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Each month, Access Points highlights a way for businesses to creatively and cost-effectively reach the large communities of radio listeners in their markets.  This post pertains to several specific types of businesses:  primarily the restaurant, golf, ski, and spa categories.

When someone hears the term “no cost” advertising, his or her first reaction is usually skepticism:  you can’t get something valuable for free.  (Their next reaction is often to wonder, as in “can I get some?”)

Yes, there really is a way to get valuable, high-reach, high-impact marketing for your restaurant, golf course, or several other specific businesses for no incremental cost.  The program is typically called “Half-Off” (while it is free to the business, half-off is the value proposition for the end-consumer).

It works very simply:  the business buys an advertising promotion from the station using gift certificates instead of cash.  The radio station then resells those gift certificate to it’s audience via its website – at HALF OFF.  $50 gift certificates for the business, for example, which would sell for $25 online, are typically sold out just minutes after they become available (these programs are immensely popular).  The customer then redeems the certificate at the business and enjoys a great meal, round of golf, or massage.

Does it work? Is this for real?

Yes, it truly is a win-win-win proposition.  It’s a great deal for the station, which keeps the revenue from the certificate sales, because it uses this program to sell unused commercial inventory – available slots that arise from last-minute schedule changes that occur frequently and would otherwise probably not be sold.  The consumer obviously loves it.  And it’s a fantastic deal for the advertiser.  The business gets the full-benefit of radio advertising, which for many smaller single-location businesses represents a rare chance to build brand awareness among tens of thousands of new potential customers.   The business also benefits another way:  The certificates typically bring them new customers or others who would visit infrequently, allowing the business a chance to build its relationship with that customer and encourage additional lifetime patronage.  These additional customers also provide more tips for the staff and keep the operation more vibrant (who likes an empty restaurant?) which helps improve both image and employee morale.

Isn’t there some ‘cost’ to this program if businesses are giving away services to patrons?

Technically, yes there could be.  But in most cases, the business is using its own unsold inventory (e.g. empty tables, tee times, or massages) and it would bear the vast majority of the same cost whether someone used that inventory or not.  The cost of space/rent, wages, heating, licensing, insurance, etc doesn’t go down if a few less people show up.  Moreover, the program rarely displaces full-price patronage (if you don’t have unused capacity, you don’t need marketing anyway!)

There are some real cash costs – the wholesale cost of a steak or glass of wine, for instance.  But these costs are often offset directly by customers spending more than the value of the certificate.  There are no cash-exchanges for unused value, which further reduces the real cost over the life of the campaign.

In practice, the program works extremely effectively.  It’s so effective that our stations typically have to limit the number of weeks that any one client can use the program each year.  We do this to accommodate high program demand and to reduce the potential for regular paying customers to wait for the next week’s certificate sales.  Historically, the program is also virtually fraud-free and the certificate delivery system rarely, if ever, causes problems due to the well-honed policies of our fulfillment operations.

So if you’ve ever wanted to break through the glass ceiling imposed by advertising/marketing constraints, the “Half-Off” no-cost marketing program may well be for you.  The best thing to do is contact your local Cumulus station and ask for a detailed program review.  If the program isn’t right for your business, due to demand, location, or other factors we’ll be up front and tell you.  And if this information doesn’t provide you with a clear path to growth, we’re sure you’ll let us know as well!  But if it does look interesting, it may be the big break you’ve been looking for.  In this case, you really can get something for nothing!