TV ads on the cheap for small biz
If you can't get Paris Hilton, this do-it-yourself commercial tool helps your business put quality ads on TV.
By Jessica Seid, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Just because you're a small fry doesn't mean you can't compete with the big fish.

Findley's meat market in suburban Atlanta had always relied on newspaper ads, direct mailings and quick radio spots to reach consumers. But after discovering Spot Runner's do-it-yourself commercial tool for small businesses, the butcher shop ran a commercial on local cable TV ahead of Easter and again before Mother's Day. (Click here to watch the commercial.)

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The commercials cost Findley's $349 and $499 and the shop spent about $2,100 in March and $1,100 in May to air the spots on ESPN, Food TV, Fox News Channel and Fox Sports.

"We found out that it was very affordable and they help you work with a small budget," said Findley's owner Dolores Barr.

And right away "we saw a noticeable increase in first-time walk in traffic" that translated into a "35 percent sales increase," Barr said.

"Spot Runner is very interesting," said Greg Sterling, an industry analyst. "They're doing something unique right now, which is offering traditional TV advertising to the small business market."

Small business owners can log on to the Los Angeles-based company's Web site, pick a business category and choose from thousands of pre-made ads, which cost around $500 and allow you to script your own voice-over text. Or owners can shoot their own spots.

Spot Runner then completes production and creates a media plan specific to each client's industry, customers and budget. Spot Runner also buys the air time, which is an additional cost, and transmits the spot to local networks.

The total cost will depend on the length of the ad campaign, the number of times the ad is run, and on which channels.

"Our market is only a 10-mile radius from the store," Barr said. "Using cable allows you to focus your advertising. You're not spending money on advertising to people 50 miles away."

"People think about mass market, but with local TV you can target practically the neighborhood level," said Spot Runner co-founder David Waxman.

Waxman and chairman and CEO Nick Grouf started the company less than two years ago but have quite a track record. They're the ones responsible for Firefly Network, a software developer bought by Microsoft in 1998, and People PC, the Internet service provider that went public in 2000 and was acquired by Earthlink in 2002.

'It's already starting to set me apart'

Some of Spot Runner's other clients, including a real estate agent in the Florida Keys and a restaurant chain in Texas, said the do-it-yourself TV commercial tool helped boost their business substantially.

Unlike Findley's, Steak and Ale was already a well established brand. After 40 years in the business, the restaurant chain had locations across Texas and nearby states, but has mainly relied on print ads for the last decade.

"I knew someone at Spot Runner and tried out the beta version. It seemed like a great tool to use to get back on TV," said Flynn Dekker, vice president of marketing.

Steak and Ale opted to produce its own ad focusing on four restaurant locations and used Spot Runner to devise a media plan that included runs on CNBC, CNN, Comedy Central, the Discovery Channel and Food TV.

"We saw single- to double-digit increases in revenue and traffic in all four locations," Dekker said.

Sharon Nyman, a real estate agent in Key West, has been in business for over 30 years but only recently felt the pain of an ailing market in the Keys. She first heard about Spot Runner at an international convention for Century 21.

"As soon as the presentation was over, I made a bee-line to the Spot Runner booth," Nyman said.

Nyman provided the photos of her properties along with descriptions of each - and Spot Runner did the rest. (Click here to watch the commercial.)

During a special Spot Runner promotion, the ad cost Nyman $249 and she spent an additional $1,675 to air the ad 85 times over two weeks in April on A&E, Discovery Channel, ESPN and the Weather Channel.

"For those firms that do know about this, it creates an impressive presence on cable TV programming that they would otherwise have no access (to)," said Sterling, the industry analyst.

Although Nyman said she hasn't had any buyers contact her directly yet, the traffic to her Web site has increased drastically. "It's already starting to set me apart from other realtors," she said.

And the best part? "I was competing with another realtor to list a $7.9 million house and because I was able to offer TV advertising, I landed that listing."

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Related: The new Net boom

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.