The hills are alive with the sound of….customers

Following All or nothing – which are you? we take a further look at how we help our clients find some hilly high points between the seasonal mountain peaks.

Becoming year-round advertisers has given our previously ‘seasonal’ clients a markedly increased return on investment.  It’s made a big difference to their bottom line and taken the pressure off the dips in trade at what had been quieter times of year.  Where turnover had fallen historically, and cashflow tightened, we’ve maintained successful campaigns, albeit with reduced spend.

How do we do it?

  • Learn from previous results and repeat only the best performing ads when spend is reduced
  • Book the typically more cost effective smaller sizes, allowing frequency to be maintained
  • Take advantage of the very best late space deals, aiming to beat the typical short-term rates
  • Stick to the tried and tested – this is not the time to take risks or attempt anything new
  • Encourage clients to increase their offers or discounts

As a result, reading light specialist, Serious Readers, now advertises all year, doubling their annual budget.  Similarly, market leader in quality cashmere knitwear products, the Cashmere Centre, has extended its advertising beyond its traditional pre-Christmas period.  The company now advertises through January, into a reduced, but consistent, spend during spring and summer.  By doing this, it’s been able to promote a different range of products, appropriate for the time of year; an approach it’s never tried before.  While Christmas still remains its premium time of year, with gifts forming a large portion of its business, the company’s quiet times are now not so quiet – a major step forward for any business.

If you would us to review your media schedule and find some hills among the mountains, we’d love to help.  Contact Lesley Bowman on 01225 758222 or


Up close and personal

Brexit would indicate the majority of Brits value independence.  Is the same true for agencies and their clients?

When AJ asked its clients to rate the agency’s performance (Checking in), attributes such as responsiveness, speed and approachability rated highly.  We put that down, in part, to being independent.

In an independent agency, the approval process is stream-lined; comprising only the client rather than the layers of internal bureaucracy networks can demand.  Our ability to respond and change direction is more like a speedboat than a battleship.

An independent agency also has the ability to remain focused on a client’s needs.  We spend time with clients and their campaigns; it’s personal, tailored and collaborative.  The resulting closeness prevents misunderstanding and creates an easier working relationship for clients and agency alike.  Together with a heightened transparency and accountability, clients are confident we’re working for them.   We have ‘skin in the game’ – our business growth is dependent on our clients’ business growth.

For us, the benefits of independence are clear.  We can allocate resources as we see fit within the company, without hard-earned profits disappearing into an unknown distant pot.   Our responsiveness and speed can be internal as well as external, having the freedom to do what we feel is right, making choices based on our own needs, as well as those of our clients.

As an independent agency, we can stay 100% true to ourselves.  We only have the boundaries we choose to put on ourselves, only abide by our own rules and don’t have to ask permission from anyone but ourselves and our clients.

We get up close and personal simply because we can.


We never give up

AJ never gives up trying to improve results for clients; it’s one of the reasons Donald Russell came back to us.

AJ’s single-minded goal of growing clients’ business has paid dividends for Donald Russell.  Continuing our case study of how we’ve turned their results around and re-ignited their faith in press, here’s how the last few weeks have panned out.

Optimisation of control

Optimised control






The new ‘control’ ad is an adaptation of the existing version, but includes some important brand elements missing from the original.

Development of new creative

We established fairly early on the ‘Cut Above’ ad was far better looking than the control, but focused too much on brand and beauty, not enough on offer.  It appealed more to existing customers than the new customers we are charged with recruiting.  To address this imbalance, we switched the balance of the ad to 60/40 in favour of the offer.  Bingo!  The revised version attracted 75% more orders than the original.

Original Cut Above
60/40 adaptation








Increasing the options

Cut Above with Butcher

We are also testing an alternative version of ‘Cut Above’, adding a butcher to the image.  The jury is still out, but it looks like this has performed better than the original ‘Cut Above’.  We are re-testing it this weekend.

OTP Results

So on the creative front, we now have an optimised ‘control ad’ working really well in newspapers, and we’re refining the ‘Cut Above’ ad, which appears happiest in magazines.

Hitting milestones

During the last three months of this journey, while busy testing and refining, we’ve also hit a couple of impressive milestones.  Having tested five creatives, 12 titles and three sizes, with a total spend of over £20k, we have come in under the target cost per new customer and recruited our 1000th OTP new customer.   We’ve also learnt a huge amount so feel well prepared for increase spends during Donald Russell’s key winter period.

This is an encouragingly positive position to be in with a client who had almost given up on press as a cost-effective recruitment channel.

Small but perfectly formed

10 x 8

Big, loud, full-page ads are best for selling off the page – fact?  Having more room for images, information, flashes, offers and coupons guarantee you’ll be noticed – right?  Wrong.  Full pages definitely have their place, especially with last minute deals, and are important for driving volume, but smaller, fractional ads can work just as hard.  So, with only 25% space available in a ¼ page, how do you attract attention and deliver positive results?

