Leah Cioccio, Head Of Strategy at Equality Media and Marketing, gives her views on why the marketing industry should widen its focus to include small and medium-sized businesses.

All business sizes matter - the ad industry needs to be more inclusive

At the height of the pandemic, I thought it would be a good idea to add the IPA’s online course in Advanced Advertising Effectiveness to my locked-down, home-schooling state of life. I know I wasn’t alone; I also know in hindsight it was too much for that particular moment in time.

Despite the underlying stress that I was swallowing up, I thoroughly enjoyed the course, and it has helped immensely to sharpen my skills in holistic marketing and advertising planning. I am a more confident planner and feel empowered to advise good practices like test campaigns (to enable a/b testing), as well as to better identify the connection between channel-specific output reports to determine overall effectiveness.

At the time that I undertook the certificate in Advanced Advertising Effectiveness I was employed by a national broadcast business (thank you SCA for supporting my learning and development), and prior to that I had only ever worked in big business or at least on big businesses. The case studies that I trawled through to gain context around advertising effectiveness were drawn from the IPA’s rich databank of award winners – big, enviable brands boasting campaigns that are etched in the history of advertising. John Lewis, Unilever, CUB to name a few.

Since that time (almost 2 years ago), the context that I consider advertising effectiveness has significantly changed. I am currently employed at an independent full-service agency with a roster of clients whose advertising campaigns are built on small budgets and directly impact business performance. The clients that I work with are less likely to be marketers and instead are business owners or directors. Many are not in a position to allocate the industry standard of 10% per cent of their total revenue to marketing and although they are leveraging advertising to grow their businesses it is the type of advertising that largely remains unseen to the industry.

Despite having upskilled in advertising effectiveness, the biggest challenge that I continue to confront is shifting the perception of advertising from a short-term expense to a long-term vehicle for growth amongst small to medium businesses.

I do wonder if it is because we don’t have enough of the right type of evidence to support diverse businesses (size) and if the enviable brands that we hold up as champions of industry are simply not relatable or translatable, to businesses that have a tenth or less of their budgets and yet still need to deliver effective outcomes via advertising.

The awards season is now upon us and even though they are an incredible platform to elevate success from all corners of the industry, I do not see many if any, that are calling for effective advertising campaigns with small budgets ($500k is not a small budget). This is not an overt criticism of the industry associations that facilitate recognition through award categories, it is just an example of how there is a chicken-and-egg effect in play.

I recently took a look at Nielsen advertising expenditure data for the recruitment category and was shocked to see that of the 2,000+ advertisers in that category, less than 100 spend more than $100,000 in advertising each year. I almost didn’t believe my eyes when I saw that (and of course acknowledge the gaps in data) so I decided to dig a little further and better understand the ratio of big versus small businesses in Australia (assuming that impacts the availability of advertising spend). I turned to the Australian Bureau of Statistics which is home to all of the information you could ever imagine needing, even if it’s not the thing you go to bed dreaming about. In Victoria alone, there are 726,839 businesses, of these only 2.3% are considered medium to large businesses iii.

These 2.3 per cent of businesses are most likely the ones who understand the benefits of advertising and are being captured by industry expenditure data and concurrently assessed for impact (by professionals who may or may not have completed a course during lockdown to hone their skills in advertising effectiveness). But what about the remaining 90+ per cent – or in the case of the recruitment category 97 per cent – whose investment is invisible to our industry data collection and do not fit the form for industry recognition?

We know that the Government injects significant support into the small business sector from infrastructure, recruitment, and start-up funding through to mentoring, however marketing and advertising is lower on the agenda. As a large industry sector (made up of many small to medium businesses), we have a vested interest in helping one another to demonstrate the power of advertising to businesses of all shapes and sizes. Our power to tell stories is the secret sauce of our industry and if we can use it in a broader context than we currently are when it comes to advertising effectiveness, we might yet turn a vicious cycle into a virtuous one for business and advertising a-like.

The start point is a conversation, from there some case studies and shared learnings. Eventually, a record of small to medium business success that we can celebrate.

i Gartner ‘the state of marketing and budget strategy 2022’
ii Nielsen Adquest Standard Report, Recruitment Category, Jan -Dec 2022
iii ABS , Victorian businesses by size and industry class June 2022

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