Are you giving in to your advertisers?

February 4, 2014

By Ed Henninger
Design Elements

I’ve been a consultant for almost a quarter century. Before that, I worked at newspapers for more almost another quarter century.

I’ve heard: “I’m only giving the customer what he wants” more than just a few times during those years.

And every time I hear it, I cringe—because I’m convinced that the person who says it is not doing what he or she says. In fact, I believe the person who says “I’m only giving the customer what he wants,” is doing just the opposite.

Yes, there are customers out there who will tell us precisely what they want the ad to say—or precisely how they want it to look. And they can be difficult to work with.

They want a 1-column by 2-inch ad. And they want it to contain at least 3,000 words. With 12 illustrations. And four colors. And a 12-point border. Reversed.

OK, I’m exaggerating, but you get the point. Some advertisers are stubborn. They claim to know what they want and they won’t advertise with us unless they get it.

So, we run an ad like the one accompanying this column. It’s just awful—and we know it. But we believe we are “… only giving the customer what he wants.”

We’re not. We’re giving the customer what he thinks he wants.

What your advertiser really wants is traffic. He wants you to help get buyers to his store or to his phone or to his website.

We create traffic for that advertiser by using our skills and experience to give him an ad that does the job—not one that satisfies his need to be “creative.”

It’s our job to write and design an ad that will generate traffic for the advertiser. To do that, we sometimes have to convince the customer that what he thinks he wants isn’t what he really wants.

That may mean doing some spec ads. It may mean a longer visit in the customer’s shop. For sure, it’s going to mean more time and effort on our part.

But that’s our job. It’s our responsibility to give the customer the best ad we can. We need to do our job. Part of that calls for us to convince the customer to keep an open mind and to give us credit for our experience, our training and our skills.

If the customer doesn’t have an open mind—if he still insists on getting what he thinks he wants, then we need to ask ourselves where we’ve failed to help him.

Yes, there will occasionally be that advertiser who flat-out insists that you run an ad the way he wants it.

But remember: It’s still your newspaper. You can choose to reject the ad. And occasionally turning down an ad means you’re not just going to let any customer cheapen the look of your product. And it may just gain enough respect from him that he will listen more closely the next time you visit him.

Or, you can take the money, run the ad, and continue “…only giving the customer what he wants.”

It’s your choice.

Want a free evaluation of your newspaper’s design? Just contact me at or at 803-327-3322.

If this column has been helpful, you may be interested in my books “Henninger on Design” and “101 Henninger Helpful Hints.” With their help you’ll have a better idea how to design for your readers. Find out more at © Ed Henninger 2014


ED HENNINGER is an independent newspaper consultant and the director of Henninger Consulting, offering comprehensive newspaper design services including redesigns, workshops, staff training and evaluations. E-mail: On the Web: Phone: 803-327-3322.

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