The Artisans Group was down to its last $1,000 when co-owners Chris McDonald and Randy Foster bet the farm, so to speak, on a regular advertising spot in the local newspaper. Three years later, that high-stakes gamble has led to $350,000 in direct sales for the Olympia, Wash., remodeler, along with incalculable value in referrals. “Almost every call we get now mentions the ad as a way that they have heard about us,” says McDonald, also vice president of sales and marketing for the company.

The ad's content changes almost weekly. “Employees get a kick out of being in the paper,” McDonald says.
The ad's content changes almost weekly. “Employees get a kick out of being in the paper,” McDonald says.

The campaign began shortly after the September 11th attacks. Though the young company had little prior advertising experience, it was “heading into a bleak-looking winter,” remembers McDonald. “We felt we had better do something before we go down with the ship.” He learned that The Olympian, the local daily, had an opening on the cover of its “Home” section. “We decided to commit to the spot for a month of Saturdays,” at the rate of $180 per week for the 2-by-10-inch space.

By January, that initial commitment had stretched to four months. “Although we still couldn't attribute any sales to the ad, there was a vibe on the street,” recalls McDonald. “We could barely turn around without someone mentioning the ad. We went from a ‘nobody' to a ‘oh, those folks' in a short time.” This “vibe” — along with a price break for a long-term contract — prompted McDonald to lock up the space for a full year, and then two more.

The secret to The Artisans Group's advertising success is consistency — with a twist. The ad appears every Saturday in the same spot: same size, same color scheme, same format. But the story itself is refreshed almost weekly to highlight a different project, employee, or other “newsworthy” item, says McDonald, who estimates there have been 75 to 100 different ads over the campaign's life, “maybe more.”

Advertising rates rise, of course, and The Artisans Group now spends $210 per Olympian ad. But “we feel it is a bargain for a front page, full-color ad,” McDonald says. “Many of our competitors have asked The Olympian to let them know when we cancel because they want first crack at the spot. Never gonna happen!”