  • Headline is key; it has to make readers stop and look
  • Strong hero image
  • Clear, compelling offer
  • Key information in bullet points
  • Call to action is phone and website, not a coupon
  • Great position, ideally solus on the page, but certainly under editorial. It’s harder for readers to pass you by under editorial compared to a full page where there isn’t other copy to stop them.
Quarter page
20 x 2 Mono

Many of our small ads become our hardest-working, most cost-effective sizes, including these we use for water solutions provider, Kinetico.




To find out more about how you could be small but perfectly formed, contact Lesley Bowman on 01225 758222 or

All or nothing – which are you?

Do you cram your advertising spend into one season, then leave the finance team with a headache trying to balance the books the remainder of the year? At AJ, we help clients spread their spend across a longer period and enjoy better results.

Many businesses have a peak season, where the most common approach is to ‘make hay while the sun shines’.  But what happens when the sun goes in?  Overheads remain, while staff are under-worked and cash coming into the business is massively reduced putting strain on the finances.  Businesses need to be geared up for this and have a plan for the downtimes.  Making the most of the workforce keeps them happy and maintains productivity.

So rather than turning the advertising spend tap off when the sun has gone, we have enjoyed great success with expanding our clients’ seasons, taking a number from being six-month-a-year advertisers to running ads all year round.

Reading light specialist, Serious Readers, only ran off-the-page ads after the clocks changed in the autumn, on the basis the results they were seeing didn’t justify spend during spring or summer.  We’ve turned this around by introducing a number of changes, moving from a winter spend of £150k/month to a steady £30k/month all year, addressing and overcoming a major cashflow challenge for the business. A number of factors have helped us achieve it:

  • Adding 40% to their list of ‘banker’ titles by testing an increased range of titles during their traditionally ‘peak’ period
  • Developing a much larger range of sizes – ½ page vertical, 20 x 2, full page, ¼ page. You name it, we have it
  • Introducing new ads to the existing portfolio, so we have around eight different creative executions at any one time
  • Improving the offer and making it more prominent, improving results by 100%
  • Working with a lower budget, we ‘cherry pick’ the best of the best, taking only the cheapest offers from the media we know will deliver the ROI we require

We have also used this approach with the Cashmere Centre, a market leader in quality cashmere knitwear products, extending their September – January media schedule to beyond the Christmas market.  The same is true for their sister organisation, the Pearl Company, which focused solely on Christmas gifts. Water solutions provider, Kinetico, has also moved to year-round activity from just two 4-week campaigns a year.

If you would us to review your media schedule, capture lost opportunities, avoid the peaks and troughs of seasonal advertising and maximise ROI, we’d love to help.  Contact Lesley Bowman on 01225 758222 or

The one-stop shop of advertising

The rise of supermarkets heralded the beginning of one-stop shopping.  The benefits of being able to buy food all in one hit were immediately obvious. The same is true for agencies.

Marketing budgets are rarely infinite.  How, where and when they are spent for maximum return are daily choices facing our marketing colleagues.  As we discussed in Media Buying: in-house or agency, deciding to employ outside specialists can bring tangible benefits.  The type of agency can also influence the nature of those benefits.  Full service agencies provide a range of expertise under one roof, including media, creative and digital, rather than offering one without the other(s).

Employing experts within each of the agency’s teams, the saying ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ is not true of full service agencies such as AJ.  To find out more about the skills of our artworkers, take a look at Good things do not always take time, Creative workshops: if it’s broke, fix it and Free isn’t futile.  Examples of our media buying capabilities are found in Making press advertising work, What’s your favourite position? and What’s hot in the heat?

A major disadvantage of using separate agencies is the lack of accountability.  As a full-service agency, AJ is fully accountable for everything it does.  No smoke and mirrors here.  Being located in one office, also means we coordinate creative and media much more easily; efficient communication particularly important in late space buying.

To find out more about how AJ could work for you, contact Lesley Bowman on 01225 758222 or

Taking a bold approach

The summer dresses are out in force in our office this week as we enjoy the latest burst of hot weather.  Fans of bold, colourful prints, the female members of the AJ team are thrilled we’ve just been appointed by women’s clothing brand, Mistral.

Offering British-designed casual clothing, Mistral uses prints, colours and styles inspired by the surroundings of the Wiltshire countryside in which their head office is based.

Mistral is in a growth phase, keen to attract new customers, with an eye on their competitors.  White Stuff shoppers, disappointed with the company’s latest styles and lack of prints, are a particular focus.

Mistral’s superb summer range has attracted amazing feedback from customers and they’re ready to shout about it.  AJ has been tasked with drawing in direct sales to their website and driving customers to the almost 20 Mistral stores across the country.  To do this, we’re planning a combination of press, direct mail and inserts.

In true AJ style, we’ll be testing, refining and optimising their media schedule, and can’t wait to begin……

What’s hot in the heat?

The recent heatwave has impacted clients’ results. So how do we respond?

The summer sunshine of mid-June was a welcome treat, but the intensity of such infrequent high temperatures can make us sluggish.  And we certainly saw a slower than normal response to ads during that time.

