billboards require a short format – seven words or less is rule of thumb.
  • It can be difficult to secure a good billboard location for a shorter campaign, as the best locations are often taken by bigger, national advertisers for long periods of time.

Outdoor: Transit

Another form of outdoor advertising is transit — advertising on buses. The cost depends on size of board – typically, you can buy a “tail,” “side,” or a “full wrap” (wraps have to stay on at least 6 months). In this area, monthly placement cost can range from $110 for a small billboard-size to $1,700 for a wrap. Wrap production cost is $1500, but these last a full year (design cost not included), so it’s best to buy space for a whole year so as to amortize the production cost. Outdoor can also include odd items as bus stop ads, benches, and even odd items like the posters on the interior of some public restroom stall doors – availability and cost for these will vary significantly.

Advantages of transit outdoor include:

  • Your message can be targeted geographically, and moves through the location.
  • Transit outdoor tends to be more affordable than billboards.

Disadvantages of transit outdoor include:

  • Like regular outdoor, the format is short and relatively inflexible.
  • Transit outdoor is relatively easy to ignore.

 Newspaper advertising

The cost of newspaper advertising depends on paper’s circulation, the frequency with which you run ads, and a wide variety of other factors — so many, in fact, that the guideline to contact an ad representative before concluding you can’t afford newspaper is vital. Varying discounts apply for multiple insertion dates – the column inch rate can literally be halved with enough repetition of the ad. That said, in the immediate region, most papers charge around $40-47 per column inch for a black-and-white ad that runs once (so, for example, a 2 column by 4 inch deep ad at $40 per column inch would be $320). Newspapers have designers that can create an ad for you if you don’t have access to design services.

Advantages of newspaper advertising include:

  • Newspaper has a broad reach in a given geographic area, although more targeted, smaller buys are sometimes possible in special tabloids, neighborhood sections, and non-subscriber products.
  • Newspaper can be especially effective for an older demographic.
  • Flexible in terms of sizing – unlike most print media, ads of virtually any size are possible.
  • Mobile and website advertising is also possible on a newspaper website– typically, this can be bought together with a print ad, or on its own.
  • Other newsprint publications, such as weeklies and shoppers, are available in some markets and tend to be more targeted by interest, and are often more affordable.

Disadvantages of newspaper advertising include:

  • Newspaper advertising is relatively expensive.
  • The increasingly splintered media environment means that newspaper’s reach has diminished.
  • People scan by print ads — they don’t always see them.

Other print media: trade publications, glossy magazines

Costs for these will vary wildly depending on the circulation. Depending on the medium, designers may be available — if not, factor in design costs.

Advantages of magazine ads:

  • Magazines tend to be targeted by interest and geography.
  • Glossy photographs show off visually-oriented products to best advantage, especially compared to newsprint.
  • Magazines are longer-lasting, as they are monthly or weekly — and people keep these types of publications around longer.
  • More people tend to see a magazine than a newspaper — magazines in doctors’ offices and other waiting rooms is the ultimate example of this.

Disadvantages of magazine ads:

  • Magazine ads may not provide enough reach for you.
  • Magazine ads require a longer lead time to get published than other forms of print advertising.

Digital advertising

Digital advertising can include pay-per-click Google ads, ads on social media like Facebook, banner ads on websites, and even ads on mobile phones. Sometimes, digital advertising sold in a package with other forms of media – for example, if you buy a newspaper ad you might get a package that includes a web banner. A newer form of digital advertising, “remarketing,” uses website cookies to place ads — you might have noticed that when you shop online for, say, a pair of boots, suddenly you’ll start seeing digital ads for boots on other sites as you surf the Internet.

Advantages of digital ads:

  • Digital ads reach an extremely targeted audience – you can target by keyword, geographic area, and so on.
  • Pay-per-click is exactly what it sounds like – you only pay when someone is interested enough to click on the ad.
  • Many forms of digital advertising are really fast to implement, in that you can think of a campaign and have it live in hours.
  • Digital ads drive people directly to your website, which for many businesses is exactly what’s desired.

Disadvantages of digital ads:

  • Digital advertising is generally not strong enough to carry an entire campaign by itself – it’s a ball peen hammer, not a sledgehammer.
  • Digital remarketing can’t tell when the user has actually bought the boots, to use the example above — so the ads might continue long after the purchase has been made.

Things to consider as you evaluate your options

Consider your audience. Who is your audience(s), and which media would reach them most effectively?  Too often people throw money at paid media without spending enough time on this question. Your marketing plan should detail the different audiences you’re trying to reach, which makes choosing media much easier.

For print media especially, consider editorial calendar. It may make more sense for you to advertise in a particular issue (such as the bridal issue of a glossy magazine).

Placement is key. For print media, a certain day of the week, or section of the paper (such as the entertainment section, the business section etc.) might make more sense for your particular business; for broadcast media, the time of day is really important. Make sure you understand exactly what you’re getting, and that your media salesperson guarantees the times/places your spot/ad will run.

 Discuss your goals with a salesperson. Good salespeople from every media will be able to explain the most cost-effective options they can offer, and will show you detailed demographic information that backs up their recommendations. For print and radio advertising especially, the discounts available for repeat business are significant, and extremely complicated to calculate. Competent salespeople can help you find the best way to spend your dollars. Sometimes a media salesperson will call you with a last-minute deal on an ad because they have the space but no advertiser in place – this can be a good investment IF it’s something you’d consider buying anyway. But don’t jump on something just because it is inexpensive!

Consider your budget. Having some idea of how much you intend to spend will no doubt help guide the creation of your campaign. But don’t assume you can’t afford something before you talk to a salesperson – we’ve talked in very broad strokes about advertising costs, but actual costs will vary wildly depending on your market, and often salespeople can structure a deal that’s affordable for you. In fact, one of the first questions salespeople will ask is about budget — it’s to your advantage to be straight with them, because they are typically very motivated to get the biggest possible bang for your buck. After all, if you’re successful, you’ll come back and buy more advertising.