By Rachel Williams, Ranch House Designs, Inc.

When a breeder decides it’s time to take their program to the next level by advertising – whether on the web or in print magazines – there are steps you can take to make sure you get the most bang for your buck. A breeder can spend several thousand dollars pretty quickly by simply placing a print ad, getting a web site, and buying a link on showsteers.com.
True, I run a very large livestock advertising agency, and our job is to design web sites, ads, and sale catalogs. But, what some may not know is that my family makes their sole living in the cattle business with our ranch V8 Shorthorns and our Brahman operation, V8 Ranch. So, when most “advertising types” or publications just want you to spend spend spend, I think of things from a breeder standpoint. My sister and I tend to view all of our clients as if they were our dad (Jim)… someone who can tell you the expected calving date of every cow on the ranch, but is doing good just to know how to turn on a computer. Expecting them to come up with a print ad or a web site is a very far stretch.
If you’re planning on having a private treaty sale or want to market a few calves, your advertising costs can easily equal the sale price of one entire animal…and sometimes a few animals. That’s where smart spending of your advertising dollar becomes so crucial. Here are some tips I recommend to help you get the most out of your advertising program.

1. If you can afford it, get a full page, 4-color ad.

 If you flip through The Show Circuit, especially the August issue, you’re going to be overwhelmed with ads. If you have a black and white ad, or even a ½ page ad, most likely you’re ad is going to get passed by. So color and at least a full page is a must.
Taking that to the next step, if you can afford a 2-page ad, that’s even better…especially in the State Fair issue. By purchasing an entire 2-page spread, you guarantee that your ad is the only one in that spread that the reader can see. This increases your chance of getting noticed even more.

2. Use photos.

I can’t stress enough the importance of having good photos to show examples of your product, especially for people who are new in the business or those who may be having their first sale. You’ve got to give people a reason to stop and look at your ad or web site…and even more reason to get in their car to come and look at your calves. There is nothing worse than seeing a new site listed on showsteers.com only to click on it and see a “photos coming soon.”
RHD about 70% of our pictures are submitted by the actual breeder who is taking his photos with his own digital camera then getting his teenager to e-mail them to us. J
If you’re going to take your own photos, make sure your camera can take a high quality photo. When you e-mail your photos, some programs like Outlook or Hotmail will automatically down-size your attachments so they will load faster. So you may have to adjust your e-mail attachment options to make sure that you keep your original size of your photos. Checking the file size is a good indicator of whether the photo will work or not. The bigger the file size the better…a good quality photo may be 2-3 MB or even bigger.
If you want to hire a professional, there are several excellent photographers who are affordable and easy to work with. Just off the top of my head, we have had great experiences with Chris Rosa, Cindy Cagwin, Mark Sneed, Darla Aegerter, Pearl Walthal, and Linde Sutherly. Just make sure you give these photographers enough notice in advance to get your photo shoot scheduled.

3. Don’t be distracting.

As I look through many show-oriented magazines, I sometimes get the urge to just put the magazine down because I’m simply overwhelmed with all the MESS that is in some of today’s advertising.
The focus of any good print ad or web site should be your cattle. A “cool” looking ad doesn’t necessarily equal better sales. When we started RHD ten years ago, we were the first to use a lot of artistic graphics in ads. I still firmly believe in artistic appeal, but there comes a point where you can have TOO much.  And, in my opinion, many of the advertising you see in today’s magazines are completely way too dark and grungy and distracting.
Readability is a complete other issue. When I first started handling the Lautner Farms account, one of the first thing Phil told me is that he wanted me to use at least an 18 point font on all of his ads, because he had a hard time seeing that tiny print and he wanted people to be able to clearly and see his phone number to call and order semen. Now that I’ve been working for him a few years, he’s let me reduce the font size down a little, but I’ll always remember that valuable advice from someone who knows quite a bit about marketing. If someone can’t even read your name, or the sale date, or your phone number, what is the point?
Other than the ads we design, my absolute favorite advertisements are the classic ads by Christy Collins. Her style of good, clean advertising with excellent photos never gets old. Take a look at the Exposure ads and catalog. I’m amazed at how each year Christy continues to raise the bar in her work and advertising. Last year, she did a cool square sized catalog for Exposure and Embryos on Snow with a simple white background and crisp, clean fonts. This year, I’ve seen quite a few “knock offs” of other people copying that sale catalog size and style. In this year’s Exposure advertising, she has a simple, but amazing photo of a show heifer being held by a gorgeous young lady. Let’s see how long it takes someone to copy that concept.
As far as web sites go, the absolute worst thing you can do is put distracting music on your web site. People visit your web site to see your calves, not listen to a computer synthesized version of “Achy Breaky Heart” repeating over and over and over again.
Same goes for animated GIFs or flashing icons on your site like “NEW!!” “UPDATED!!” etc. If you want to feature something as new, that’s great, just don’t put anything that blinks/flashes/dances across the screen in a rainbow/etc. It’s just tacky.

4. Plan ahead.

While some people work well under pressure, it is always a good to plan far enough ahead to allow the people helping you to have enough time necessary to do a good job. This is even more crucial during busy times of year like sale seasons. You can’t book an ad with a magazine two days before the deadline and expect them to whip out a masterpiece when they only have a few hours to design your ad and get it to press. This is even truer when taking photos, because you never know when a rainstorm or a snowstorm is going to set your plans back a few days. It’s never too early to start planning and contact designers/photographers/magazines too get your project on their schedule.


5. Don’t be afraid to say what you really think.

Our best work is usually done when we have open dialog with our client as far as what type of direction they want their advertising or web site to look like. Even if it’s just as simple as telling your designer what colors you like to use. If your designer sends you a 1st proof and there is something you absolutely hate…speak up. Tell them what you like and don’t like. A good designer will value this feedback. With that said, don’t try to micro-manage your designer either. Keep in mind that the people who work at magazines or who own agencies are professionals and sometimes micro-managing or being too overly specific can actually hamper their creativity. And if you’ve given them enough advance notice to work on the project (see above) they will have no problem spending the time to get a final piece that you absolutely love.
As you can see, creativity is one of my passions, and my other passion is the cattle business. So I feel like I really do have the best job possible by getting to work with the best breeders and cattlemen on a day to day basis. Our office at Ranch House Designs is an open door, and even if we aren’t your ad designer or web designer, we’re always happy to bounce ideas around with other cattle people and answer questions. If we can ever help you, give us a call at 979-532-9141 or just e-mail me at Rachel@ranchhousedesigns.com. I, or anyone on the RHD staff, will be happy to help you at any time.