I started a thread on contractortalk.com with this observation:
We sell advertising for a living, but I know much advertising in the contractor community doesn't really work. Maybe you can help me serve our clients better by sharing your success stories: Tell us where your (paid) advertising is successful, and why.Well, when you read the thread, you'll see there isn't an overwhelming response. This is because most successful contractors continue to find most of their business through referral and repeat clients -- and when they 'dabble' with advertising, they usually end up quite disappointed.
Your best examples would be a copy of your actual ad(s) or a detailed description (if it is radio or television, perhaps an audio file, Youtube or similar link would help), a description of your cost per lead, and other aspects you think important in assessing why the ad succeeds (including how long it took you to get results, and measure them).
If you are concerned about competitive confidentiality, you can 'bury' some important details. If competition concerns you, maybe you would share your success offline with other relevant non-competitive forum readers. It is likely your competitors know and see your ads, anyways, but I understand some of the measuring data might be sensitive.
(I may 'lift' some of your suggestions for our own advertisers -- even if it means sending them to other media/services. Of course, even if the advertising dollars are redirected, it still makes good business sense for us to do this. Would you return for more (or refer friends) to a business that always puts your interests in first place, even if it seems the business is acting against its own self-interest?)
If there are few or no responses to this posting, I think there is validation that advertising should be used cautiously and sparingly -- especially if you are trying to dig out of a recessionary slump and don't know what advertising works, and why.
After a few days, you will read some interesting responses but you probably won't find the magic bullet of inspiration. This could be because successful advertisers are keeping their stories to themselves, or because, well, not many people on the forums have found a way to advertise successfully!
I'm certainly not waving the magic wand here -- though we earn 99 per cent of our income from advertising sales, in practice, most of our revenue is from supplier support advertising for editorial features (which 'works' as intended, in both senses -- the company profiled in the editorial feature gains truly useful and revenue-generating publicity, and the advertisers show their support for their current clients, a wise move). Ads can support established businesses with their branding and, if you have significant resources and patience, you will find they draw profitable business.
Trouble is, the most challenging time to start advertising is when you suddenly realize you 'need' new business, like at the start of a recession. You need to be careful here. I'm continuing my search and research for useful answers to the question.