November 3, 2015

Magazines' Money-Back Offer on Ads Bad Idea?

When the Wall Street Journal reported recently that some magazines are offering money-back guarantees on the ads they sell (Magazines Try New Tactic: Money Back if Ad Fails to Deliver), I wondered how this trend might affect association publishers.

So, I turned to advertising sales expert Robert Silverstein for his insights. Silverstein had just addressed a crowd of professional communicators at an Association Media & Publishing event in mid-October. You can read a summary of that session here (full disclosure: I wrote the summary for AM&P).

Here is Silverstein's take on the money-back tactic:


This is such a bad idea for associations, on many levels, that it should not ever be considered as a solution for declining ad sales. Let me share with you some reasons why:

  • The publisher has no control over the product/service being advertised, its price, or the ad's content, design or message and the appropriateness of those for the audience the magazine delivers. So, if the ad fails to generate the expected increase in sales, whose fault is it? Was the product not right for the readership? Was the ad not designed in an attractive way? Was the message not effective or appropriate? It is the sole responsibility of the advertiser to make those determinations, yet, under the guarantee, the publication has to suffer if the ad does not work.
  • How will such a program be tracked? Will the advertiser share its response and sales figures with the publisher? How will those numbers be verified by the publisher? What type of tracking will the advertiser use to determine that the publication produced the sale of the product? Does the advertiser unilaterally decide that the ad didn't meet his expectations and, therefore, refuse to pay for it? What recourse, if any, will the publisher have if he disagrees?
  • This type of program clearly undermines the value of the publication and the readership it delivers. This is especially a bad idea for associations and is a business model that could have even more severe consequences down the road. What if an advertiser, who is also an exhibitor at the association's annual convention, claims that he got no leads from his exhibit? Will he also get a refund for that, too?

I have sold advertising for association magazines and, in the past, I have received requests from some categories of advertisers for what are called "PI deals". PI means "per inquiry" and this is from an advertiser who is willing to pay only a few dollars for each sale it makes that is tracked back to the ad that ran in the association's magazine. This is a fairly common model among direct response advertisers, though I have seen much less of it now than I did years ago as those companies have shifted to the web. I have never accepted such a deal on behalf of my association clients for the reasons I have outlined above.

Associations must adhere to the value of their products, assign a price to each product and stick to it. If negotiation is necessary to close the sale, the reduced price still must be paid in full and is not linked to the performance of the ad. This is a rule that should not be broken by an association publisher because doing so will only lead to a decline in ad revenues and create a cheap and negative impression of the product and the association that produces it.

- Robert Silverstein


What do you think? Shoot me your comments via Twitter: @wrightscontent.

For more ad sales tips, visit Silverstein’s firm online at, email him (rsilverstein [at], or find him on Twitter: @adsalesexperts.

(Image: U.S. Mint)

September 21, 2015

Not Every Roundtable is Around a Round Table

If you’ve attended any association conferences, you know that a common feature of these events is a type of session called a "roundtable.” It's typically a small group discussion that's focused on a particular topic — or sometimes simply open-ended.

The Self Storage Association uses the roundtable discussion format liberally at its conferences. So, the SSA asked me to write a piece for its September 2015 member magazine offering conference attendees tips on how to make the most of the popular roundtables scheduled for its Fall Conference & Trade Show. You can find a PDF of my article here.

(Photo: 1915 meeting of National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics; source: NASA)

August 4, 2015

Cities, States Tackle Disabled-Parking Placard Issues

The International Parking Institute had me explore the challenges jurisdictions face in making changes to their disabled-parking placard programs. The result: Solutions to Disabled-Parking Placard Usage, a feature article published in the August 2015 issue of IPI's member magazine, The Parking Professional.

Excerpt: “The 100-foot walk from a parked car to a building entrance is nothing for most people, but it is a slow slog for someone gripping a walker or crutches and shuffling forward a few inches at a time. The trip is not especially fun in a wheelchair, either.

“Drivers with mobility impairments aren’t looking for sympathy, but they want reasonable access and they don’t like being cheated out of it; hence their ire when finding parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities occupied. The odds are good that at least some of those spots are being illegally used by drivers who don’t need them.

“And while feeling cheated is bad enough, a driver with ambulatory limitations can feel downright violated when he or she is targeted by placard thieves. In Baltimore, Md., for example, 20 to 25 percent of disabled-parking placards were being stolen every month on average prior to recent reforms, fueling a burgeoning black market for them, according to Peter Little, executive director of the Baltimore City Parking Authority.”

Jurisdictions featured include:
  • Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Portland, Oregon
  • ...and more
The magazine is an IPI member-only benefit, so just email me at mark [at] for a PDF copy of the article.

(Image: The Parking Professional, August 2015)

July 11, 2015

Not Designing Your Site for Mobile? Read this.

© SSA Globe - July 2015
The Self Storage Association had me delve into the need for mobile-friendly website and software design for the July issue of its member magazine. Here are selected insights from sources I interviewed:

“2014 was the tipping point for Internet traffic where mobile traffic surpassed traditional desktop access. Whether you sell self storage management software or own a self storage facility, it’s important to be aware of how your customers make contact with your brand.”
—Samuel Kiesinger, marketing director, Syrasoft LLC (Baldwinsville, New York)

“Google expects a webpage to load on your phone in one second. The reason is because a user will likely move on if a page doesn’t load almost instantly.”
—Janet Chiu, owner, CyberTurf Strategic Media (Rockville, Maryland)

“The secret to survival is to stop thinking that the end-goal of digital has anything to do with a device. And start thinking about the end goal of becoming connected, integrated, and efficient.”
—Andy Main, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP and U.S. leader for Deloitte Digital, in April 20 blog post ‘Digital isn’t what you think it is’ (excerpted with his permission)

“Don’t jump with every new trend, but think through a plan of action. And never forget that a well-run business with solid employees remains the foundation.”
—Glenn Hunter, president, DOMICO Software (Oakland, California)

Read the whole article: Designing for a Mobile WorldSSA Globe - July 2015 (PDF).

June 9, 2015

Headed to #AMP15

Association Media & Publishing's 2015 annual conference comes to Washington, D.C., June 15–17. I look forward to connecting with association communication pros, and will tweet/retweet the best of what I discover.

You can also follow #AMP15 on the association's own feed at, or get more conference details here.

June 1, 2015

Back to Business

After serving for the past year as executive director of the Association for Commuter Transportation for the second—and final—time, I've returned to full-time client service and content creation. You can reach me at mark [at]