But that’s why clients employ specialist direct response agencies like us – as they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

We used our specific late space skills to secure deals as late and as cheaply as possible.  We focused on prime positions such as back page solus, front page strips and solus ads on editorial pages.  All have helped to stimulate demand.  Here are our top tips for combating the effects of heat-induced lethargy:

  • Private Eye and the Week have worked particularly well, with circulations stronger than ever. Being non-daily publications, they benefit from being read throughout the week. 
  • A front page solus 10 x 8 with the Daily Telegraph is a tricky format to make work, but worth the effort as it’s delivered great results when bought short term.
  • Advertorials have also produced positive results. The formatting of text and images by the newspaper or magazine brings a valuable perceived endorsement for the advertised product.
  • You may have noticed AB splits are all the rage with us at the moment; we never fail to learn from them. They offer a low risk way of testing headlines, offers, creative styles, price points and even the positioning of an offer within an ad.  The offer position made a 200% difference to response in one of our recent AB splits; you can’t ask for clearer than that.

If the hot weather returns, and we hope it does, we know how to protect our clients from advertising ‘sunburn’.

Relevant and appealing or intrusive and unnerving?

We already know the power of loyalty cards in allowing retailers to target offers to our individual product preferences.  The same is happening in TV.

We now have the flexibility to watch whatever we want when we want across several formats; we aren’t tied into the same schedule as everyone else.  National Grid doesn’t have to cope with the spikes in power usage seen previously in nationally-significant televised events.  No longer are millions of kettles put on or fridge doors opened simultaneously during ad breaks.   A cliff-hanger episode of EastEnders in 2001 finished with a 2290MW power spike; today spikes rarely top 200MW as our viewing habits become more and more disparate.

Aligned to this substantial viewing variety, so-called addressable TV advertising allows ads to be carefully targeted; advertisers paying for audience segments and impressions rather than content.  In effect, it’s direct mail in a TV format.  It’s not new in Britain but is gaining momentum and the UK is believed to be at the forefront of the sector’s development.  Addressable TV allows neighbours to watch the same ad at different times or to see different ads even if they’re watching the same programme.  It offers ads appropriate to a consumer’s individual circumstances, aiming to be more appealing and engaging.  And it seems they are.  Sky has seen a marked reduction in channel-switching during ad breaks when ads are relevant.

For advertisers, the benefit of this targeted approach is the ability to create a personalised strategy giving greater flexibility with creative, deeper insight and less wastage.  It’s particularly attractive to smaller, regional or more specialist companies with less budget available than mainstream TV advertising demands.  Although cost per impression is undoubtedly higher, many advertisers believe it’s a price worth paying to gain precision and save on wastage.  But it’s not for everyone.  Bigger brands often prefer to keep talking to as wide an audience as possible.  As a result, the breadth of TV advertisers is increasing; two thirds of Sky’s advertisers are either new to TV or new to Sky.

A valid concern for advertisers, though, is around measurement and attribution; critical to get right but harder to achieve with audiences watching TV in a myriad of ways.  There is also little consistency between platforms; each broadcaster using their own approach.

According to the US Video Advertising Bureau, addressable TV is bigger than LinkedIn, Instagram and Wikipedia.  Sky is the market leader in the UK with AdSmart.  Having struck a deal with Channel 5 earlier in the year, the company has just announced an agreement with Virgin Media, expanding the reach of its platform considerably.  Channel 4 is also active in this area, with ITV due to launch in the next couple of months; their aim to attract online advertisers.  Those broadcasters without a set-top box have to use a different mechanism to target audiences based on census-type data.

At AJ, we’re keen to try addressable TV with a new client offering a premium product.  Having used direct mail previously, due to its targeted nature, addressable TV is the obvious choice as a new and suitable alternative to attract high-end customers.

To find out more about how addressable TV could work for you, contact Lesley Bowman on 01225 758222 or

Good things do not always take time

AJ’s studio team has many impressive attributes but speed is possibly the most surprising to those who believe good creative takes time.

As a leading late space buyer, the very nature of AJ’s business requires our artworkers to turn ads around far quicker than most other studios; we are producing creative at speed on a daily basis.

Usually you’d pay more for this.  If you want something in a hurry, you have to be prepared to pay it – ‘express delivery’ more expensive than standard.  Not so at AJ; we charge less per hour than most other design studios.  For those selling via catalogue, for example, where listings are potentially simple but extensive this is a significant advantage.

Unlike speed and cost, quality and creativity are hard to measure objectively, but we know the standard of our work is high.  We see this most clearly through our creative workshops where the artworkers are free from the constraints of existing artwork.

AJ’s experience and expertise is in selling products and services off the page.  We understand lead generation, and deliver on growing business through increased ROI. This also makes us well suited to companies using additional channels beyond press advertising to generate additional sales, such as catalogues or inserts.

In short, lower cost, faster turnaround and better response sums up what AJ’s studio can do for you.

To find out more about how you can work with AJ, contact Lesley Bowman on 01225 758222 or