There are a lot of misconceptions about what advertising can and can't do for you. Advertising doesn't work. Many people honestly believe this and never give it another thought. Let me ask you this: Do you really think advertisers spend billions of dollars year after year without knowing if it works or not?

I'm a great believer in advertising when all the rules regarding the right medium with the right message with proper frequency are followed.

When I think of the people who consider themselves to be excellent marketing people yet don't believe in the power of advertising, I wonder how they can go through their entire careers with misconceptions about the basics of their profession.

We don't advertise; we rely on word of mouth to get the word out. When someone says this, it usually implies that the speaker uses word of mouth instead of media advertising. This really isn't true because word of mouth is actually an ingredient of all advertising campaigns.

However, when you count on word of mouth alone, you can build your business, but at a much slower pace than if you primed the pump with a good media advertising that gets thousands to buy your products and gets the word-of-mouth campaign started.

If you have a new restaurant in the hotel, you can get positive word of mouth going, but it's slow when three or four diners pass the word on to a few others. Many restaurants that provide great product and service go out of business while waiting for word of mouth to fill the place up. Media advertising is the essential that gets word-of-mouth going in full force.

Good marketing can drive a poor product into bankruptcy. Before you launch your advertising and other marketing activities, make sure the product is capable of producing positive word of mouth. If it can't, it will be driven into bankruptcy even faster than if you left it alone.

Years ago, my bosses asked me to turn on some advertising for the dining room in a resort our company had just taken over. We gave it little thought and turned on heavy radio the following week. The place was packed that weekend, a little less the following weekend and much less the following weekend. Why? It was not very good at that point and some really negative word of mouth had hundreds telling others not to try it.

About two years later we opened a fantastic new restaurant and lounge at that same resort, and it has been a favorite ever since.

If they haven't heard of you, they can't consider you. From time to time in the past, my hotel clients weren't asked to bid on future meetings and banquet business. In most cases, it was because the groups looking for space didn't realize we had the appropriate facilities to host their events. The general awareness of our hotel was not as high as it should be and we weren't being invited to bid. Through direct-mail advertising, we improved our awareness in the community and the number of invitations to bid increased dramatically.

Most of us in hotel sales and marketing have the occasion to use advertising to help us. Taking a course on the basics of advertising can be very helpful to all of us.

Tom McCarthy, CHME, CHA, spent half his career with Hilton and Marriott in sales, advertising and public relations and half in his own training and consulting business, Hotel Professional Education and Consulting of Falls Church, VA. He is a past president of Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and is a member of the HSMAI Hall of Fame. He can be reached at or 703-379-4488.

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